Art that captures the spirit

Knowhere Gallery’s renowned Charly Palmer returns this summer.

Internationally acclaimed artist Charly Palmer is known for his portraits of both notable African Americans and empowering images of Black men, women, and children.

It’s not surprising, then, that Palmer was selected to provide an image for the latest postage stamp in the Black Heritage series. The artist’s portrait honors Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005), a civil rights pioneer, the first African American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the first to serve as a federal judge.

“When I have a chance to acknowledge or honor our heroes of our history, I’m going to jump on it,” said Palmer in a recent interview.

When asked to take on the commission, Palmer was already familiar with this unsung hero of the civil rights movement. “A lot of my subject matter happens to be African Americans,” he says. “She was one of the subjects that I hadn’t painted before.”

Educator Booker T. Washington was the first African American honored on a U.S. stamp in 1940. Walter DuBois Richards’ portrait of Frederick Douglass on a 25¢ stamp in 1967 was the first time an African American was included in a regular stamp series. In 1978, the Postal Service initiated the Black Heritage stamp series to recognize the achievements of individual African Americans.

Palmer’s signature style involves providing his subjects with dynamic, stylized settings. For the postage stamp image, Palmer created an arc of lace-like wheel shapes that surround the judge’s head like a halo. He exaggerated a corsage that Motley is wearing in the reference photograph he worked from, setting his subject’s face above a lush arrangement of tropical flowers whose colors are picked up in the background. Faint scratch marks add a nice textural component to the vibrant image.

“For me, painting a portrait isn’t just capturing the likeness, but the spirit,” says Palmer, who notes that he had the chance to speak to the late judge’s son in preparing for the portrait.

On the Island, Palmer exhibits at the Knowhere Gallery and the Center of Knowhere art and education space, both in Oak Bluffs. The concept of the gallery and the education space came from co-owners Valerie Francis and Ralph H. Groce III.

In 2021, they hosted a solo show of Palmer’s work at the Arts District gallery, and Knowhere continues to represent him. After visiting the Vineyard for the first time for that show, Palmer and his wife, Dr. Karida L. Brown, purchased a home here.

Last year the couple collaborated on a unique project — a collective titled “The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families,” which features work by 50 Black artists and writers. The gorgeous, display-worthy book reimagines the original “Brownie’s Book” — a monthly children’s magazine created by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1920.

Gallerist Francis notes that this summer, “The Knowhere Gallery will host significant programing and an exhibition featuring artists from the book.”

After Palmer’s first solo exhibit at Knowhere Gallery in 2021, the one that brought him to the Island where he felt that inevitable stress-melting ferry ride, he has returned to exhibit each year.

Francis explained that his first exhibit, “Giving Them Flowers,” focused on imagery that celebrated children, elders, and loved ones. It also focused on the concept that “Time isn’t promised, and we should celebrate each other while we’re here,” Francis explained. Then came the 2022 exhibit, which Francis says really helped Palmer infuse himself into the Oak Bluffs community. In 2023, Palmer offered Create with Charly classes at Center of Knowhere education space that brought together youth ages 8 to 16 to create their own mixed-media masterpieces with Palmer.

This summer in August, Palmer will be part of an exhibit called “Children of the Sun,” a highlight of the gallery season. He and other artists whose work was featured in the new “Brownies” book will make up the exhibit. Palmer will also bring back his Create with Charly series in August. “We’ll be celebrating children through an African American lens and the innocence of children,” Francis says. “No matter what ethnicity children are, they are battling with their own positivity so it’s important to celebrate all children. It boils back down to humanity.”

If you’re on the lookout for this renowned artist, don’t miss the opening reception from 6:30 to 9 pm for “Children of the Sun” on August 10. That week there will be various events, talks, and opportunities at both the Knowhere Art Gallery, 91 Dukes County Ave., and at Center of Knowhere at 73 Circuit Ave., both in Oak Bluffs.

To check out events this 2024 season, visit