George Cotton with UAPB spoke with Pat Walker about two UAPB alums Kevin Cole and Smokie Norful.
Kevin Earlee Cole, a Pine Bluff native, is one of the country’s most renowned mid-career artists.
- He received his bachelor’s in art education in 1982, and over the last thirty-plus years, Cole has received 27 grants and fellowships, 66 awards in art, 51 teaching awards more than 45 public art commissions.
- Those public art commissions include the Coca-Cola Centennial Olympic Mural for the 1996 Olympics and “Soul Ties That Matter,” a 55-foot-long installation created for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2018.
- The artist’s work is included in more than 3,600 public, private and corporate collections throughout the United States, including the
- Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Museum in Washington, D.C.
- Tyson’s Foods headquarter in Bentonville
- William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library
- The Arkansas Art Center, now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Art
- Morgan Stanley, UPS, The Coca-Cola Company, Bank of America, IBM
- And of course the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
- Cole is most well-known for his abstract “necktie” pieces, inspired by his grandfather, who was active in the civil rights movement.
- Kevin says that when he turned 18, his grandfather stressed the importance of voting by taking him to a tree where his grandfather said Blacks had been lynched by their neckties on the way to vote. Kevin says that left a profound impression on him.
- Kevin states on his website: “My work is a universal story with both hero and villain, good and evil. The narrative is embedded like html code. It is not what one sees, but it can be decoded.”
- And Cole’s art is in some famous homes around the world… those are the private collections I mentioned a moment ago, notably, NBA legend Michael Jordan and Darrell & Lisa Walker, Darrell is a former NBA Basketball Player and coach of men’s basketball at UA-Little Rock.
- Among the numerous awards Kevin has received, he’s a recent inductee into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
- This alumnus is dear to the hearts of 2020 graduates because he so graciously accepted our invitation to serve as the commencement speaker of UAPB’s first virtual commencement ceremony.
- Smokie Norful is an award-winning recording artist, a pastor, educator and visionary who has reached the heights of success in both music and ministry.
- His 2002 debut release, I Need You Now, catapulted him to worldwide recognition.
- Since that time he has found commercial success with four number 1 Billboard Albums and more than 2.5 million albums sold worldwide.
- Norful is a multiple gold-selling artist and has been named Billboard Magazine’s “Gospel Artist of the Year” twice.
- He has earned several Stellar, Dove, Soul Train, NAACP Image and Grammy Awards.
- Norful is an educator at heart and earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in history in 1995 before teaching junior and senior high school students for several years.
- He went on to earn a Master of Divinity and launch Victory Cathedral Worship Center outside Chicago in 2005. He opened a second campus in Chicago in 2008.