Valley Professor June Edmonds named Guggenheim Fellow

Acrylic painting professor at Valley awarded about $50,000 in the form of a Guggenheim Fellowship due to her lifetime achievements.

By Edward Segal, Valley Life Editor

Oil on canvas self-portrait in studio, 1990. (Courtesy of June Edmonds)

Smooth strokes, concentric circles and abstract portraits are prevalent in June Edmonds’ art, but only scratch the surface of the Guggenheim Fellow’s creations. Her many public projects and her time spent teaching children and working as a professor represent her dedication to the field and impact within it.

As a result, the Valley acrylic art professor was named Guggenheim Fellow and received tens of thousands of dollars for her artistic talent and contribution to society.

“I’m so appreciative,” said Edmonds. “It requires a lot of support to even apply to something like this, as far as letters of support and that kind of thing. It just means a lot that I have the opportunity to go in front of a panel of peers and get that kind of recognition.”

Awarding an average of $45,000 to 175 individuals per year, the Guggenheim Foundation allocates grants to about five percent of applicants, which can be anyone from the United States and Canada. Applications are reviewed by a group of advisers, made up of previous fellows, before being sent to the Committee of Selection, which decides who to award the money to.

Edmonds grew up in Crenshaw, California and spent most of her life in Los Angeles. Choosing a life in art when she was 19, Edmonds spent her undergraduate years at San Diego State University and moved to New York’s Tyler School of Arts in Temple University for graduate school.

Her love of art began thanks to her mom taking her to exhibits and museums. She flew East to Washington, D.C. at 19 years old and after visiting the Smithsonian, knew she wanted to pursue art for her career.

The force that drove her came in her teen years at an exhibition in the city of angels called “200 Years of Black American Art.” Seeing the art from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s inspired Edmonds, as a Black person, to paint others of color.

“Those artists painted Black people, and as a group, their whole portfolio of work was dedicated to that,” said Edmonds, mentioning the prevalence of people from the East Coast. “By the time I decided to go into painting, I hadn’t seen any people that were specifically from my life, so nothing of Black people from the West Coast. So I was inspired to do that.”

A chunk of her portfolio is dedicated to paintings of concentric circles. Edmonds says she was drawn to the idea of the Adinkra, African symbols addressing a higher power. Portraits and abstract paintings were the Crenshaw native’s way of telling her story.

Oil on canvas painting of three concentric circles, 2007. (Courtesy of June Edmonds)

”Self-representation is always counter to some of the narrow thinking that we are always up against,” said Edmonds. “If we’re not telling our own stories, then the stories that are being told about us are sort of seen as the truth, and I think it’s an important contribution to tell your own story.”

In the 1980s — when Edmonds was in her twenties — she found a chance to do her first public project — a Metro station in Long Beach, only a few blocks away from her.

Edmonds went on to do other public works, including portraits at the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic, the design for the wrought iron fence at the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and Venetian glass mosaics at the Algin Sutton Recreation Center, something the professor said fascinated her.

Only recently joining Valley’s faculty, Edmonds always knew she wanted to teach. After spending years teaching kids at a nonprofit, the artist was referred to a job at LA City College. Last year, the artist came to Valley to teach acrylic painting.

Emphasizing the importance of family and her ambition to keep her passion alive, Edmonds hopes to expand her studio and visit her grandparents’ point of origin, the French West Indies.

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