Remarkable "firsts" in Charlottesville

A self portrait by Mrs Frances Brand.

For the past two years a committee has been working on restoring and researching the remarkable collection of 150 works of art painted by Frances Brand (1901-1990), a notable Charlottesville folk artist. She was also known for her work as a civil rights activist and as a world traveler. In the 1950s after serving as a major in the US Army, she retired and began studying painting in Mexico City. The painting shown at the right is a self-portrait. Eventually she chose a theme for her works, people who were pioneers in a given field or endeavor.

An unidentified portrait by Mrs Frances Brand

She defined these “firsts” in broad terms, from the first female flag person on a Virginian road crew to the first female African-American police officer in town. Other “firsts” were more obscure, such as the first Charlottesville mother to use the Lamaze method. Her work was exhibited many times, most recently at the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society (click here for an on-line version of the exhibit).

Recently her grand-daughter, Cynthia Brand, initiated a discussion with the Department of Parks & Recreation Therapeutic Arts program to donate the paintings so that they could be displayed and inspire people of all ages.

An unidentified Portrait by Mrs Frances Brand

Several members of the community have joined forces to research and assess the condition of the collection so that it can be preserved for future exhibits. This effort includes private individuals, Cindy Brand, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, the City of Charlottesville, the Perry Foundation, and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (the last four groups generously donated funds to this project). Efforts are on-going to write the biographies of the people depicted in the paintings.

The committee needs YOUR help in identifying some of the paintings.

An unidentified portrait of a Charlottesville “first” by Frances Brand.

While most were labeled with the name of the subject, the selections illustrated here have not been identified. If you have any idea who might be depicted please post a comment below. You will need to study the icons in the paintings to read the storyline that Mrs Brand intended. For example, the painting below is, most likely, the first Chinese (-American ?) accepted to UVA or perhaps the first Asian faculty member. The book he’s holding may also be related to his “first” accomplishment. If anyone can read the inscription that would be a helpful start. The portrait above him might be the first inter-racial couple in Charlottesville and the one above that the first African-American postal carrier in the city. These are just guesses, but hopefully the images will jog someone’s memory.