Encountering John Thomas Biggers

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

John Thomas Biggers (April 13, 1924 – January 25, 2001)

The year was 1992. Dr. Leslie J. Ward was a senior at #HamptonUniversity majoring in art education when she first met painter, sculptor, print-maker, muralist, and educator, #JohnThomasBiggers. Biggers was a visiting artist in the Hampton art department and on that particular day, was there working on his mural (that would later be featured in the Harvey library, which was built the following year). Leslie, also in the art department that day, was working on her senior exhibit when she was approached by Biggers. A conversation ensued and Leslie shared that she was working on the weekends because she was the assistant dean of a Greek sorority spring 92 line (#DeltaSigmaTheta), which took up a lot of her spare time. It was at that point that Biggers posed a simple yet profound question, "what does it mean to be "Greek?" "Does it mean that you dance around in togas at night?" Leslie, accustomed to being teased, laughed it off as a joke and walked away.

The next time she had a discussion with Biggers (a few weeks later), he explained that the reason he'd asked the question was to challenge her. He wanted Leslie to know that everything Greek came from Africa and recommended that she read the book #BlackAthena to learn more about The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization.

That encounter left a lasting impression because it wasn't his art that made Leslie appreciate him, it was the man himself. Her adoration and respect for his art came later. It wasn't until after Leslie graduated, that Hampton University unveiled two murals created by Dr. John Biggers.

Each mural is a 20’x10’ canvas mounted in the atrium of the library. #HouseoftheTurtle, on the left, represents the past. The right panel, entitled #TreeHouse, represents the future. The paintings are metaphors for the human experience of growing, learning, and thinking.

Dr. Biggers dedicated the murals to women; both panels illustrate the strength of the #GreatMother.

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