Waddell Withers Smith

Waddell, Withers, & Smith: A Requiem for King

Opens April 4, 2023  •  Included with admission

Waddell, Withers, & Smith: A Requiem for King honors the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through the artwork of Memphis-based artists.  Sculptor James Waddell, photographer Ernest Withers, and mixed media artist Dolph Smith explore their lives in segregated Memphis, the military, and coping in the aftermath of Dr. King’s death.

James Waddell (1948-1998) was a self-taught sculptor born in Memphis, Tennessee where his family lived for generations. Waddell heard the news of Martin Luther King's assassination while he was serving overseas in the Vietnam War. After his return, Waddell developed two sculptures of Martin Luther King over a period of 15 years that represented what he felt was his life's work. 

Waddell's service in the Vietnam War was concurrent with the civil rights movement. As he was fighting on the night before the assassination, Waddell's younger brothers, Alfred and Purdie Waddell, were present for Martin Luther King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech at Mason Temple in Memphis. Waddell was heavily affected by the news and soon after returning, he began working on two sculptures of Martin Luther King, Jr., beginning in the 1970s and throughout the 1980s.

Dr. Ernest Withers, Sr. (1922 – 2007) was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1922.  The World War II veteran and activist captured some of the most iconic moments of the Civil Rights Movement. From the Emmett Till trial in Mississippi to the Memphis Sanitation Strike, Withers provided a generation of visual truth, a courageous task that solidifies him as a civil rights champion. He photographed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regularly from the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 to his final trip to Memphis on April 3, 1968.  Withers’ photos were published in local and national publications including The Tri-State Defender, The Commercial Appeal, Life Magazine, and Time Magazine. Hours after King was assassinated, Withers developed Joseph Louw’s famous photograph of Dr. King’s aides pointing in the direction of the shot on the balcony at his studio on Beale Street. Withers' unique access as an African American photographer provides a distinct historical perspective on the movement and its leaders.

Dolph Smith is a local Memphis painter, bookmaker, and educator, who has been making art since 1956 He began making art while in the Military during the Vietnam war, where he was encouraged to immerse himself in the places he was posted but went to art school after being released from active duty. After graduating from The Memphis Academy of Arts, he went on to be a professor at the University of Memphis College of Arts for 30 years, until he retired in 1995 to be a full-time artist. In 2004, Smith was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The Memphis Academy of Arts, and in 2011, received the Governors Arts Award in the Distinguished Artists category- One of Tennessee’s highest honors. Now, Smith resides in Ripley, where he continues to make art of all kinds. 

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