WATERBURY — The Mattatuck Museum, 63 Prospect St., will open an exhibit titled Moises Suriel: Waterbury Greats, showcasing more than 40 hand-drawn portraits of Black Waterburians, a collection envisioned by Dr. James H. Gatling, to honor those who have made significant contributions to the Black community.

The exhibition will open with a reception and artist’s talk at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, September 17.

“Waterbury is a strong community full of strong community members,” said Museum Director Bob Burns. “There are so many here who are passionately devoted to bettering this city and creating a standard for giving back to the community. I am so glad to be a part of celebrating their accomplishments and legacy of a prosperous and thriving Waterbury.”

Moises Suriel is a Dominican Republic-born artist, with an education from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and a career as an illustrator at Walt Disney World in Florida that launched his success.

He has also worked for big industry entertainment names, creating album covers and posters for Prince and other well-known artists.

His life-like creations easily encapsulate the spirit and character of each subject, making him the best fit to bring to life the vision spurring Gatling’s collection.

Dr. James H. Gatling commissioned this project to not only honor Waterbury’s history, but to highlight the many firsts for African Americans who hail from the city.

His inspiration for this project stems from a poster created by Kay Wyrick, a Waterbury activist, in the 1980s.

This collage of cut-outs featuring local Black philanthropists came from an early 80s calendar created by at-the-time Funeral Director James Sanders.

“It was such a powerful image, and it stayed with me through the years,” commented Mr. Gatling. “I knew that this important message needed to be carried to a larger audience.”

Gatling’s process for selecting the subjects of the portraits was easy for him to do: he looks at the 12 people he initially selected from those highlighted in the 1980s calendar and poster, and what was fundamental to the reasoning of his collection.

“Those that are chosen are people who have made major accomplishments for or have gotten positions that have never occurred before in the Black community,” he explained.

On the basis of this collection Mr. Gatling said, “We always look at our national heroes, but the people that really make it work are the people that do things locally. 

“We have local community members that have made major contributions, but the focus is always on somebody nationally that we never see...these people inspire us, but I wanted Waterburians to realize there are people right in this community that are doing good work and that’s who we should aspire to be.”

The partnership between Mr. Suriel and Mr. Gatling is, as Mr. Gatling put it, “a Godsend.”

“The Mattatuck is dedicated to featuring local, Connecticut artists,” noted Assistant Curator Chelsea Garth. “To have a chance to feature a Waterbury-based artist like Moises Suriel fits perfectly into the Mattatuck’s mission. 

“His work is impressive not only for the sheer number of portraits he has completed in the time since he and Dr. Gatling partnered for this project, but also in his execution — these precise graphite drawings really capture the spirit and personality of each of his subjects.”

The museum will be open by appointment only, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and admission tickets can be purchased at mattmuseum.org.

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