By Erica Taylor
The Tom Joyner Morning Show
ABOVE PHOTO: “Generations of Creative Genius,” by Varnette P. Honeywood.
Behind the storylines of our favorite television shows like “The Cosby Show,” “Amen” or “227” lie symbols that represent the artistry of our heritage, like the work of artist Varnette Honeywood. Her artwork was discovered by Bill and Camille Cosby in the early 1980s. Fans of “The Cosby Show” may remember a painting in the backdrop of the Huxtable home containing three women and one man looking the same direction.
This was the work of Honeywood that would not only find its way to the set of “The Cosby Show,” but would later be carried to the set of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Honeywood died last Sunday, September 12, 2010. She was 59.
The Cosbys helped Honeywood build a lasting legacy by approving a mural in the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center that is now on display at the Spelman College Campus. Honeywood would partner with the Cosbys for many years, later being called to illustrate a series of 12 books named for the hit children’s show “Little Bill,” who, on the show, lived on Honeywood street.
A child of the Black Arts Movement, Honeywood drew upon her experiences of racial discrimination while living in Mississippi and Louisiana during the civil rights struggle. An art prodigy and the child of teachers, Honeywood tested out of her middle school classes and was sent to an art institute at age 12. Years later, she and her sister, a poet, began the first black greeting card business together. They would use their talents to put our faces on soulful cards and notes. It was this business that garnered the attention of philanthropist Camille Cosby, which led to many new opportunities for Honeywood.
Her use of African-based coloring techniques helped her to build a reputation of depicting the black family in a positive light in many of her paintings. Honeywood’s work not only brought the beauty of black art to primetime television, but she used her gift to give to those in need. She has donated work to Girls Inc., the National Association for Sickle Cell Disease, and the United States Labor Defense Fund, to name a few.