Art in the Atrium: Looking good at 25

ATA co-founders Charles and Viki Craig with NBC Extra's AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
ATA co-founders Charles and Viki Craig with NBC Extra's AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
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Video: How it started: AJ Calloway asks Art in the Atrium founders

By Kevin Coughlin

Art in the Atrium Inc. celebrated its silver anniversary  on Thursday in a pretty posh place, the Morris Museum.

Not bad for an exhibition that almost got tossed from a government venue in its early days.

ATA co-founders Charles and Viki Craig with NBC Extra's AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
ATA co-founders Charles and Viki Craig with NBC Extra’s AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.

“It was the year of Angry White Male. I thought they’d throw us out of the courthouse, never to be seen again,” said Viki Craig, who, with her husband, attorney Charles Craig, has created one of the country’s premier showcases of African American fine art.

She referred to a Russell Murray artwork from the late 1990s, depicting angry people flowing from a toilet, directed by a hate speech personality.

That didn’t sit too well with Morris County officials, she recalled.

And then there was the time she unknowingly included a piece that an artist had dedicated to someone who shot a police officer.

“The sheriff wanted to throw us out,” said Viki Craig, 70, a retired schoolteacher.

Featured artist Barbara Bullock at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Featured artist Barbara Bullock at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.

‘THESE ARE MY CHILDREN’

There was nothing remotely incendiary at Thursday’s gala, a scholarship benefit emceed by AJ Calloway of NBC Extra. The evening featured young dancers and violinists from the Morristown Neighborhood House, food by Martin Little Catering and The Artist Baker, and fanciful paper-and-acrylic collages by Barbara Bullock.

“This is my passion,” said Bullock, a 78-year-old Philadelphian whose works, collectively titled Ritual and Evocations, will be displayed through April at the museum in Morris Township. “I’ve always been creative. I always wanted to use art as my language.” 

Bullock has found success: The African American Museum in Philadelphia, Rutgers University, Lafayette College and the Jane Voorhees Zimmer Art Museum are among institutions that have collected her works.

Yet she imparts the same message to aspiring artists at every school where she does residencies:

“Besides learning to paint, you need another job to support your art. It’s not easy. But it is the love of my life,” Bullock said, glancing at the collages hanging behind her. “These are my children.”

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. For captions, hover over images.

Featured artist Barbara Bullock at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
ATA co-founders Charles and Viki Craig with NBC Extra's AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
AJ Calloway with sorority sisters at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Judyann Hargrove of the Morris chapter of Jack & Jill; Alison Jackson of Morristown, and Newark artist Kern Bruce at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Detail from Barbara Bullock's 'Panther with Crow' at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Singer Keisha Smith Johnson and mom-in-law Marian Sykes Johnson at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Keisha will compete in Morristown Onstage in March 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Detail from Barbara Bullock collage at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Dancers from the Morristown Neighborhood House at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Violinists from the Morristown Neighborhood House at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Larry Thompson, Ivory Herbert and artist Bisa Butler at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Morris Arts trustee Michael Lupton and Morris Arts Development Director Gina Moran at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
AJ Calloway emcees at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Artist Barbara Bullock autographs poster at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Honorees at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Jody Marcus and ATA co-founder Viki Craig at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Newark artist Kern Bruce at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Carolyn and Mike Hopkins of Mendham at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Dr. Unjeria Jackson, Larry Thompson, Margaret and Ivory Herbert and artist Bisa Butler at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Newark Arts Director Jeremy Johnson and artist Bisa Butler at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Andrea Lekberg of The Artist Baker and Martin Little of Martin Little Catering at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
David Haggerty of the Neighborhood House and Morristown Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
ATA trustee Stephanie Taylor reviews the program at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Morris Arts Director Tom Werder, Charles Lamb of CCM and Jody Markus of the river coalition at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Bethel AME Church Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. and his wife, Theresa Williams, at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Leslie Lynn Floyd and Leslie K. Floyd of Somerville at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Deborah Starker of the Madison Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, former Morris Museum Director Steve Miller and Museum Artistic Director Eric Hafen at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Charles and Carolyn Lamb at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
From left: Lauren Craig, Tarrin Fuller and Simone Craig at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Charles Craig speaks with AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Artist Barbara Bullock speaks with AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
ATA co-founders Charles and Viki Craig with AJ Calloway at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
AJ Calloway of NBC Extra at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Delta Sigma Theta sisters Jacquelyn Chapman, Lucretia Agee and Hope Summerset-Neely at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Jon Brown, MBA, with Lawrence Woods of Morristown, Dr. Walter Goodman and Dr. Stephanie Taylor, at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Brown was home from his consulting job in Shanghai, China. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Joanne and Glenn Del Rio at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Joanne is arts curator for Novartis, an ATA sponsor. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
ATA co-founder Charles Craig with Paul and Michelle Macchia of Morristown at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
ATA trustees Roland Whitley and Leslye Folmar-Harris at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Mimi and Frank Carter, seated, with Janet Toler Woods at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. The Carters came from DC for the event. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Newark museum member Jackie Davis and Jane Kurek of Provident Bank at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Artist Barbara Bullock and collector/essayist Lewis Tanner Moore at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Ivory Herbert and artist Barbara Bullock at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
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Collector Lewis Tanner Moore traveled from Bucks County, PA, to see Bullock’s works. “She has created her own blend of collage and painting and sculpture,” he said. “The language she uses is exquisitely sensitive and profound.”

“Barbara Bullock is a living legend,” said artist Bisa Butler, whose quilts have many fans. “To see what she does with paper is mind-blowing. When you are with her, you know you are in the presence of one of the great artists of the last century.”

FREE VODKA

With Inauguration Day just around the corner, the gala felt a bit like the calm before the storm.

Calloway, who has interviewed Donald Trump and Michelle Obama, got laughs when he reminded patrons of a vodka promotion at the gathering.

Detail from Barbara Bullock's 'Panther with Crow' at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
Detail from Barbara Bullock’s ‘Panther with Crow’ at Art in the Atrium silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.

“There’s free vodka. Anybody’s upset about the farewell, there’s free vodka. Anybody’s upset about the press conference, there’s free vodka.

“There’s a lot more to come. Trust me, I know. There’s free vodka.” 

Over the last 25 years, Viki Craig has learned that art isn’t always pretty.

“Sometimes, it provokes,” she said. “That’s what art is supposed to do. It’s been an interesting ride.”

Next year, the show returns to the Atrium Gallery, in the Morris County administration building in Morristown. Brace yourself, officials.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of angry art,” Viki Craig said.

MORE ABOUT ART IN THE ATRIUM

AJ Calloway with Delta Sigma Theta sisters at Art in the Atrium AJ silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
AJ Calloway with Delta Sigma Theta sisters at Art in the Atrium AJ silver anniversary gala. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 12, 2017.
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