by Liz Conces Spencer
[Prologue: On February 24, 2022, Liz Conces Spencer, a Houston-based artist, was teaching an art class in an elementary classroom in a Houston Alief school. Liz’s presence in the classroom was arranged by Young Audiences of Houston, an arts-in-education program that arranges the placement of artists in Houston schools. It was during this class that the following exchange took place.]
Today I taught a group of about 25 suburban third- and fourth-graders a lesson on geometry and symbolism as seen in the work of acclaimed Houston artist Dr. John T. Biggers [1924–2001].
We used as reference one of his works “Row Houses,” a stunning integration of geometric and organic symmetry, filled with his characteristic patterned interconnectivity.
When asked about row houses and what they are, I explained that they are small, close-together homes generally found in poor communities.
I told them that Dr. Biggers was familiar with such neighborhoods, having grown up in a small, segregated town in North Carolina, and that although he was only a generation or two removed from slavery, he grew up to be a highly educated, erudite, influential, and well-traveled artist.
When a third-grade African-American girl asked, “What is a slave?” I was almost brought to tears, and for a moment, at a loss to respond.
Her innocence and privilege, contrasted with the knowledge of the diaspora that children her age and younger had revealed to me years ago in Third Ward classrooms, was pure and unaffected.
Before I could answer, another child piped up: “It’s a person who has no freedom!”
Having no better answer, I concurred.
The art lesson proceeded; all children engaged.
Liz Conces Spencer is an abstract and figurative artist who lives in Houston, Texas. Her artwork is showcased at Archway Gallery in Houston.
[Epilogue: I have had the privilege of knowing Liz for more than 15 years. I’m proud to say that when I had my art gallery in Rockport, Texas, Liz’s artwork was also featured there. Several of her pieces grace the walls of my own home.—Gail]
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