WASHINGTON — The black and white portraits were at their feet, travelers in masks staring down at women with picket signs, both groups seemingly captured searching for their places in history.
One by one, present-day faces moving through Union Station saw themselves in the figures from a century ago, as suffragist Ida B. Wells loomed large in the Main Hall.
Wells is the face of a new 1,000-square-foot photo mosaic, a civic artwork celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Within her portrait are hundreds of other photographs of protests and suffragists, all melding into Wells’ likeness when viewed from above.
“My impression is, it’s out of this world,” Linneal Naylor said, after seeing news of the installation on Facebook and driving an hour from Prince William County to see it. “The artist took the time to show each one of these women, and it’s like you can pick up on their personalities from how they’re captured.”
The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission created the mosaic through the work of artist Helen Marshall and producer Christina Korp. The display premiered to the public Monday, and is on view through Friday, Aug. 28.
The theme for equality permeates each photograph, as Wells fought for racial and voting rights throughout her life.
“I do wonder what Ida and the other women, if they could see where we’re at 100 years later, would they be frustrated, or would they be angry that we still have so far to go?” Korp asked, standing at the bottom edge of her artwork. “They’d probably tell people to suck it up, get out there, vote, and quit being a big baby.”
Korp said the choice of Wells, a founder of the NAACP and a fearless investigative journalist, was made last November. The artwork is also on digital display, with online visitors able to zoom in and read biographies of women found within the mosaic.
“My hope is people have the same curiosity that I had, once I started pulling up these pictures and really learning about these women,” Korp said. “It made me more inspired to act in our time, to find solace that they too went through adversity and came out stronger.”