Established and contemporary ‘icons’ highlight Black History Month show at Chestnut Hill art gallery

Gravers Lane Gallery in Chestnut Hill will open its second annual Black History Month exhibition tonight with a father/son collaboration featuring images of the historic Tuskegee Airmen of World War II alongside contemporary portraits of African-American music icons.

Gallery director Bruce Hoffman said that “American Heroes and Innovators” — featuring drawings and paintings from Chris Hopkins and his son Justin — is an exciting cross-generational show.

With images based on the 1940s story of the U.S. Air Force’s first black airmen, who enlisted and trained while the military itself was still racially segregated, and portraits of modern artistic revolutionaries like Questlove, Hoffman said he hopes the show will “draw young people, but also have a historic element to really show positive African-American images being produced today of musicians and heroes.”

A portion of the show’s proceeds will support the Roxborough-based Stained Glass Project: Windows That Open Doors.

About the artitsts

Justin Hopkins recently moved to Brooklyn after 27 years on the west coast; his father Chris and wife Jan, a fiber artist, still live in the Seattle area.

He said visitors should see the exhibition as two shows in one, though the themes are similar.

“I wanted to explore people who were icons, who were especially adventurous in their field at their time,” he said, noting that the pair wanted “to do something together since I was six or seven years old, so this was 20 or so years overdue.”

Justin began his illustration career right out of high-school with a five-year stint in California under artist Charles White, best known for his “Star Wars” movie posters.

Later, he branched into a successful freelance career that included a variety of illustrations as well as composing music for commercials, independent films and, eventually, his own albums, the covers for which he designed.

A “chameleon by necessity,” he made his first-ever visit to Germantown when he dropped off his pieces for the show.

Depicting adventurous artists for the Gravers Lane show, he said he “wanted to be as adventurous with my work as possible.” So, he tried something completely new to him: Watercolors on water-resistant paper.

“It will bleed in all these ways that I can’t really control,” he said, likening the work to jazz improvisation. “At some point in each one of those pieces, I was really scared that it was going to be ruined.”

Both will be there

Chris Hopkins will also be in Philadelphia for the show’s opening reception on Friday night.

He began his career as a commercial illustrator in the entertainment industry and created the poster for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” in 1984; his cover art for Styx’s “Paradise Theatre” was nominated for a Grammy.

In the late 1980s, Chris’ career shifted to private commissions of historical events.

He researched and documented Native American tribes through his paintings, which led to a 2010 book. “Eagle Dancing” explores the history of Northwest Native American culture.

He also undertook U.S. military commissions focusing on Operation Desert Storm, Vietnam and the Tuskegee Airmen. The latter project grew out of a commission from the Northwest chapter of the Air Force Art program, but became a larger personal interest that now includes more than 40 pieces.

Recently, Chris collaborated with writer Guy Franklin, who included the artist’s work in his new book, “The Tuskegee Airmen: the Rest of the Story.”

Notable pieces in Chris’ project include “A Night in December (Tuskegee Airman Nurse),” which celebrates the little-known history of the African-American women who worked as nurses, mechanics, supply pilots and secretaries during WWII.

There’s also “The First Lady and the Chief,” which shows Civilian Pilot Training Chief Instructor Charles Alfred Anderson taking Eleanor Roosevelt, who wanted to prove that black pilots were just as capable as white ones, for a ride in a Piper Cub.

Hoffman said Gravers Lane is the perfect place for the show.

“Germantown Avenue has such an important historical significance to multicultural living,” he explained.

Show specifics

The show’s opening reception will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Friday.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, Chris, Justin and Franklin (himself an Air Force veteran) will host a special gallery talk about their work, and the history of the Tuskegee Airmen.

In addition, Philadelphia Veteran Services Advisory Coordinator Wanda Pate Dennis will present special citations from Philadelphia City Council to Graver’s Lane Gallery and its Goldenberg Group umbrella for the exhibition and its associated programming.

American Heroes and Innovators: New Paintings and Drawings by Chris & Justin Hopkins” is on display at Gravers Lane Gallery (8405 Germantown Ave.) from Feb. 1 until March 15.

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