Monday, August 18, 2014



 By all rights, Winfred Rembert should have died five decades ago.  At 19, this African-American boy was captured by a gang of angry white men in a Georgia woods and had a noose around his neck for protesting in a Civil Rights march.  He was going to be lynched but, at the last moment, the men decided to use him as an example and parade him through the town.  That decision was a private miracle for his family and friends and a public joy and celebration for the world.

At 69 years of age, Winfred Rembert has enough stories of his heritage to last many more than the thousand and one nights of a Scheherazade.  As a self-taught folk artist who began his art career after the age of fifty, he might conjure up an image of Grandma Moses. But Winfred Rembert is his own man and the stories he tells through his art are uniquely his.

Born in Cuthbert, Georgia, he was raised by an aunt after his mother abandoned him at three months of age.  He rarely attended school and by six was more often in the cotton fields and potato patches earning 50 cents a day for his labors.  By the time he turned a teen, he had run away from that hard life, hung around pool halls and learned about the Civil Rights movement.

He was arrested for protesting and there followed terrible years of abuse when he was almost lynched and sentenced to 27 years in prison.  Thankfully, due to his own ingenuity, he learned to read and write from other prisoners.  More importantly, he discovered his talent for working with leather and creating an art form that testifies to and celebrates the sorrows and joys of his life.

Out of prison after seven years, through the intervention of a California senator, he returned home and continued his courtship of his love, Patsy, and they share the raising of eight children and many grandchildren in their Newhall Street, New Haven home.  A natural storyteller, Winfred was encouraged by Patsy to put those stories on leather as a heritage for their children.  The wallets and pocketbooks he learned to make in prison have now, for the last 15 years, been transformed into pictorials of his African-American legacy.

Prominent in his leather tooled art, that he makes often at night when sleep and nightmares are too painful, are images of rows of cotton fields and the laborers who strain their backs to pinch the bolls from the prickly plants.  Another is of Miss Lydie who stopped her picking long enough to birth a baby and then started work minutes later.  When Winfred was a babe himself, his baby sitter was told to hang a large white sheet from the line as a signal to his mama in the fields if there was a problem.

Winfred Rembert doesn't shy away from the painful memories.  He uses his tools, a toe and a heel and a swivel knife, followed by colored dyes rather than paints (paints crack and peel), to create scenes of lynch mobs and chain gangs, realities that he knows intimately.  Pool halls, dance parlors, his favorite swimming hole when he played hookey, the stores he frequented, the midwife who charges $8 for a baby delivery, jazz singers and even President Obama have all been immortalized.  This "true original" has had his life captured in a brilliant film "ALL ME: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert" by Vivian Ducat and will be shown at Westville's Kehler Liddell Gallery, 893 Whalley Avenue, New Haven on Thursday, August 21 at 7 p.m.  Come early at 6 p.m. to see his leather carving demonstration.  His exhibit of vibrant and one-of-a-kind art will be on display until Sunday, August 31.  Gallery hours are Thursday and Friday 11a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment, 203-389-9555 or online at

Winfred Rembert "takes bad situations and turns them into beautiful art as a sign of strength and of remembrance."  He recently had an exhibit of his art in a gallery near his hometown in Georgia, an event that proved how far he has come from the scared and hurt little boy.  From his experiences, he could well hate the world for all the suffering he endured.  Instead he acknowledges his black history and his American history.  He also wants the three white Wilson Brothers from Cuthbert who told him he would amount to no good to know how wrong they were.

As he proclaims, "I have a dream of working with children in my home, my church, in schools.  I can make a difference in some children's lives.  I feel the Lord is with me and helps me do and say the right things."  He has often opened his home and his heart to runaway children and feels it is his heritage to tell his tale.  "By all rights, I should have died when a mob of mean people almost castrated and hung me, but instead let me live.  A guardian angel saved me and I am alive to tell my life story.  My art will help you to know me."

Let Winfred Rembert tell his special story through his vibrant hand-tooled leather pictures.  As he succinctly puts it, "I didn't give up.  I keep on trucking."

Let Winfred Rembert tell his special story through his vibrant hand-tooled leather pictures.  As he succinctly puts it, "I didn't give up.  I keep on trucking."

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