Viki Craig, Morristown champion of African American artists, has died

Viki Craig at Art in the Atrium, January 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Viki Craig at Art in the Atrium, January 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Some people become their accomplishments. Others use them to benefit others.

Viki Craig personified the second category, according to Leroy Campbell, one of scores of African-American artists promoted over the years by Viki and her husband, lawyer Charles Craig, in their annual Art in the Atrium exhibitions in Morristown.

Victoria La Beaux Clark Craig died on Dec. 27, 2018, at Morristown Medical Center from complications of a heart condition. The retired schoolteacher was 71.

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.

Campbell, who is flying from Atlanta for Thursday’s 11 a.m. memorial service at Bethel A.M.E. Church, said losing his friend hurts. But he consoles himself knowing that now, “heaven has an angel, and an ancestor.” 

And everyone, he said, “can take a page from her book and use it, use it as a guide for how you live your life.”

Twenty-seven years ago, the Craigs started Art in the Atrium because they weren’t seeing works by black artists displayed on the walls of the Morris County Administration and Records Building.

What was intended as a one-time exhibit grew to become the region’s largest showcase of African-American fine art, featuring nationally known artists such as Campbell, Alonzo Adams and Barbara Bullock. 

“We’re doing this every year so young people can see themselves in a positive light, in an artistic medium other than rap and music,” Viki Craig told MorristownGreen.com in 2016. “It’s an important thing to be doing, an important legacy.”

Greater Morristown's First Family of Art: Charles Craig, Lauren Craig, Charleigh Craig (age 5), Viki Craig and Simone Craig, at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Greater Morristown’s First Family of Art: Charles Craig, Lauren Craig, Charleigh Craig (age 5), Viki Craig and Simone Craig, at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Even without the art show, Viki would be remembered fondly in Greater Morristown and beyond.

For years, she taught third-graders at the Thomas Jefferson School. Later, she was a secretary for the Morris School District, a Summer School principal, and a volunteer with the District’s fundraising arm, the Morris Educational Foundation.

Tom Werder presents award to Viki Craig of Art in the Atrium at 'Celebrate the Arts 2016.' Photo by Kevin Coughlin , March 30, 2016
Tom Werder presents award to Viki Craig of Art in the Atrium at ‘Celebrate the Arts 2016.’ Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“What I liked about Viki, she was always up. She always had a smile, always was very positive. She had a lot of spirit,” said District school board member Ann Rhines, a retired teacher who served with Viki on the foundation.

Viki also taught in the Plainfield school system. She earned an undergraduate degree from the Hampton Institute and Masters degrees from Bowie State (Early Childhood Education) and Kean University (Education Administration). 

Former Morristown Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris, a kindergarten teacher in the District, took her pupils to Art in the Atrium for years. Viki also organized an artist-in-residence program at the Lafayette School, which Harris’ 4H Club attended on Friday nights.

Harris remembered her friend’s personal generosity, too.

“Viki was a kind and beautiful woman, inside and out,” Harris said. “I remember her loaning me a fabulous two-piece white African pantsuit to wear at my first swearing-in for the town council 20 years ago.”

‘COOLEST BLACK FAMILY’

A charter member and former president of Morris County’s chapter of the service organization Jack & Jill of America, Viki chaired a conference for 800 teens in 1990, and traveled to Senegal, Africa, as a part of Jack & Jill’s Jumoke project. Her efforts would win her the Sanderal S. Brown Distinguished Mother Award.

In 2010, Viki was honored as an Inspirational Woman by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Women in Law Enforcement, during their Women’s History Month Celebration, according to her obituary. 

A master quilter who loved gifting personalized fabric artworks to friends and family, Viki was a member of the Bethel Quilters at the Bethel A.M.E. Church, where she also served as Superintendent of Sunday School for several years. 

Artist Ron EA Powell of Irvington and show co-founder Viki Craig, at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Artist Ron EA Powell of Irvington and show co-founder Viki Craig, at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Viki was born on Feb. 2, 1947 in New York City to Beatrice La Beaux Clark and Charles Edward Clark of Yonkers, New York, where she grew up as the oldest of four children.

She met Charles Craig in Plainfield in 1968 while spending the summer between her junior and senior years with a college classmate. 

They were married in 1970 and lived in Plainfield; and Hyattsville and Silver Spring, MD., before coming to Morristown. The couple raised two daughters, Simone Renee and Lauren Michelle, and they have been grandparents to Victoria Charleigh.

In 2017, the Craigs were named one of the “Coolest Black Families in America” by Ebony Magazine. 

Morris Arts honored Art in the Atrium as “Outstanding Arts Organization” in 2001 and 2016.

“Through Art in the Atrium, Viki enriched our community through exhibitions, educational programs and scholarships, and opened doors to greater inclusiveness,” said Tom Werder, executive director of Morris Arts.

Viki’s passion for her work impressed Werder.

Bisa Butler with her quilted homage to Diana Ross, 'La Diva.' Bisa teaches art at American History High School in Newark. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bisa Butler with her quilted homage to Diana Ross, ‘La Diva,’ at Art in the Atrium in 2011. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

” Every one she came in touch with experienced that passion – she worked tirelessly to create and grow Art in the Atrium so important work from the African American community could be displayed for all to see and experience. I feel honored to have known her,” he said.

“I think we are all in shock,” added Dr. Lynn Siebert of Morris Arts. Siebert lent a hand at Art in the Atrium for 16 years, and described Viki as inspiring. “Her death will leave a huge void.”

Artist Charles Caldwell said the Craigs gave him his first break, back in the 1990s. He considers Viki “the matriarch” of Morris County’s African-American art scene.

“She was very appreciative of honesty. She was a very loving person,” Caldwell said.

Bisa Butler said the Craigs featured her in the 2015 Atrium show, before many people had heard of her quilting.  Butler’s career took off; recently she quit teaching to pursue art full-time.

“They really took a chance on me,” she said. And Viki stayed in touch. Even after her diagnosis last year, she reached out, trying to “connect the dots” to help student interns, Butler recounted.

“She cared so much for the artists, young students, African-American artists, just wanting to help us succeed, with no real benefits for herself except feeling good for helping,” the West Orange artist said.

Featured artist Leroy Campbell at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Featured artist Leroy Campbell at Art in the Atrium 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

That is Viki Craig’s legacy, said Leroy Campbell, who treasures how comfortable she made him and everyone else feel at Atrium shows.

“We’re all going to die. The goal is not to live forever. It’s to leave something that will,” Campbell reflected.

“She married the artists and the community in Morristown together with her sense of humanity. That’s what she’s leaving behind, a marriage. She exposed our humanity, the African American community, to the neighboring communities.”

Last January, Art in the Atrium featured Campbell’s work in an exhibition titled, “The Journey Continues.”

“Now I say, Viki, go on your journey, girl, and continue on!” Campbell said.

Viki Craig was predeceased by her brother Stephen. She is survived by her husband, Charles; daughters Simone and Lauren; granddaughter, Victoria Charleigh; and her sister Lorraine Schwartz and brother J. Anthony Clark.

A wake is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, from 7 pm to 9 pm at Bethel A.M.E. Church, 59 Spring St., Morristown. The memorial service is at 11 am on Thursday, Jan. 3, also at Bethel. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Art in the Atrium Inc.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Deeply saddened by the great loss of a dear close friend and colleague, we shared a great love of teaching our third graders especially in the Basic Skills Summer School, as avid teachers. I fondly remember, the African American History Assembly we prepared for the Summer School Program. It was a skit about Harriet Tubman’s biography and her contributions to American History. The entire school participated in it and it was a magnanimous presentation. She was an avid supporter of African American Art and History. Last summer, we were discussing her handmade quilts and her marvelous techniques in creating them. We hope some students will carry on her tradition and will write a biographical book about her life and achievements We will always hold dear our “precious memories” about her achievements/contributions. It is our prayer that her works will always follow her in the “Art in the Atrium”.continually. That her life work will remain a “beacon of light” for all of the Morris School District Students as well as those future MSD students who can appreciate her work in the “Art in the Atriium”, in the future.
    Rev.Barbara and Rev. Forrest M. Pritchett, SR., Morris Township

  2. Surprised to learn of the loss of one of Franklin Corners treasures. My favorite memories are of Vicky with her grandchild, happily walking by my house to and from town.. She was just a wonderful positive person and I was proud to live in her neighborhood.

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