Maya Angelou


Maya Angelou by George H. Rothacker - acrylic on canvas -  24" x 24" - Original painting $2400, prints @$90 each plus tax and shipping (Prints are an edition of 50, signed, titled and numbered with an image area of 13"x 13").

Maya Angelou’s life is an inspirational story told by her in the seven autobiographies, three books of essays and several books of poetry she penned during her lifetime. She was also  a singer, dancer, playwright and social activist.

Unfortunately, when I was growing up in a predominately white suburb I didn’t know of her or the wisdom she imparted to all Americans…black, white, Hispanic, Asian, straight and gay.

My own world view as a child was framed by the schools and churches I attended, as well as by the negative suggested racial references made by my mother and her family. Though working class themselves, my maternal grandparents strove to mimic the lives of the middle and upper classes, an identity that included their racial and religious prejudices.

As I grew into my teenage years, although I thought of myself as liberal, I rarely had social contact with people who were black or brown, and often spoke about them in ways that could be construed as racist.

As a young adult, I began to read books by Russian, French, English, and American authors. IIt was then that I  discovered Ralph Ellison, a writer of color, who shared many of the emotional upsets I experienced during this period of my life.

As can be viewed from the list of American authors I have painted, I was primarily influenced by male writers, and Ellison was the only black author with whom I truly identified,

In 2022, while writing the novel A Victorious Life, about Ted Arundson, an artist/writer who finds fame at the age of eighty, I created his family which included his wife and three children, one of whom was adopted and black. In the story, Ted and his wife Helen raised  their daughter, Jen, as if she was white,  but as she  grew into adolescence, she struggled to find her identity as both a  person of color and a lesbian. During this period she had no one she believed she could talk to at home, and socially and emotionally distanced herself from her adoptive parents, who earnestly believed that they had done  everything correctly in raising her as they had raised their two natural children.

Along Jen’s journey, she forged a relationship with her employer, an older black woman who owned the book store where Jen was employed, and began reading the writings of black female authors with whom she identified. 

Her father, to his credit, sought to rebuild his relationship with his daughter by reading the books, essays and poetry that Jen shared with him. He also painted a portrait of Maya Angelou, Jen’s favorite writer, as a gift to the child he realized he had failed to accept or understand while she was growing up.

During the process or writing A Victorious Life, I decided that I should take the lead from my character, Ted Arundson, and pay homage to both my fictional daughter and one of her heroes. I began the portrait of Maya Angelou in 2022, while writing the story, and completed it in August of 2023. It’s based on a black and white 1966 photograph by Chester Higgins, Jr., and depicts her in front of a fabric based on her image.  

Maya Angelou