Art students at West Kentucky Community and Technical College have turned an idea to highlight the contributions of national figures during Black History Month into an annual exhibit featuring portraits of prominent local African Americans.

The WKCTC Student Art & Design Club will host a special art installation recognizing those efforts, "Defining Paducah: Honoring the Outstanding Legacy of Local African Americans," at 3 p.m. Saturday at 203 Broadway in Paducah's downtown.

Following the portrait unveiling of 14 notable African Americans from Paducah's rich history, a reception will follow at 126 Market House Square until 6 p.m. The portraits will be on display throughout February.

"We wanted to do something (last year) for Black History Month, and we started off with the idea to do known prominent African Americans like Rosa Parks, but we decided to go more local," said Tanya Neitzke, Paducah School of Art and Design faculty member and co-adviser of the club.

"And, that's what's been interesting, working with a lot of community members and discovering who are those prominent African Americans from the past here in Paducah. It's been a real lesson for me because I'm not from this area. We also realized a lot of students didn't know a lot of these figures in the community as well."

According to Neitzke, "This little idea has grown into this giant idea and we have collaborated with a lot of people in the community that we didn't even know and brought people together. It's been really cool. So that's how it started."

Last year's exhibit featured 22 people. Those portraits will be displayed during the reception. In addition, there will be a drop box to allow patrons to submit ideas for subjects for future portraits.

"There's so many figures in this community, we decided to do it (each year) so we can discover more," Neitzke said.

J.W. Cleary, president of the local NAACP chapter, was a member of the committee which helped advise the club's efforts.

"It's amazing what's going on in our community," he said. "I just thought it was a great idea. It's a good way to kick off Black History Month."

The Student Art & Design Club is open to everyone on campus, not just art students. In addition to artists from WKCTC, this year's portraits will feature work done by some members of the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club, a student from McCracken County High School and a middle school student from Mayfield, according to Neitzke.

The faculty member said she was amazed at the results.

"We had two painting workshops. It was very interesting, because you're not only trying to teach some painting technique, you're also teaching about the person they're painting," she said.

People who attend the exhibit will also likely be learning something, according to Neitzke.

"This reaches artists, who are interested painting-wise and artisitic-wise, but also people interested in history."

The subject of one of the portraits is the prominent educator, Dr. William Stuart Nelson, and there will also be some landmarks within the community featured.

Without mentioning any other particulars, "there's a couple of surprises in the unveiling," Neitzke said.

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