Art, Community, and Social Activism

By: Mark Davenport  

Vera B. Williams, the self-proclaimed “ambassador for children,” is best known today for her 40-year career as a successful and widely acclaimed children’s author and illustrator, for which she was recognized in 2009 as a winner of the prestigious NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature and as a 2004 U.S. nominee for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest honor bestowed on creators of children’s books. Very little has been written about her life or career, however, especially her childhood years as a student of the pioneering art therapist Florence Cane or her college years at Black Mountain College working under master colorist Josef Albers, her esteemed mentor. Less still, is known about her role in the formation of the Gatehill Cooperative, an intentional community founded in 1954, 30 miles north of New York City, by some of the most influential creative figures of the twentieth century – all former faculty or students at Black Mountain College. At Gatehill, Williams designed a series of brilliant covers for Liberation Magazine, one of the most outspoken publications for humanitarian issues, civil rights, and the anti-war movement during the 1950s to the mid–1960s. She also became a leader in staging major anti-war demonstrations in New York City, including the so-called “Balloon Happening,” at Grand Central Station, that became a model for activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Ruben. Drawing on extensive research, personal interviews, and illustrated through an exclusive collection of archival photographs, this paper documents the activities of this extraordinary figure.

Politics of Art, Community Arts, Arts Pedagogies, Creativity
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Mark Davenport

Professor/Chair, Fine & Performing Arts, Regis University, United States
United States