Liberal Arts students unveil legacy of artist and teacher Isaac Scott Hathaway

By Victoria Mayhall, student, College of Liberal Arts, and Carol Nelson, Office of Communications and Marketing



Just as African-American artist and teacher Isaac Scott Hathaway sought to preserve the legacies of prominent African-American figures, a team of Auburn University students and the Community and Civic Engagement initiative aim to celebrate Hathaway's life accomplishments through community involvement and outreach.

Eight Auburn University students led by Mark Wilson, director of Civic Learning Initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts, began an educational project last fall to unveil the life and work of Hathaway.

Most widely known for his ceramic sculptures of prominent African-Americans such as George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Debois, Jessie Owens and Jackie Robinson, Hathaway made important contributions to educational art through his teaching career. Hathaway also was the first African-American to design U.S. coins. He designed the Booker T. Washington memorial half-dollar, which was produced from 1946 to 1951, and the George Washington Carver-Booker T. Washington memorial half-dollar, produced from 1951 to 1954.

The class project was part of the college's participation in the Appalachian Teaching Project of the Appalachian Regional Commission, which includes a conference each December in Washington, D.C., for consortium members. The project brings students, faculty and community members together for collaboration on issues affecting the Appalachian region. Auburn was one of only 15 institutions invited to the conference and is the only consortium member representing the state of Alabama.

For the 2012-2013 project, Auburn students Chardae Caine, Michael Gutierrez, Austin Haisten, Kaleb Kirkpatrick, Sierra Lehnhoff, Maggie Moore, Laney Payne and Audrey Ross worked with Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center director Deborah Gray and citizens in Macon County to develop ways to make Hathaway's legacy known.

After more than 30 years of teaching art and working as a sculptor, Hathaway brought his talents to Alabama in 1937 when he and his wife moved to Tuskegee to establish the Ceramics Department at Tuskegee University. In 1947, Hathaway broke a significant racial barrier when he introduced ceramics at the all-white Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

The students involved in the project were primarily responsible for developing hands-on educational activities for various age groups ranging from kindergarteners to senior citizens. Led by Auburn students, the schoolchildren made masks and painted sculptures to experience the types of work Hathaway did as an artist. The painted sculptures were given as prizes to residents at the Tuskegee Senior Center who participated in an Isaac Hathaway bingo game developed by one of the Auburn students.

"Kaleb Kirkpatrick created a bingo game, but instead of 'bingo' it's 'Isaac.' Each number represents something significant about Hathaway's life," Wilson explained. "The public responded quite well. Kaleb gave a presentation on Hathaway; a couple of people in the room remembered the Hathaways Mrs. Hathaway has not been deceased very long. When people won a game and yelled, 'Isaac,' they were awarded a sculpture that had been painted by tiny hands from Macon County."

In order to share information about the project, students worked with the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, to develop a website dedicated to the life and work of Hathaway. The website showcases biographical information, a student-produced video, a compilation of photos, a digital copy of a pamphlet, and a podcast written, produced and performed by Auburn students, which is a re-creation of a 1939 Federal Writers' Project interview with Hathaway (below).

"I loved working on the Isaac Scott Hathaway project because it was really inspiring to see how one man could bring so much pride to a community such as Tuskegee," said Sierra Lehnhoff, a freshman majoring in communications.

Accompanied by Wilson, the students traveled to Washington, D.C., to present their work at the Appalachian Regional Commission conference in December.

"The project allowed students to learn the value of local history to communities and to create products to keep Hathaway's legacy alive," Wilson explained. "We look forward to working with schools and organizations in Macon County to share his unique and important story."

Since launching the website in early December, scholars and media outlets have expressed interest in promoting and contributing to the students' project. In fact, the Voyager Media Group in Lexington, Ky., plans to tweak a working script for a national documentary on Hathaway to include his professorship at Alabama Polytechnic Institute. In addition, educators from outside the state of Alabama have contacted Wilson for information on ways to use the student-created kits in their own classrooms.

Last Updated: Feb. 7, 2013

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