African-American Icons: Uncle Junior inspires young artists

African-American Icons: Uncle Junior inspires young artists
African-American Icons: Uncle Junior inspires young artists
Posted at 6:34 PM, Feb 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-04 18:34:00-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - For Black History Month, WTXL is again highlighting African American icons living in your community, going above and beyond to make a difference. 

The first person we're introducing you to, is the internationally esteemed artist Leon Hicks, known to everyone as "Uncle Junior". 

At the age of 86, most people aren't still hard at work, but Leon Hicks is different. He's doing what he loves 50 years later.  

Hicks, better known as "Uncle Junior," is a patron to the arts and a dedicated educator. He's best known for his intricate, cooper-plate engraving. 

"I don't think there's another black person in the world that can do copper plate engraving the way I do it," said Hicks. "That never was important to me, that I might not ever have anything out there. Other words, when I became well-known, I didn't know it."  

Looking at Uncle Junior's work, you're truly reminded of the skill, training and time that he puts into each piece. His art is free-flowing, yet purposeful with intersecting curves and angles that come together perfectly. 

His love for art dates back to his high school years growing up in Gainesville, followed him through his college years as he majored in art, and led him to teach students across the country. 

"I went to Athens, West Virginia. I was the only black living in the town, and I was the first black to teach in the state's schools, teaching kids who had never been taught by a black professor," said Hicks. 

And if you know Uncle Junior, he broke those barriers and formed relationships with his students.

Not just in West Virginia, but he went on to teach at Webster University for 25 years, where a scholarship was created in his name. But Uncle Junior stays true to his modest roots. 

"That's who I am. I'm a teacher. You can see me, 86, still teaching. And I'm so proud of these black, liberated students," said Hicks. 

Uncle Junior retired from teaching 20 years ago. He has a studio in Tallahassee and participates in art shows, but his true passion lies with teaching younger generations about art history.  

"As a young black woman, I'm able to take what he's taught me and kind of translate it into my own life and show that old school art can still be retro but it can also be modernized," said Diwata Thomas, Uncle Junior's Prodigy. 

Passing along decades of knowledge and experience to aspiring artists. Uncle Junior says his goal is to teach art classes in the Capital City and continue sharing his love for creating.

And even he says he's not done learning just yet. 

"I use my knowledge and I'm always acquiring knowledge. It's like that tree is unlike anything I would've drawn 5 years ago and that's because I'm constantly growing," said Hicks. 

At 86-years-old, Uncle Junior is still drawing, he's still smiling and more importantly - he's still inspiring young artists. 

And if you want to see more of Uncle Junior's art, his studio is in Railroad Square in Tallahassee, and a collection of his work is at Venvi Art Gallery, also in Tallahassee.