David Pilgrim, vice president for Diversity and Inclusion at Ferris State University sits in the Learning Center of the new Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Big Rapids. Pilgrim, shown here by the "Cloud of Witnesses" mural painted by Kendall College of Art and Design professor Jon McDonald, is the museum's founder and curator.
Jon McDonald explored his imagination as he considered how to shape his “Cloud of Witnesses” mural – artwork he ultimately created for Ferris State University’s new Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.
McDonald, a professor of Illustration and chair of the Illustration program at Ferris’ Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, found his artistic creativity flowing as he began to work on “Cloud of Witnesses.” The mural, located in the Jim Crow Museum’s Learning Center, features images of men and women who died in the fight for civil rights. McDonald collaborated with David Pilgrim, curator and founder of the museum as well as Ferris’ vice president for Diversity and Inclusion. The men began a fast-moving process during which the vision of the mural was transformed into reality.
“It was quite the daunting task to put it together in a short amount of time and a lot of that was because it must come from your imagination,” McDonald explained. “Because we’re dealing with historic figures and people who are no longer living, it challenges the imagination to portray them in a way that is true to them and fits with what we wanted to accomplish with the mural.”
The museum’s Learning Center is a spot designated for visitors to constructively and openly discuss many issues related to race and race relations as they gather before a cloud of witnesses. Among the people featured in “Cloud of Witnesses” are historic civil rights figures, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Viola Liuzzo, Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Representing Kendall, as part of the development of the new and expanded $1.3 million Jim Crow Museum, was an honor for McDonald.
“From a Kendall perspective, we’re very excited to be a part of this project and I know that our administrative team and faculty have been very impressed,” McDonald said before he recalled a conversation that he had with Ferris President David Eisler. “President Eisler came up to me and told me how much he enjoyed the mural and that was, personally, a very good feeling for me. I truly feel honored that I was asked to do this project for the Jim Crow Museum.”
McDonald comes to Big Rapids on Thursday, April 26 to participate in the official grand opening activities for the new Jim Crow Museum. At 2 p.m., he will be discussing the mural and answering questions in the Rankin Art Gallery.
Seeing the vision of the Jim Crow Museum transform into a reality continues to be a moving experience for McDonald. He is particularly excited about the educational outcomes of the newly-expanded facility.
“Ferris did it right, and it’s really a powerful thing and I’m glad that the university did it before schools like Michigan State University or the University of Michigan did it,” he said. “This museum is extremely impressive, and I think it will draw a lot of people to Ferris. I really believe that everyone needs to understand what happened during Jim Crow. From an educational perspective, this is the truth as to what happened during that era. Kids don’t get this in high school, and I’m hoping that a lot of schools will bring their students to the museum.”
The Jim Crow Museum, expanded now to 3,300 square feet, is open daily from noon to 5 p.m.