Amy Sherald, Columbus native, unveils her portrait of Michelle Obama


Last year, the fortunes of artist Amy Sherald, a Columbus, Ga., native and a fine arts graduate of Clark Atlanta University, took a sharp turn upward.

In October, she was chosen to paint the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, a painting that will hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The painting was revealed Monday in Washington, D.C., along with the official portrait of former President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley

MORE: The Obamas' portraits are not what you'd expect, and that's why they're great

When the Baltimore resident was picked, she had already gained some renown, winning the Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. With the Obama commission, Sherald’s career gathered steam.

“There is going to be a spotlight on her,” portraiture expert and Mount Holyoke College professor Paul Staiti told The New York Times. “She should fasten her seatbelt.”

Staiti’s words were prescient. On Thursday, the High Museum of Art announced that Sherald, 44, would be the 2018 winner of the David C. Driskell Prize, in recognition of her contribution to African-American art. The award was founded by the High in 2005 as the “first national award to celebrate an early- or mid-career scholar or artist whose work makes an original and important contribution to the field of African-American art or art history.”

It carries a $25,000 prize, and the acknowledgment of Sherald’s significance. The artist will be celebrated at an April 27 dinner at the High, which will also serve as a money-raiser to support the David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisition Funds.

Since their inception, the funds have supported the acquisition of 48 works by African-American artists for the High’s collection, though none by Sherald. (Such efforts at diversifying the museum’s collections and outreach have dramatically increased minority attendance at the High.)

“Sherald is a remarkable talent who in recent years has gained the recognition she so thoroughly deserves as a unique force in contemporary art,” said the High’s director, Rand Suffolk, in a statement.

Born in Columbus in 1973, Sherald graduated from Clark Atlanta University in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in painting.

She received her master’s in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2004, but a few circumstances delayed her career in the arts. That same year, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and moved back to Columbus to care for two ailing relatives.

Sherald received a life-saving heart transplant in 2012, and resumed working in her Baltimore studio, with the aid of daily anti-rejection drugs. Her portraits are of everyday African-American figures, often in colorful clothes.

Nominations for the 2018 Driskell Prize came from a national pool of artists, curators, teachers, collectors and art historians. Sherald was chosen from among these nominations by a review committee composed of former Driskell winners and the High’s curator of modern and contemporary art, Michael Rooks.

David Driskell was born in 1931 in Eatonton, Ga., and is distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park. The author of several significant works on African-American art history, Driskell was honored in 2000 with the National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

What covering the 2017 NRA convention was like

Last year’s National Rifle Association convention brought 80,000 people to downtown Atlanta, and on opening day I interviewed some of the nicest people I’d ever met . Given the heated protests that preceded the April 2017 event at the Georgia World Congress Center and the “fake news media&rdquo...
16th Street Baptist Church: Site of tragedy galvanized a movement
16th Street Baptist Church: Site of tragedy galvanized a movement

The importance of the 16th Street Baptist Church in the annals of African-American history can’t be overestimated. Not only was it the first black church to organize in Birmingham, Ala., it was the target in 1963 of the racially motivated bombing that killed four young girls and galvanized the civil rights movement. As a kid growing up in Philadelphia...
Insurance plans push healthier choices at grocery store
Insurance plans push healthier choices at grocery store

MINNEAPOLIS — Sandy Brezinski savored the savings last week when her preferred brand of organic tortilla chips went on sale. Not only did her grocery store discount the item to $2.99, a program offered through her employer’s health insurance knocked another $2 off the price. “You get that for 99 cents,” Brezinski said. &ldquo...
Walkability luring homebuyers to small town centers
Walkability luring homebuyers to small town centers

Anyone who has been tormented by Atlanta’s traffic may have wished for the option of ditching the car, if at least for the evening or weekend. Yet the metro area’s sprawl often means going for a gallon of milk or out to a movie means getting back behind the wheel. The dependency on vehicles that sprawl has created is a habit many homebuyers...
Flu shots less effective than normal, CDC report says

It turns out the rumors were true: This year’s flu shot is indeed less effective than usual. An unusually resilient strain of influenza called H3N2 has been the predominant assailant this season, and the vaccine rolled out last year was ill-suited to protect against it. While previous analyses from Canada and Australia on its H3N2 effectiveness...
More Stories