Nancy Shurtz – Torch Lighter

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This painting is considered a “black-face” take on the famous George Washington crossing the Delaware”

This is Part 2 of my defence of Nancy Shurtz.

“The University of Oregon law professor Nancy Shurtz ignited a firestorm because she wore blackface at a private Halloween party. No, that’s not quite accurate. Shurtz set the kindling beneath her. Someone else tossed the spark.”

For days I have been wanting to pour my soul out for my artist friend, Michael Harvey. To say he is/was a black man, would be a continuation of my admittance to him that I am indeed a racist, according to the profound and eloquent argument he put before me proving I am……..guilty as charged!

Michael and I were born in Oakland. In 1973, we met at the Upstairs Art Association located in downtown Oakland. We became fast friends and had conversations about art that were masterpieces. The courtroom artist, Rosalie Ritz, joined in our ground breaking adventures. This was a mixed race art association.

Two weeks ago, we all thought we had made all the advancements there was to make. Then, Trump won on the Racist Ticket. I have been around. I fear in another year the ‘Shurtz Incident’ will be seen as the Best of Times, for a long time to come.

Rosalie Ritz and Upstairs Art Association


I found Rosalie Ritz before her huge easel in and old Victorian office building on Broadway in downtown Oakland. I had come to get some more brass fittings from the old bait and tackle shop, but, they had moved. I was the only model boat sailor in the East Bay. I had rigged a automatic tacking device on my catamaran. Rosalie had done court drawings of the trials of the most radical people in America, and got to know several Black Panthers. We ran downtown Oakland. To find Colescott at the Schnitzer Museum was to go home again. I had grown homesick, and weary of the tedious networking.

In phone conversation, Michael expressed his disdain for the Bay Area galleries failure to show the work of black artists. I suggested he start a gallery for black artists. That appeared to be the solution. Ten minutes later, he called me back and said;

“You’re a racist. Allow me to explain.”

My friend told me I had banned all black artists from all galleries – for all time! I had designed a sign that read “BLACK ARTISTS ONLY”. He accused me of concluding black artists are inferior to white artists, and would never be their equal. So, it best they admit this, and segregate themselves to THEIR GALLERY. Just, STAY OUT OF OUR GALLERY.

 There was a long silence. Michael was hurt – and profound! His revelation had surely put an end to our wonderful friendship. Then he heard;

“You’re right. I am a racist!”

What!! You admit it?”

“Yes. You presented a brilliant case. I am a racist!”

Another long silence.

“I thought I would got to my grave before I ever heard a white man admit he was a racist. Now you got me thinking. You blew my mind. I got to think this out. I will talk to you tomorrow.”

All evening I have heard on the news hideous and crass arguments that prove the President Elect, and members of his cabinet he has chosen – ARE NOT RACISTS! You know the old adage is being applied here; If you repeat a lie over and over, it become the truth. That blond Skull Woman, scares the crap of of me. She is an egregious liar!

Wake up! We have entered the tunnel of THE NEW DARK AGE, and perhaps only our artists can light the torch that show us THE WAY OUT!

The painting in the middle is titled ‘Me And My Shadow’. Anyone who was a radical, or a hippie – or both – and lived in the Bay Area, saw this painting – everywhere! Did the Crumb Brothers behold this masterpiece?  The black Lady Liberty is a Mind Blower after seeing the maps that show OUR DEMOCRACY falling to a dictator, one state at a time.

I will talk more of Michael and mine conversation. We need to have real conversations – especially when it is not safe to do so.

Jon Presco


Colescott became most known for his work in the 1970s, where he brought the matter of race to the forefront of the art world. His work, like the painting on the left (George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History), could not be ignored.

This painting is considered a “black-face” take on the famous George Washington crossing the Delaware, which was painted in 1851 byEmmanuel Leutze[2]. The painting replaces George Washington with George Washington Carver, who was a former slave who became one of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time[3]. Stereotypical African-American blackface characters surround Carver. Colescott uses this painting to comment on cultural racism and to demonstrate the social perception of black Americans throughout history compared to white Americans.

In 1966, at the height of the Haight Ashbury counter-culture era, Ritz moved with her family to the San Francisco Bay Area. Ritz’s sketches of the street scenes were published in the City Magazine and the San Francisco Examiner. Her work in Washington DC brought her to the attention of the local public television station KQED. From there, she began a career covering trials for the local CBS outlet, (KPIX) and for the Associated Press. This included the Patty Hearst trial, the Sirhan Sirhan trial, the Charles Manson trial, the trials of the Black Panthers, including Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and David Hilliard, the trials of Angela Davis and Ruchell Magee, and the trials of the Soledad Brothers, the San Quentin Six, Mass Murderer Juan Corona, John Linley Frazier, the Presidio Mutiny Court-Martial at Fort Ord, the Billy Dean Smith Court-Martial, Inez Garcia (second trial), Bill and Emily Harris (Symbionese Liberation Army), Russell Little and Joseph Remiro (Murder of Marcus Foster/Symbionese Liberation Army), Wendy Yoshimura, Camarillo State Hospital Grand Jury Hearings, the Hell’s Angels, Alioto-Look Magazine Libel Trial, Alioto Conflict of Interest Trial, the Bonanno Brothers, Stephanie Kline, Larry Layton, Dan White, San Francisco Proposition Hearings, Sara Jane Moore, and Daniel Ellsbergand Anthony Russo/Pentagon Papers.[2]

In 1975, I met Michael Harvey at the Upstairs Art Association. He was one of the most animated, creative, and vocal black man I ever met. Above all, he was an Artist. Everything he said was prefaced and framed by his love of art. He was giving Rosalie Ritz a hard time. She was the director and founder of the Upstairs Art association.  She was at her easel.

“What are you doing here, Rosalie? You know deep in your heart you are a cracker – a Ritz cracker!”

Like with my friend Bill, it was love at first sight. Rosalie loved Michael. He had nothing to hide. We became fast friends and played tennis almost every day that summer. We also drank a lot of beer, and talked a whole lot of Art Talk. Tennis and Art. We were ignoring our girlfriends. I was living with Gloria Elhers on Yosemite. Her best friends were a bother and sister who were members of the White Panthers. They did a lot of legal work for the most radical black group – in the world! Michael knew most of them.

Rosalie anointed me assistant director after learning my mother worked in the same office with the head of the National Endowment of the Arts. Rosemary was the manager of the Valley Youth Orchestra. One day Walter Dallas approached me and asked my help in getting members of his acting guild out of the flower stand Rosalie had made, and put on the corner of 14th. and Broadway in the heart of downtown Oakland. They were being mocked. Tough blacks were saying they were monkeys in a cage working for whitey. Violence looked eminent. This corner belonged to drug pushers. Rosalie is telling Walter this flower stand is all about Artists taking back the Hood. These were thespians, not gorilla fighters.

Meanwhile, Rosalie has surrounded herself with white office workers, who might have been the Lesbian Art Brigade. Sometime they met behind locked doors. This did not go unnoticed by the fifteen black members who were helping me restored the beautiful Victorian offices. I approached Michael. We got on it. There was a revolt.

Michel and I were roommates in Alameda, and on Octavia Street where I lived with Warren.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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