When Hallie Beatrice Welcome Carpenter, known as Big Momma to family and friends, died in 2008, she left behind a home in significant disrepair in Polytechnic Heights, a historically Black community on the east side of Fort Worth. It’s a neighborhood marked by resilience, with a church every couple of blocks, many of them tiny congregations on residential lots. Roosters can be heard throughout the day, and front yards alternate between tidy garden beds and salvaged clutter.
“It’s not a rich neighborhood,” says Sedrick Huckaby, a rising star of Texas art and Hallie’s grandson. “Not in terms of, like, money. But people are rich here in terms of culture. That’s one of the reasons for this place—to stir up that culture, both speak to it and listen to it.”
Sedrick and his wife Letitia Huckaby, also an accomplished artist, are giving me the tour of Kinfolk House, the visionary new art venue and project space they’ve created out of Hallie’s longtime home. Since buying out other family members in 2010, the couple have spent more than a decade renovating the house and establishing it as a nonprofit organization. Starting this month, Kinfolk House expects to produce three exhibitions per year, alongside additional programming such as panels, poetry readings, and craft workshops, aimed at fostering art that is relevant to “regular people,” in Sedrick’s words. The couple’s focus is to serve those who might feel alienated by the rarefied world of museums and white-box galleries.
“I hope the space will be a bridge for those who don’t know a lot about art and those who do, to connect back and forth,” Sedrick says.
The couple were helped and inspired, they say, by Eddie McAnthony, who for many years has run a home gallery in Fort Worth exhibiting works by himself and other Black artists. Sedrick also name-checks a rising wave of artist-led project spaces in historically Black neighborhoods around the U.S., including Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward, Theaster Gates’s Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative on the South Side of Chicago, and Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice in South Central Los Angeles. Each of these, like Kinfolk House, is the undertaking of an artist with plenty of museum and gallery-world connections who aims to activate a different kind of community around art.
The Huckabys bring an additional dimension to Kinfolk House: an outspoken emphasis on faith and family that is a rarity in the contemporary art world, to say the least, but a highly visible element of the cultural life of Polytechnic. Sedrick’s work first came to my attention through a 2016 gallery show in Dallas titled “Three Forbidden F Words: Faith, Family, and Fathers.” His latest gallery show, “Goin’ Up Yonder,” at Talley Dunn in Highland Park through April 23, is similarly focused on spirituality and parenthood, featuring sculptures of young people paired with smudgy, abstracted paintings of their elders. Walking through the space, one feels a sense of indissoluble connection as descendants mourn their forebears and the dead watch over the living.
Sedrick’s enduring focus on family-centered spirituality finds its most complete realization yet in Kinfolk House’s inaugural exhibition, up through April 24. The show’s title, “Welcome,” was also Hallie’s maiden name, and the works on display revolve around the life and legacy of the family matriarch who made the house an inviting and beloved place during Sedrick’s youth. Thanks to the unique setting, it’s more personal than any art show I’ve ever attended. A portrait of Hallie on her sickbed hangs in the very room where she spent her final years. One wall is dedicated to a collection of church hats, several of them Hallie’s. Letitia contributes a series of prints on fabric of photos taken on a road trip that retraced the steps of Hallie’s girlhood journey from rural Weimar, west of Houston, to Fort Worth during the Great Depression. Elsewhere around the house are several of Sedrick’s oil portraits of Hallie’s family and friends. There’s a newspaper sculpture in which Sedrick has tried to render a likeness of his grandmother as a young woman, using limited photographic evidence and her descendants as models.
“She was a really strong person of faith,” Sedrick says of Hallie, when I ask him what her example has meant to him. “Faith is what at the end of the day got her through, and it’s what at the end of the day gets me through as well.” Hallie was his first-ever portrait subject, and she is the namesake of his and Letitia’s oldest daughter, Halle Lujah, who was born on the day of her great-grandmother’s funeral.
When I ask about the challenges Hallie faced in her life, Sedrick is vague. Letitia mentions that the family prefers not to see old stories put in print. He does mention “kids going to jail,” money problems, and trouble with family members.
As for the challenges of the renovation, Sedrick and Letitia are more forthcoming. They struggled to get the building up to code and had to replace the front and back porches, redo the bathrooms, and totally remake the back room, now configured as a chapel. Most of the single-story house, spacious for its era, is charmingly stripped down to bare, hundred-year-old wood, with walls of thick horizontal planks often marked by old paint. Art hangs on every wall except in the bathrooms and the blocked-off kitchen, which still awaits its remodel. The chapel, intended as a gathering space for seated events such as a free upcoming pencil copperplate calligraphy workshop, is the only room with drywall and paint. It’s outfitted with old pews salvaged from Hallie’s church, House of Prayer Church of God in Christ, which Sedrick still attends. The chapel room also boasts a piano and an eighteenth-century European confessional door bought from a local antiques store.
“I didn’t always have the vision,” Letitia admits. “You should have seen this place when we first bought it. It was in bad shape. I think once Sedrick and I started brainstorming what we could do in the space, that’s when it caught for me.”
Sedrick says they are keeping all programming options open, in terms of exhibiting artists from the North Texas region and beyond, and inviting artists who reflect the neighborhood’s Black legacy and increasing Hispanic presence as well as those who do not. Sedrick smilingly likens the place to the Magic School Bus of children’s literature and television—a vehicle for learning that will go anywhere and change itself in any way.
“In some ways, I see the space itself as a work of art,” he says.
If so, Kinfolk House has a lot in common with other Sedrick Huckaby artworks. It feels like the product of much thoughtful, sensitive labor in pliant material—though in this case his media are floorboards, shiplap, plumbing repairs, and curation, not thick impasto paint on canvas. I ask them about funding, and Letitia says that so far they have underwritten everything out of their own income as artists, but they’ll begin taking donations soon. The space is now open to the public six days a week, and admission is free.
I ask if they’re worried about keeping it sustainable. Money will come, Sedrick tells me, if you’re providing a service that’s good. “I prayed about this, and I feel like it’s an answer to a prayer,” he says. “I had some doubts that almost put me out, but it always happens that an answer comes.”
It’s an approach to life that he says he learned from his grandmother. “That’s what propels you forward. A power beyond you. That’s how she got over and got through some of the hardest tests in life as well.”