Waddell Withers Smith

Waddell, Withers, & Smith: A Requiem for King

Opens April 4 – August 28, 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. This exhibition features the powerful works of three Memphis-based artists - James Waddell, Jr., Ernest Withers, and Dolph Smith - who created pieces in their specific mediums or styles in response to the tragedy of King's assassination in Memphis.

About the Artists

James Waddell (1948-1998) was a self-taught sculptor born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. His family had deep roots in the area, with his father attending the historic March on Washington and witnessing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Waddell himself was a Vietnam War veteran, serving during the civil rights movement. While he was fighting in Vietnam, eight of his family members attended King's final speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," at Mason Temple in Memphis. Upon hearing of King's assassination, Waddell was heavily affected and felt a deep connection to the Civil Rights Movement. His personal connections to the movement influenced his work as a sculptor. He dedicated 15 years of his life to creating two sculptures of Martin Luther King, Jr. that he considered his life's work. His sculptures captured the essence of King's message that continue to inspire generations today.

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. 

Enable Recite