AMERICUS (Aug. 30, 2013)--“Amazing Grace,” “Cotton Rows to the Left” and “Wilson Brothers Rolling Store”: These are the names of artworks done by Winfred Rembert.  

Civil Rights Advocate and Artist Speaks at Americus Remembrance Event

By Sunni Zemblowski
AMERICUS (Aug. 30, 2013)--“Amazing Grace,” “Cotton Rows to the Left” and “Wilson Brothers Rolling Store”: These are the names of artworks done by Winfred Rembert. On Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, Rembert, a folk artist and civil rights advocate, answered questions about his life and artwork to students, faculty, and community members at the Jackson Performance Hall on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University.

The evening began with a showing of the film, “All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert,” which documents Rembert’s life and artwork. The film is shot mostly in Rembert’s hometown of Cuthbert, Ga., and his present town of New Haven, Conn. It was released in 2011 and is directed by Vivian Ducat.

In the film, Rembert shares his life story discussing his work in the cotton fields, his brief time in school, and the difficulties he had as a young man. Rembert’s life is one of many hardships; however, one lesson that can be learned from his life is that something positive can come from the most negative things.

Rembert was born in 1945 and was raised by his great aunt who took him along to work in the cotton fields. When he was 19, Rembert was arrested during a civil rights protest and survived a near lynching. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison, and after the first year, he worked in a chain gang.

While in prison, Rembert learned to read and write and how to tool leather. Rembert only served seven years in prison before being released. Years later, after being urged by his wife, Patsy Rembert, he began to combine his skills of storytelling and leatherworking.

“Winfred would sit around the table,” Rembert’s wife recalls during the film. “He would tell stories about hisself [sic] and about things that happened to him as a child. And I said, you know, all these stories that you are telling, they are gonna be lost when you die. Why not do your life story?”

Since his wife urged him, Rembert has made several works of art from tooled and dyed leather. The artworks depict the events of his life, ranging from his time on the chain gang to the dance halls of Cuthbert. While Rembert has dealt with some of the harsher subject matter in his works, most of his works show a celebration of community and family.

In 2000, Rembert’s works within the art community were validated through a show at Yale entitled, “Southern Exposure: Works by Winfred Rembert and Hale Woodruff.” Since then, his work has been in galleries and exhibitions throughout the country.

The film ends after Rembert achieves his goal of returning to his hometown of Cuthbert and exhibiting his work to his peers and childhood friends.

After the showing of the film, a question and answer session was held in Jackson Hall. Joining Rembert was Patsy Rembert, his wife; Vivian Ducat, the film’s director; and Sam Mahone, the president of the Americus-Sumter Co. Movement Remembered Committee. Many of the audience members were Rembert’s peers in school and recalled memories of their times together as children. Some related their own experiences to those of Rembert, while others acknowledged their lack of awareness, as children, of the historic events that were taking place.

Once the question and answer session was completed, the guests were invited to view some of Rembert’s artwork. Seven pieces were on display, including “Winfred’s Baptism,” “A Chain Gang,” and “Breaking Rocks.” These artworks are currently on display for the public in the James Earl Carter Library Gallery until Sept. 6, 2013.

The showing of the film was part of the two day commemoration event held by the Americus-Sumter County Movement Remembered Committee, Inc. The weekend of Aug. 23 marked the 50th anniversary of the Americus Civil Rights Movement.

- GSW -