Artist unveils newest panel of epic mural at Tubman

Wilfred Stroud stood behind a podium at the Tubman African American Museum and talked about the mural he painted, “From Africa to America.”

The mural covered the entire wall behind him and then some. It told the story, starting at the far left, of how Africans came to North America and what they accomplished once they got here.

Stroud, 79, began the project at the Walnut Street museum in the late 1980s. He finished the eighth panel, dominated by a portrait of Colin Powell, in 1996.

The reason Stroud was addressing a small crowd Sunday was because, as he put it, “history never stops.”

He was there to unveil the ninth panel of “From Africa to America.”

The cloth covering the wall-sized canvas came down to oohs and aahs and a round of applause.

There were 60 faces on the panel, but the two large ones in the center drew the eye immediately — President Obama and Michelle Obama.

Stroud, a retired postal worker, spoke to the crowd about the origin of the mural.

“What I had in mind, at that time, I figured I could do this in about three to four months,” he said. “And the more I studied and researched and planned it, it seemed to grow and grow and grow. And it kept growing. And It’s still growing. I haven’t finished it yet. We’re going to have a new museum. There’s a lot of space there, so It’s my intention to continue until the space runs out.”

Stroud drew a sketch for the ninth panel back in 2005, but a car accident that year left him with a broken shoulder and other injuries, putting the project on hold. He began painting the panel at the Tubman about a year ago, working from a collage of photographs pasted on a piece of poster board.

He painted a few hours each day, pausing to answer the questions of visitors looking over his shoulder. After he finished a day’s work the panel was hidden out of sight.

As of Sunday, visitors can count on seeing the panel whenever the Tubman is open, but not for long. After about a month the museum staff will put the panel in storage and leave it there until the Tubman’s new building on Cherry Street is ready.

This may happen in 2012, if fundraising and construction progress according to plan, Tubman Executive Director Andy Ambrose said.

“We’re moving from an 8,500-square-foot building to a 49,000-square-foot building,” Ambrose said. “Right now, we can only show 20 percent of our collection.”

One of the visitors at the unveiling was Nancy Brown Cornett, who helped Stroud get a grant to paint the mural during the late ’80s, when she was executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance.

“Having it here in Macon gives so much depth to not just the Tubman, but to all or our museums,” she said.

The new panel includes the faces of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Sears, former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Tyler Perry and Halle Berry.

It also includes retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bernard Jackson of Macon, whom Stroud has known since Jackson was a child.

Jackson’s mother, Bernice C. Jackson, was at the unveiling. She has known Stroud since they were both students at Macon’s Hudson High School.

Bernice Jackson said Stroud asked for a photo of her son when he started the panel. She was pleased with the results.

“That’s a good image of him,” she said. “He’s got that lovely smile.”