Behind the Portrait: Earl Cantrell

A Greatriarch is a longtime community member who has served their neighborhood well. They are the people you know riding their bike down the street, offering a trusted hand during an emergency, or picking you up when you need a ride. They are trustworthy friends, caring neighbors, and wise mentors. For the past two years, artist Abi Ogle, has painted thoughtful portraits of the Monon16 Greatriarchs. The Greatriarch project reminds us that every neighbor has a story that deserves to be heard. These community members were included in this series because they have invited us to bear witness to their stories. 

From the artist, Abi Ogle

“These neighbors shared their stories with me at porch parties and in conversations in the Monon16 area (where the Hillside and Kennedy King neighborhoods come together), and in return I hope to enter into a conversation with them through art that is dignifying, tied to art history, and honoring. Each Greatriarch is painted purple, a color that is associated historically with royalty. Every portrait has an intentional art historical reference in an effort to pay homage to the work of an African American artist. The first round of Greatriarchs were created in 2017 as portraits and were displayed as public art during the inaugural PreEnactIndy performance on 16th Street. This second round of landscape-oriented portraits, created in 2019, will be shown on 16th Street in October during PreEnactIndy to expand the conversation and depict the ways these Greatriachs have served and are seen by their neighbors.”

Earl Cantrell, by Abi Ogle

Earl Cantrell, by Abi Ogle

About Earl Cantrell’s Portrait

“Earl Cantrell has been a part of the Hillside neighborhood since 1994 when his motorcycle club, the Rough Riders, secured a clubhouse at 17th and Alvord. The Rough Riders at one point in time had over eighty-seven members, some of which were several sets of brothers. This created a unique environment that allowed for a tightly knit group to be formed. Not only were the members closely related, but they often invited the community into their space by hosting dances that would draw hundreds of people, raising money for charity, and renting the clubhouse for private events. Though there are only twenty members left in the club, a wealth of memories and shared experiences have grown from what was once only an idea of a club mentioned in a garage. 

I chose to reference Jacob Lawrence’s Studio Corner (1936) in Mr. Earl’s portrait because this corner of the room feels active. It has frames on the wall, a box on the floor, the person who occupies that space is in motion, collecting, changing, growing, building, and all we see is one small corner of the life lived. Similarly, Mr. Earl has been a part of the community for a long time, traveling, and collecting stories from his motorcycle adventures and bringing them back home to his corner of the world – Indianapolis.”

Studio Corner  by Jacob Lawrence (1936), a painting that served as inspiration for the portrait

Studio Corner by Jacob Lawrence (1936), a painting that served as inspiration for the portrait

Earl pictured (right) with other members of the Rough Riders

Earl pictured (right) with other members of the Rough Riders