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A journey to justice

Zion Union Heritage Museum Art

Works by Robin Joyce Miller. Photo by Teagan Anne

A highlight of Zion is the art on its walls, created by its resident artists Pamela Chatterton-Purdy, Carl Lopes and Robin Joyce Miller.

Lopes, a retired visual arts director at Barnstable High School, is known for inspiring generations not only to make art, but to also take pride in their heritage. Descended from Cape Verdeans who emigrated to New Bedford three generations ago, Lopes says he taught students “they need not fear people who are different,” and the museum does the same.

Miller, a former art teacher in the Bronx, incorporates collage, paint, beads, feathers and metal, often in the form of quilt patterns, for her varied exhibits, which span slavery and the plantation era. Miller says growing up she didn’t see herself represented with dignity anywhere, so she felt shame at being black; nothing “encouraged us to feel we were of significance.” African American art and her studies about African history have increased her pride.

Both Lopes and Miller say the museum has had a profound effect on them, expanding opportunities for their art and increasing their knowledge and pride in their own roots.

In the chapel, light seems to bounce off the whitewashed walls and enlarge the space where, glittering in gold, hang Purdy’s renowned series of over 30 “Icons of the Civil Rights Movement” with texts by her husband, the Rev. Dr. David A. Purdy. The portraits depict heroes of justice, from early abolitionists such as Harwich’s own Jonathan Walker (“The Man with the Branded Hand”) to the 2015 victims of the mass murder in Charleston.

The museum’s store includes items such as Janet Murphy Robertson’s documentaries—one about Purdy’s icons and the other titled “Journeys in the Light: Untold Stories of Cape Cod”—and original jewelry, clothing, paintings, sculptures and carvings.

Proof of the museum’s popularity and the success of its second phase of development is the increase in bus tours, from 15 the first year to 60 already booked by February for 2018, and over 8,000 visitors a year.

Reed’s “Phase Three” is the future. The museum, like all nonprofits, struggles to make ends meet. He says he’d welcome an endowment to enlarge collections, engage with more artists, increase collaborations with museums and civic groups on and off Cape, and uncover information on local history, like the Cape’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.

Miller and her husband call Zion “the pulse and heartbeat of the African American community on the Cape.”

“It’s not all about race, per se,” Tobey says, “but about humanity for everyone.”

Lee Roscoe is freelance writer, playwright, actress and naturalist from Brewster.

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