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DC artist pays homage to heritage in new exhibition

49-year-old Thomas Dade reconnects with his roots right in time for Black History Month.

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Dade's first-ever art exhibition, which is open now in Hagerstown, Md., embodies his childhood as a young black man in Northeast, D.C. and his incredible mentorship by renowned artist Sam Gilliam.

“I like to tell stories while I paint, listen to music, and think about my ancestors and let them come through my art," said Dade.

Born in Southeast, D.C. near "The Big Chair" and the Frederick Douglass home, and raised in Northeast, Dade's roots run deep through every piece.

“I thought, 'wow, that’s pretty phenomenal,' that’s Black History Month, so I get to represent my heritage here in Hagerstown without really saying it, but I just happen to be a black man, and that’s one of the things that my mentor used to. He struggled a lot with just wanting to be an artist and not really a black artist, and that’s where I sort of ended up. I’m an artist, and I’m a black man. It just happens to be black history month, and I’m proud of that," he said.

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Sam Gilliam is quite a mentor to have, though. 

He is one of the premiere artists of the Washington Color School, which emerged as a release of emotion through color, right around the time of the intensifying Civil Rights Movement.

After years of operating unseen, Thomas Dade decided it was time for his release.

“I don’t want to remain unseen for the rest of my life, even though I kind of coined myself as kind of painting the unseen, because it’s things that come from inside of me," said Thom.

He said it was difficult growing up in Southeast in the '80s.

“Wasn’t sure if we were going to make it to 25. A lot of our friends that we shared together, they passed away, they didn’t make it. So I’m very fortunate to be here today, so that’s why it’s important for me to live out my passion and do what I was born to do," said Thomas.

His art exhibition is open now in Hagerstown, Md. at the Engine Room Art Space.

The closing reception will be on Saturday, February 23.

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