Kwanzaa fabric painting now at Portland Art Museum

North Portland Library has been participating in community-wide Kwanzaa celebrations for decades, hosting art exhibits, book displays and events. 

Incorporating the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa is “Isis,” a piece of art, created in 1992, by local artist Charlotte Lewis and acquired by Multnomah County Library in 2001. 

textile embroidered 3-panel scene of winged goddess on crocodile on pink background with scarabs, lotuses, and ankhs

Lewis (1934–1999) was an artist, teacher and activist. She moved to Portland as a child in 1937.  

She studied graphic design, moved out of state, and later returned to Portland to devote her life to community work. She focused on developing art that was representative of the community. 

Lewis created murals throughout Portland, including an African-American history mural on the North side of Irvington Covenant Church (4046 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR 97212), and a mural at Outside In (1132 SW 13th Ave, Portland, OR 97205), a drug treatment center for youth, and more throughout town.

She is quoted saying “Art is not for an elite group of people, but for us all. I feel a responsibility to educate, motivate, and to communicate my efforts. Hopefully my legacy will be respected and shared.”

Lewis later began to explore other mediums, which included her first fabric painting, “Isis.” The piece had been on display at North Portland Library until it closed for construction earlier in 2023. The library then lent the piece to Portland Art Museum for the exhibit, Black Artists of Oregon, curated by Portland artist Intisar Abioto

As former Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center Gallery Director, Roberta May Wong explains, Isis is “influenced by the artist’s African roots; it depicts the ancient Egyptian goddess of healing and magic. The stylized figure, organically drawn with sinuous lines, is centered in the composition. The cowrie shells imply currency and value, while Adinkra symbols carry traditional wisdom linked to African proverbs. “

Lewis used art as a way to connect with her roots and share her heritage. She participated in Kwanzaa celebrations at North Portland Library until 1998. 

Explore the contributions of Charlotte Lewis and other Black Artists of Oregon by visiting the exhibit, available until March 2024. Explore My Discovery Pass to visit the Portland Art Museum with your library card.