By Patrick Donachie
Emmett Wigglesworth’s career in the arts has spanned multiple decades and locales, from his upbringing in Philadelphia to his stint in the United States Marines and his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. But throughout his life, one of his goals has stayed the same—imparting an optimistic tone to his work.
“When you go into the arts, you really go in to make a positive impact,” he said during an interview at his workshop in the basement of the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. “I don’t think an artist is important, but I do think what an artist has to say is important.”
Wigglesworth’s work is featured in a new exhibition at the center titled “It Is Not Enough to See, One Must See Through to Find Truth.” The exhibition, which features work from every stage of Wigglesworth’s career, is scheduled to run through the end of December.
Wigglesworth described his process as an act of sharp inspiration, comparing that inspiration to a message that needs to be translated by the artist. He took pencil to paper, briefly scribbling what seemed like indiscriminate lines, and then after a moment’s appraisal he started finding hands, feet and facial expressions in the lines.
“Since I was a kid, all I do is scribble, and I’m trying to figure out what those scribbles mean,” he said, showing final drafts of such scribbles. “When I try to draw, I don’t get any messages, but when I respond to what I scribble, I do.”
When Wigglesworth finds the art in the scribbles, he said he is often struck by a phrase that encapsulates the theme for which he is striving, and will write it underneath the piece. Beneath some of the sketches were written short phrases like “angels watch over the children lest they stray too far,” “if they had all known the truth, he need not have died,” and “raise a child with love, produce an adult at peace.”
Wigglesworth said his work in the Civil Rights Movement helped solidify his belief in the ability of the arts to impact the world, as he saw young white men and women who joined the movement for integration, influenced by their unifying love for music made by black artists. He said he was saddened that the arts is often given short shrift in some schools.
“The thing about the arts is that they humanize,” he said. “We all have all of these things in all of us.”
Wigglesworth was complimentary of JCAL, saying he was extraordinarily happy to have space for a workshop at the center. He was working on a piece that would feature evocative figurines of jazz legends that could surround the fountain at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, even thinking of utilizing lighting that could offer the illusion of movement for viewers.
More information on the Wigglesworth exhibition as well as JCAL’s other programs can be found at www.jcal.org or by visiting the space at 161-04 Jamaica Ave.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona