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Baltimore artist creates images to uplift communities

Mural created by Ernest Shaw at Baltimore's 401 E. Lafayette Street
Mural created by Ernest Shaw at Baltimore's 401 E. Lafayette Street
digital photo by V.M. Oliver-Lawson

At 401 E. Lafayette Street in inner city Baltimore, there is a mural which features Malcolm X, Nina Simone and James Baldwin. It serves the neighborhood to remind residents of the greatness inherent in its culture through the iconic images displayed in the areas of religion, music and literature. That mural is the work of Ernest Shaw, who considers himself to be more than a visual artist, but an image maker.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Shaw attended Furman L. Templeton Elementary School, where he was referred to the Gifted and Talented program at Harford Heights by his first grade teacher, Mr. Rudisill. Later, Shaw would go on to attend the prominent Roland Park Middle School and the Baltimore School for the Arts. He graduated from Morgan State University with a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts and then, from Howard University with a Master's in Fine Arts.

Shaw says he was able to do this particular mural as a result of being contacted by Gaia, the curator of Open Walls 2, a Station North project run by Ben Stone (https://www.facebook.com/OpenWallsBaltimore). He said it took about a week to paint the mural and he had help because he was being trained by Gaia (from Maryland Institute College of Art) on the new methods of mural painting. (Station North is the developing arts district in the Baltimore area (http://www.stationnorth.org/).

When asked about the artistic influences in his life, Shaw began to reflect upon his upbringing. He grew up in what he describes as a very colorful household. His family lived in a two-bedroom house with his parents. He and two brothers shared a room with an uncle, who was a musician. His mother was a painter and he would sit and watch her paint. His father was a percussionist. Shaw said his great-uncle is Luke Shaw, the former head of visual arts at Baltimore's Coppin State University. He also remembers artwork by McQueen aka Khaki hanging throughout the house.

Shaw's artistic skill can be viewed in other areas of the city. He is the artist responsible for two murals at Hollins and Calverton St (1999)' one at North & Aisquith Streets (2001), and another at the Fallsway Farmer's Market (2008). His talents are expanding in that Shaw will be flying to Rochester, NY to participate in the annual wall therapy mural festival July 18- July 21, 2014. There he will be painting a mural of Frederick Douglass for the community/city to admire.

Ernest Shaw is a teacher at the Maryland Academy of Technology & Health Sciences with the Baltimore City Schools System, where he just completed his 13th year of teaching. He envisions his future as being involved with young people in some artistic way.

Shaw wants to be remembered as someone who was very passionate about "young black students understanding the importance of who they are and where they come from." His advice to them is that you have to be twice as good as others to be successful. The 45-year-old artist said this applies even moreso to this generation.

Shaw cites one challenge of not being politically savvy and so tends to keep to himself. He is, however, very proud of his daughter, Asya, who is also a graduate of Baltimore School for the Arts and now a sophomore dance major at Towson State University. Shaw is also proud of his son, Taj, who passed away in 2008 from cancer at the age of eight.

Ernest Shaw can be contacted via Instagram @ eshaw_art or Facebook. His email address is eshaw189@yahoo.com.