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How local Black artists of the 1970s helped form Louisville's art landscape today

A photo of some of the members of Montage sits on an easel in Hamilton's Louisville studio, which was once the groups gathering spot.
A photo of some of the members of Montage sits on an easel in Hamilton's Louisville studio, which was once the groups gathering spot.

The acclaimed Louisville-based sculptor Ed Hamilton has created monumental works like The Spirit of Freedom in Washington D.C., and the statues of York and Lincoln on Louisville’s waterfront.

As a Black artist, he confronted challenges early and often. 

In 1969, his undergraduate exhibition had to come down after one week to make room for an artist from Chicago. 

“I thought it was going to be up at least a couple of weeks, or maybe a month,” he said.

Hamilton was frustrated. So when he heard about a group in the West End called the Louisville Art Workshop, he jumped right in his car and drove over.

“It’s at that place where we learned how to work together, come together, create together, steal from each other together,” he said with a laugh.

William M. Duffy jumped in: “Because at the time Black artists here locally weren’t showing in the galleries at all. And so that’s why I thought, well, I’m just out here by myself.”

Duffy, another Black artist who started working in Louisville in the 1970s, met Hamilton through the workshop.

The group thrived for a little over a decade. 

But when Hamilton bought his studio off Shelby Street in 1978, he and Duffy decided it was time to create a new collective.

They called it “Montage,” and saw it as a chance to, not only create art and share ideas with other Black artists in the area, but to create opportunities for that work to get shown publicly. 

89.3 WFPL News Louisville · How local Black artists of the 1970s helped form Louisville’s art landscape today

Doors wide open

The group of nearly two dozen Black creatives met at Hamilton’s studio each month to talk about art.

They also wanted it to be a place where others felt they could come in, “that the neighborhood kids and the neighborhood people would come and look and see what we were doing in here,” Hamilton said. 

“We were welcoming because we wanted them to know that you, too, can do this.”

Duffy added that another top priority of Montage was to get members’ work shown to a broader audience.

“It was a way of kicking open doors and saying, ‘Look, we too are working. We’re artists. We happen to be Black — we are Black — but we’re artists also,’” he said.

Inspiring younger generations of artists

Duffy began teaching after-school art classes through the Louisville Visual Arts Association, now LVA, around 1990. 

That’s where he met a young LaNia Roberts

“Mr. Duffy was the first Black artist that I ever met,” said Roberts, a visual artist who lives and creates art in her hometown of Louisville.

He introduced her to more Black artists, including Hamilton. That meant a lot to Roberts.

“People of color, like we need to see representation just as much as white people need to see representation,” she said.

By then, Montage had disbanded, but it continued to inspire young artists. 

“All these people really set the bar so high. And I really hope that us young folk can keep that bar just as high,” Roberts said.