The Face of Cassia

Redeemer Health Care Center resident Lydia Wardlaw-Brown poses with her sculptures for a picture.

Redeemer Resident’s Art Engages New Audiences

Redeemer Health Care Center resident Lydia Wardlaw-Brown loves creating art.

Years ago, that meant shaping large sculptures of heads. Now, she mostly draws and paints, but her sculptures are drawing new attention from new audiences.

In March and April 2024, Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis featured many of her sculptures in the church library.

“People are interested in my art and I like showing it,” says Lydia, a member of Park Avenue Church. “It tells a lot of my story, my history and the history of African Americans, which I want people to understand.”

Lydia grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from Central High School in 1961. In 1987, she began pursuing a college degree. She attended Texas Southern University in Houston, TX; a local community college in Cleveland, OH; and Kent State University in Kent, OH. There she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1992.

“I just got into art because that’s what I could do best,” Lydia says. “I could make decent grades. I went into the art department and found out I like to make big pieces instead of small pieces.”

She credits others for helping to fine tune her skills.

“I had some very good instructors who took interest in me and my work, encouraged me and showed me things I could do better,” Lydia says. “I had other students who were interested in what I was doing as I showed my creativity at school. Students help other students.”

She spent several years in Ohio.

“Ohio is a different environment than here,” Lydia says, comparing her former home to her current home in Minneapolis. “It’s more cosmopolitan. It has different architecture.”

“I receive my inspiration from experiences living in a black, urban culture and the inner city,” Lydia says. “Because I lived in Cleveland for 18 years and Youngstown, which have large urban populations, I was inspired to study and examine the black culture and black facial features.”

The “characters” she met especially influenced her and she enjoyed introducing others to them through her art.

“I’m trying to introduce some different characters for them to meet. That’s the way I look at it,” Lydia says. “My philosophical theory I have about my art is it represents characters in society: some good, some bad, some goofy. There are some people who are responsible, some who are not and some goofy.”

She also found inspiration in herself and created a self-portrait.

“I took the hard things I was experiencing and put it into my art,” Lydia says. “It is a good picture of an angry woman … I’m over my anger now.”

She credits her imagination as the basis of her art and inspiration to keep going, even if in different ways.

“I enjoyed creating and using my ability,” Lydia says. “It was motivating, using my imagination. I still have a lot of imagination, but my body just quit. I can still do art like drawing because I don’t have to be physical with it.”

Several galleries have featured Lydia’s work.

She had two solo exhibitions, in the Rogue Gallery in 1995 and the Lutheran Brotherhood First Floor Art Gallery in 1996.

She has also participated in the “Fifteen Artists” group show at the Sheldon Theater in Red Wing, MN, and won second place as an emerging artist for Juneteenth in 1996.

In the decades that followed, she displayed her art only in the privacy of her home. She is now open to it being displayed publicly again.

“Hopefully it will be shown in various museums or facilities so it won’t get damaged or hurt,” Lydia says.

She especially enjoys that younger generations are able to interact with her art.

“I know some people showed a picture of preschool kids who were really fascinated with it because of its size and what it looked like,” Lydia says. “Little kids were sticking their fingers up the nose. That’s kind of why I made it. That’s how they learn.”

And, she was thankful for the opportunity to show her art in the church.

“They have appreciated my art,” Lydia says. “A lot of times, people at the church say, ‘We’re glad to see your art.’ That made me feel good.”

The feeling was mutual.

“The church was interested and glad to make it available for people to view and engage with,” says Luke Snider, a friend who helped coordinate the display at the church. “Many church members expressed that they didn’t know Ms. Lydia was a sculptor and were so glad they could see her artwork on display.”

After Lydia’s art display at the church, Sabathani Community Center offered to store her sculptures and display them in the Sabathani Museum at some point. This is the same building where Lydia attended junior high when it was Bryant Junior High School.