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AWD Connections

A Toast to New Beginnings!

As we usher in 2023, Art Works Downtown launches a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative called AWD Connections. Under this rubric, our newsletter, a special email, and website will feature a monthly segment highlighting artists in support of the voices of Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color and the LGBTQ community.


This month and next we publish an article in two parts featuring Harry L. Caldwell IV, a local master engraver, painter, and illustrator whose story is set against the background of life in Marin County as it was, as it is, and as it is evolving.

Harry L. Caldwell IVAWD CONNECTIONS: Issue #1 – Harry Caldwell

Art, Passion, and Confrontation:
An Incident in the Life of Harry L. Caldwell IV
Part I
by Lisa Carlson

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” ― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Harry L. Caldwell IV, a studio artist of Art Works Downtown, is a master engraver, painter, and illustrator. One evening last year he was exhibiting with us when he sold one of his pieces to a new customer. The piece is a carved coin – a flower mandala – and the image led the buyer to engage Harry, who is African American, in a discussion of the history of race in America. 

The customer began to question Harry’s knowledge of history in what felt to Harry like an overly antagonistic manner. He asked why he wasn’t famous for his engraving.

“I told him my story of getting blacklisted in the greater engraving community for speaking out about LGBTQIA rights and Black Lives Matter,” said Harry.

“I am here to share my art; I did not come here to educate him… The man was of a privileged class, being older and white, so of course our lived experiences would be different. Yet as he asked about my history I felt he was baiting me while taking a victim position,” said Harry. “I felt the buyer did not assume I was racist, he felt I was attacking America by calling American history racist.”

After it became clear that the customer had no intention of listening, only focusing on contradicting Harry’s lived experience, Harry stopped the conversation. The buyer then asked Harry to engrave the word “Peace” on the coin. Harry accepted the task at no additional charge, simply to encourage him to leave.

When it came time to pay for the coin, buyer and seller agreed to use PayPal, as the buyer didn’t have cash on hand. After the transaction went through, the buyer became upset that Harry had not placed it under the “friends and family” payment option. He expressed his anger and quickly left the exhibit space.

Then, a bit after 9 p.m., when most of his fellow artists had gone home, Harry heard footsteps coming his way. The man had returned because he said he had forgotten some art cards.

Harry was stunned that such a simple thing as selling his art could have led to this array of subtle and not-so-subtle stress.

After this series of events, he said, “I felt alone, felt unsafe in my own studio.”

The transaction had touched on issues of race, sexual identity, education, history, and empowerment: the very same issues the U.S. continues to grapple with this century.

Harry asks, “How can we hope to understand and fix problems like racism if we don’t listen and learn from the perspectives of the oppressed?”

Rooted in His Mixed Heritage
A native of East Lansing, Michigan, a descendant of African American and Dutch family, Harry Caldwell was raised in “an upper-middle-class white environment.” He identifies as queer and is also a stepfather of two.

As he writes in his online biography, he is also “a tantric yogi with a passion for exceptional design.” Harry’s work has been published nationally and exhibited in solo exhibitions in Seattle at the CORE Gallery. He has received multiple design awards and holds a B. S. in industrial design from the Art Institute of Seattle.

He designs what he calls “personal heirlooms” made from long-lasting materials such as precious and semi-precious metals, including silver, gold, and platinum. 

“My engravings create a sense of permanence in a world of rapid change. My intention is that they are a legacy to be passed forward through generations. I currently focus on creating two forms of hand-engraved coins. Hobo Nickels are miniature bas relief sculptures depicting the faces of travelers telling stories from various points in history. Love Tokens are joyful reminders of the beauty found in the smallest of details. The coins are intentionally engraved with maximum detail to bring the viewer into a moment of reflection. Delicately carved monograms, flowers, scrolls, and sacred geometry remind us to slow down and witness the beauty in the moment.”

How ironic, then, that Harry’s creative passion to connect us to the past in a positive way could have led to such discomfort between buyer and seller.

“In our current climate of polarization, I feel particularly called to depict faces and feelings of marginalized communities. I want to amplify the voices of the disenfranchised. My coins are a message, moving my audience toward the social, spiritual and systemic changes that make our society more equitable.”

In Solidarity
We at AWD recognize our role in ensuring a diverse and inclusive society. We have therefore institutionalized a proactive practice by establishing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee charged with considering DEI in all AWD’s planning, policy, and operations.  

Cultural inclusivity is critical to the long-term viability of the arts sector. Everyone deserves a vibrant creative life. That’s why we provide an environment where visual art thrives for the well-being of community. We must recognize and rebuke systems of racism and segregation and build a more healthy and equitable community in Marin County. It’s not through words alone that we can succeed, but through our actions, which include our continuing commitment to holding and offering a space where all people can commune using the practice, study, and celebration of visual art.

*** 

In Part 2 of this article for AWD Connections, we will discuss where AWD stands vis-à-vis the history of Marin County.

 ***

Lisa CarlsonLisa Carlson

Lisa Carlson was born in New Jersey and raised in Latin America. After graduating from NYU with a B.A. in anthropology and French, she moved to Paris, working at the Cinémathèque Française. Returning to New York, she produced presentations for corporations, had a sales career, and consulted for the U.N.

Moving to the Bay Area in 1990, she worked as writer/editor in corporate communications and publishing. She taught copyediting at UC Berkeley Extension’s Certificate in Editing program and was founding writer and editor of two East Bay monthlies. In 2021-2022, she taught creative writing and tutored at Richmond College Preparatory Academy, serving immigrant and African American children. She’s a writing coach and edits fiction and non-fiction. 

Former chair of Bay Area Editors’ Forum, Lisa also co-chaired the National Writers Union BizTech division in its activist years.

Lisa is an actress, appearing in commercials, industrials, and community theater. She has traveled widely in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and India.