Paintings by Steve Skipper often look like paused video that could start moving with the push of a button. From Alabama's first Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram running into the Texas line in the championship game a few years back, to Dallas Tight End Jayson Witten running after losing his helmet against the Eagles, Skipper paints toughness and determination.
But a series of pencil drawings, the genisis of collecting thoughts and ideas and images of the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham are possibly the most important of his works.
"But, this one was extremely special. It touched a whole lot of heart strings and deeper part of me than anything ever had," Skipper said.
There are iconic images of America, of who we are -- the symbols that present freedom for everyone. There are images of things from that era that divided us and then drew us together. There are many people depicted -- little girls, grown men and women, black and white. There are faces in this painting that you know -- other people and things are symbolic of what was happening in Birmingham in 1963 and what has happened since.
"And, the good things that we're experiencing right now, you could never appreciate without knowing how you got where you are," Skipper said. "Even in the Christian artwork that I've done. The Civil Rights movement was not just a movement of people, I believe with everything in me that it's a movement of God. I think there was a tremendous amount of prayer going on, there was a tremendous amount of spiritual leadership and a tremendous amount of spiritual guidance through the Civil Rights movement."
Steve Skipper and I have been friends for 20 years and he would have let me show the nearly finished painting that he's spent so many hours on. But I want his unveiling of the work, which is a very big deal, to be the first time folks see the painting. So as he worked, I took close up pictures of the images. Words from an old negro spiritual and a little girl with a bow in her hair come to life in the beautiful muted colors in the painting not yet seen by the public.
Steve chose to see the images from 1963 from the front portico of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The great detail of the brick and mortar, and when you stand in that exact place you begin to understand the inspiration that Steve Skipper had when standing there and how he began to see in his mind, what he believes, was providence of God in providing the leadership needed during the movement.
"The special way that God orchestrated things, this wasn't His first time doing this. The children of Israel prayed for the same thing, for deliverance in Egypt and, in fact, my people were praying the cotton field to send them a Moses and I think that this right here was Moses in the form of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. King, in the form of Fred Shuttlesworth. I think that deliverance was universal in the fact that God did the whole thing," Skipper said.
The unveiling of Steve's latest work will come during the upcoming 50 Years Forward celebration festivities in the city of Birmingham. Steve has spent more than 1,700 hours at the easel, working on the most important painting he's ever done. Telling the story of his people; The story of us all.
That's the spirit of Alabama.
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