|Al Bright photographed January 20, 2013 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. BlackArtistNews photo. All rights reserved.|
Pioneer Award Given to Youngstown, Ohio Artist
Text | Denise Dick for The Vindicator
Published | September 20, 2014
Renowned artist Alfred L. Bright, the first African-American full-service Youngstown State University faculty member, is the latest recipient of the William Holmes McGuffey Historical Society Pioneer Award.
Bright, a professor emeritus at YSU who was the founding director of the university’s black studies program, accepted the award [on September 19th] during a ceremony at William Holmes McGuffey Elementary School.
Society President Richard S. Scarsella said Bright truly is a pioneer.
Harry Meshel, a past recipient of the award and a retired state senator, called Bright “one of the most important people to grow up in this town.”
“He’s an extraordinary artist, recognized throughout country and throughout the world, really,” Meshel said. “He’s one of the greatest artists and musicians in our community.”
Bright a city native, graduate of the city schools and Youngstown University who earned his master’s degree at Kent State University, urged the McGuffey Elementary students to find what makes them special and to pursue it.
He started drawing at a young age and never stopped.
“I never stopped following the thing inside of me that was my special thing,” he said.
Bright also plays jazz flute but says art is his mistress. He’s been married for nearly 22 years to Dr. Virginia Banks-Bright. The two met after she bought a painting he donated to a Jewish Community Center fundraising auction for $5.
It was a good transaction for both of them.
“I got my painting back, and it’s been a lovely experience,” Bright said.
Bright, who creates abstract oil paintings while listening to jazz or classical pieces, brought prints of a few of his works to the school. Abstract Jazz Works lined the school library. One of those, “Homage to Nab,” was inspired by his seventh-grade art teacher at the former Covington Elementary School, Jon Naberezny. Naberezny, who died in 2013, encouraged Bright as a young artist and helped him secure the faculty post at YSU.
Bright knew he was an artist but didn’t know how he could make a living doing it. He spent his first two years in college majoring in psychology and philosophy.
One day the philosophy professor wrote a quote on the board that helped Bright realize what he should do. At the end of class, he headed to the art department and found Naberezny there.
“He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you for two years,’” Bright said.
Bright created the artwork in front of 10,000 people at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival the day before Naberezny’s funeral and believes his former mentor was with him that day,
McGuffey, an educator, who lived in the Western Reserve, near Youngstown, published the “McGuffey Reader,” in 1836. It became the standardized reading text for most schools across the United States during the mid- to late-19th century.