Behind the Portrait: Paul Webster
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 Every portrait has an intentional art historical reference in an effort to pay homage to the work of an African American artist.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.”
About Paul Webster’s Portrait
“ ‘I try to make things better. I was raised with the idea that you should leave things better than you found them.’ Paul Webster is the kind of human who has spent years in Hillside, striving to help it grow, and acting as an agent for positive change among its members. He moved to his current home forty years ago when he and his wife, Mrs. Shirley, were married. Ever since, they have been an active part of the neighborhood and have thoughtfully engaged with those around them whether that was in church, on committees, or leading neighborhood associations. Mr. Paul was also a leader of his union and was very much interested in acting as an advocate for and listening well to those around him.
In retirement, Mr. Paul enjoys giving his wife and her friends rides as well as driving Uber. I have tied his story to the map of the city and the excitement he shows about how things are constantly changing, moving and being made new. He recalled a time when the neighborhood was challenged with repeated drug deals and violence. But he chose to stay in his neighborhood because he had invested in it, and it is where their family home was created and fostered. Mr. Paul has watched the neighborhood evolve over the last few decades and has grown with it, through all the pains and joys that accompany that.
I chose to reference Jonah and the Whale by David Driskell because of Mr. Paul’s involvement in the church community. Not only is the narrative of Jonah and the Whale a story of unexpected choices and the necessity to love a community, but the piece itself is a web of marks. The way that the lines curve and change, similar to the roads that Mr. Paul travels on during his work with Uber, reminded me of how his involvement in the community has changed. It has been something unexpected and beautiful and when seen from a further view it becomes a cohesive whole composed of different strokes and strange interwoven paths.”