Susan Tallant, an artist from Bridge City, holds her painting of Denmark Vesey. The painting hangs in BCISD operation’s manager, John Scales, office in the transportation department. She also painted a mural inside of the office. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

David Ball – For The Record

Denmark Vesey was born as a slave in 1767 in St. Thomas and died a free man in 1822 in Charleston, South Carolina.

He was a skilled carpenter and he bought his freedom from slavery. He was a free man for more than 20 years. However, he didn’t have enough money to buy the freedom for his wife and children in Charleston. He was an advocate for the Presbyterian Church and a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

He was an alleged ringleader in a slave rebellion. He was arrested and hanged in Charleston at the age of 55.

The conventional portrait of Vesey has him portrayed in a suit and necktie in black and white. Artist Susan Tallant of Bridge City, however, did some tweaking to that painting. She painted half of the portrait in color in his work clothes and a noose around his neck instead of a necktie.

Tallant’s painting was recently recognized at a Bridge City ISD Board of Trustees meeting and it has garnered attention statewide.

“I was doing this slavery thing for Lamar University (for a class),” she said. “It seemed what happened to him (in the traditional portrait) didn’t matter. It’ about history versus reality. It’s about what history wants us to see versus what actually happened.”

It was when citing all the work for the Vesey project that Tallant discovered white Irishmen in the United States were virtually slaves. Something that captured her interest since her family came over on the boat from Ireland. Women also had to prostitute themselves to survive.

“In college, we learn the things that actually happened instead of the ‘shiny’ things we learned about history in grade school. It’s what society wants you to see and what actually happened. You become kind of disappointed.”

Growing up, Tallant’s mother told her she would always become an artist. In fact, her Kindergarten teacher called her mother about Tallant drawing inappropriate pictures.

“I loved to draw trees and I made one anatomically correct with the bark. I was fascinated with figure drawing. I love the human body. It’s absolutely amazing,” she said.

In addition to drawing and painting, Tallant also creates art using steamroller printing and sculpting.

She added she now realizes why art is priced so expensively due to the time and labor put into the effort.

Some of her art has a shock value to it such as a 11-foot by 2-foot charcoal drawing inspired by Enya’s “Wild Child” song.

She wants patrons to interact with her ceramic sculptures and touch it.

She grew up in Houston and has also lived all over Texas. This is the fifth time she has called Bridge City home. Her father grew up in Nederland and moved the family to Bridge City the first time. Tallant also was a resident of the city during Hurricanes Rita and Ike. She also volunteered her time to help rebuild her neighbors’ homes.

As with many artists, Tallant put down her art for a period of time. She had one year of art in high school though she was told she was so talented.

She started college as a business major with a minor in criminal justice. She took a couple of art classes as electives and started doodling again at this time.

“I loved them (her art classes). I enjoy it so much. I fell in love. I changed my major,” she said. “I want to teach art in high school. My focus is fine arts with a concentration in drawing.”

Tallant said she wants her students to come away with a grasp of what art has to offer as she has discovered. She plans to obtain a master’s degree in art as well.

“I’m a forever major,” she said of her love of lifelong learning.

At one time Tallant had six jobs. Now she works full-time at Simoniz Car Wash in Nederland, part-time as a BCISD bus driver and a limo driver for Carl Griffith and Associates and as a three-quarter time student at LU.

“My loves are God, my kids, chocolate, and art,” she said.