Painting, "Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad"
Painting, "Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad"
Painting, "Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad"

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Collection Tier:
Tier 2

Black History ➔ Painting, "Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad"

This painting depicts Underground Railroad “conductor” Harriet Tubman, leading a group of enslaved people towards freedom in the north. Born with a slave status in eastern Maryland, Tubman fled to the north but returned many times, leading dozens of others to freedom. During daylight, they hid in barns or cellars (called stations) owned by free Blacks or White abolitionists. Station operators provided food, shelter, and safety. By night, conductors like Tubman, led enslaved people to the next station. Some routes of the Underground Railroad brought people through Michigan on their way to Canada, where slavery was illegal. The Underground Railroad operated from about 1830 until slavery was abolished in 1865.

To create this painting, Paul Collins used live actors in historic costume as models. The actors were from Robeson Players, an African American theater company in Grand Rapids founded by Cedric Ward. From left to right the actors were Gladys Jean Long, Jay Jackson, Michael Mowrey-Long (the baby), Sandy Ward and Cedric Ward holding Joe Gofoe. Initially they worked in a studio, but Collins decided they seemed too comfortable so they agreed to pose outside in the cold and rain alongside Fisk Lake to recreate the pain and agony of the dramatic moment the artist wanted to capture.
Oil On Canvas
78" h 92" w
Current Location Status:
On Exhibit
Gift Of Inc. Compatico
Restricted Use
Galleria (after 1994)
Paul Collins
Paul Collins is a self-taught realist painter whose career spans more than six decades. Born in Muskegon, Michigan, he moved to Grand Rapids at a young age and started painting as a child. Experiencing the harsh reality of racism as a young, African American/Indian European child during these transformative years inspired him to draw attention to social injustices through his art.

Collins rose to prominence as an artist in the 1960s, with works inspired by his travels to Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. His paintings were exhibited nationally and internationally in institutions such as John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Key West Museum, National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, Kawara Museum in Japan and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Significant works included creating the 1975 mural of President Gerald Ford for the airport in Grand Rapids and designing the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize Medal, the highest award given by the King Center that was commissioned by Coretta Scott King (the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.)

Compatico Incorporated
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