Short Stories: Chesiel John
Chesiel John is an assemblage artist and had donated her work, “Taylor The Unforgettable” to the Moody Museum. She was among the six speakers presenting oral histories at the second “Deep in the Heart of Taylor” story night at Taylor’s Moody Museum, March 23, 2019.
I believe in purpose and I believe we have to fulfill a purpose here on earth or wherever we are in the universe. But I came from a little dot – the island of Trinidad and Tobago. My mother was able to move to New York City for me to attend high school. And then I decided, Oh, I’m an artist! I was awarded a scholarship and graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City.
I made commercial illustrations for magazines, municipalities and even Universal Studios. But then realized that I wanted to find my own niche, connecting with the past. I am using my art as a vehicle to document history and tributes.
I ended up moving to Austin and began roaming around Central Texas picking up junk – rustic stuff, broken stuff, little metal pieces, old pots…old whatever I could find to create sculpture. I went from a commercial artist to being a sculpture artist using broken things as a vehicle to present stories and historical tributes.
Then I journeyed out to Taylor, Texas and that was one of the best things I have ever done. I fell in love with the rustic feel of the town. Out of the blue, I contacted Susan Komandosky and asked to have a show at the Moody Museum. She agreed to have the board consider it if it was going to reflect on Taylor history.
When the answer was “yes,” I felt like part of the Taylor family and began creating pieces entitled Taylor the Unforgettable. I started searching for Taylor’s African-American population to determine its contribution to Taylor’s history. Someone mentioned local physician James Dickey from the 40s and 50s and then I met former mayor Don Hill and connected with his wife Leslie Hill. They were intrigued with my project and their home was an archive of things they had collected that were very important to them. I felt I now had a calling and had to fulfill it.
I researched and collected the stories of a few of Taylor’s black community, people who had made some contribution, large or small, to society as a whole or to Taylor or just to some segment of Taylor’s black history. Libraries donated old, throw-away books and I placed a photo of the inpidual under a magnifying glass in a hole cut into the book. The person’s story was on the opposite page.
The object of my work was to breathe live back into lives of Taylor inpiduals, some had almost been forgotten. Others played major roles, like Dr. Dickey and I also included Dan Moody, since this exhibit was in his childhood home.
Whoever we are and wherever we are from, it’s our purpose to not let history fade away like a bag in the wind. Unforgettable, that’s what you are – Taylor the Unforgettable.
(Chiesel John’s exhibit is now the property of the Moody Museum in Taylor, Texas.)
Image of Dr. Jame Dickey 1893 - 1959
Image of Sterling Simms October 13, 1888 - April 9, 1945
Click here to read the transcript