GraffDummy’s painting brings past, present and future together in ‘Exploring Jonathan Street’ exhibition

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

To mark the final week of the exhibition, Exploring Jonathan Street: History, Art, Imagination (closes September 11, 2022), we hope that you enjoy this painting. If you visit the museum, you can see this work in the Bowman Gallery.


GraffDummy (Quielan Gantt) (American, b. 1987)
Back in the Day, 2022
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
On loan from the artist

In this vibrant, dynamic painting, Hagerstown-based artist GraffDummy presents a kaleidoscopic composition that merges memories and fragments from the past while inviting viewers to ponder their relevance in the present. Employing layered symbolism as well as remarkable coloristic contrasts and surface textures, GraffDummy allows us to reimagine the lives and experiences of the Jonathan Street Cabin’s inhabitants and neighborhood residents of this historically Black community. In the upper left, the cabin and street signs anchor the work as key focal points and are juxtaposed with daytime and nocturnal skies, reminding us of the site’s centrality in telling stories over time. The large new moon (upper right) refers to when Gantt started painting his canvas, while a pie in the cabin’s window symbolizes cooking and the comforts of home life that occupants might have enjoyed.

Moving from left to right along the bottom, different Black faces emerge (symbolic of three generations of residents), representing those who have witnessed the cabin and neighborhood evolve. In the foreground, the flowers (beginnings with elders) connote footprints, seeds, and growth as well as male (left) and female stereotypes (right). A large, unfurling head (middle generation) is contrasted with an American flag, referencing the US generally and the police car that struck the cabin in 2018. This event initially attracted public attention to the home’s historical significance, subsequent restoration, and archaeological excavations. As part of the exhibition Exploring Jonathan Street: History, Art, Imagination, a selection of artifacts from this dig are on display.

On the right, a partially obscured man (youth) observes the scene and also gazes toward the cabin and at the viewer, encouraging us to reflect on the community’s heritage. Note how Gantt deftly disperses utilitarian and talismanic artifacts (found at the site) throughout the painting: the Hoyt’s Cologne bottle (bottom left) and a pierced disc appear as eyes on the large central face; and a horseshoe and cat heel bone occupy the center. These objects (used to repel evil and bring good luck), along with doll eyes, marbles, and a die (allusions to children and play), are all traces of a fragmentary history that we can interpret and envision.
This WeekendArt is sponsored by Ken & Ann Grove