Photography by AFTA Teaching Artist Carol Siegel was featured in a recent exhibition titled “Spirit of a Neighborhood Revisited: The Parker-Gray Community 1985 – 1986” at the The Alexandria Black History Museum in Alexandria, VA.

In July 1985, Carol Siegel received a grant from the Alexandria Commission on the Arts to document the African-American community of the Parker-Gray Historic District. These photographs were originally exhibited at the museum in 1989.  Revisiting her work today, it is apparent how the community has changed over the past 23 years:  some photo subjects are no longer living, many  buildings are lost to new development, and small children are now adults with children of their own.  Visitors to the exhibition delighted in seeing faces — sometimes their own — and locations they thought were lost forever.

One remembrance resonated more strongly than others.  Carol invited seniors from Alexandria Adult Day Services Center, where she leads monthly Expressive Arts workshops for AFTA,  for a special afternoon viewing of the exhibition.  Many of them worked and raised their family in Parker-Gray and the surrounding neighborhoods.  They took their time carefully inspecting each image they passed.  They chuckled at the series of photographs of twins – an unusually large number for one neighborhood – and their rhyming names.  They reminisced about the church and the barbershop.


One guest paused a little longer than the others, even coming back for a second look.


After Maebell returned to her seat, she quietly told those sitting near, “There’s a picture of my mother and my sister”.  Returning to the photo, the family resemblance was undeniable.  Maebell had uncovered an image of her own mother and sister, both of whom passed away many years ago.


Carol remembered Maebell’s mother and sister well – her sister was known for smoking a pipe, as she is in this photograph.  Maebell was away at school when the photograph was taken. Carol, who spent years creating art and poetry with Maebell and others at Alexandria Adult Day Care Center, never realized the connection.


Memories are often unearthed at AFTA programs, but connections like these — the kind of bring goosebumps to your arm — don’t happen every day.  Thank you Carol Siegel for your dedication to community service.  You remind us that you never know whose life you might touch, even decades later.