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Silky Shoemaker’s life-size plywood portraits displayed in Frenchtown


ArtYard recently presented “Queer Icons: Pioneers,” a public exhibition featuring the works of artist, performer and activist Silky Shoemaker.

ArtYard first commissioned Shoemaker to construct 10 life-size plywood portraits of monumental figures from the LGBTQ community in the spring of 2019.

This year, ArtYard presented a second iteration of this project, featuring 10 new icons from the LGBTQ community who were pioneers in their respective fields – civil rights activists, drag performers, dancers, arbiters of rock and roll, baseball players, floral designers, writers, film directors and producers.

This year’s queer icons were Pauli Murray, Lou Sullivan, Flawless Sabrina, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Constance Spry, Dorothy Arzner, Glenn Burke, Ellis Haizlip, Willi Ninja and Jeanne Cordóva.

Because ArtYard’s galleries and theater remain closed to the public in light of COVID-19, it had to forego installing the figures inside the gallery as originally planned. Instead, ArtYard partnered with local businesses throughout Frenchtown, N.J., to display this year’s icons in their storefront windows or in front of their entrances so that the icons can be seen and admired at a safe distance.

Last year’s icons also were on display; they included Gladys Bentley, Langston Hughes, Essex Hemphill, Agnes Martin, Dorian Corey, Leslie Feinberg, Barbara Jordan, Bayard Rustin, Esquerita and Pat Parker. The figures were on view June 15 through June 30.

“Queer Icons: Pioneers” was presented in conjunction with the Frenchtown Business and Professional Association (FBPA)’s fourth annual PRIDE celebration. While the parade was canceled, ArtYard hopes the presentation of this year’s Queer Icons has served as a means of continued celebration.