Family Guide: Benjamin Wigfall & Communications Village and Whitfield Lovell: Passages

Family Guide: Benjamin Wigfall & Communications Village and Whitfield Lovell: Passages

This guide offers families some helpful tips for visiting the exhibitions Benjamin Wigfall & Communications Village and Whitfield Lovell: Passages.

African American Art, Modern and Contemporary Art
Activity Type:
Special Exhibition

Family Guide: Benjamin Wigfall & Communications Village and Whitfield Lovell: Passages

A Spanish language version of this guide is available: Guía familiar: Benjamin Wigfall y Communications Village, y Whitfield Lovell: Pasajes.
Large print versions of the exhibitions’ text are available: Large Print Guide: Benjamin Wigfall and Communications Village & Whitfield Lovell: Passages.



Benjamin Wigfall & Communications Village explores the art and life of Benjamin Wigfall who was an abstract painter, printmaker, and teacher. Whitfield Lovell: Passages presents the multi-media installations, assemblages, and drawings of contemporary artist Whitfield Lovell. This guide offers looking activities and conversation starters for both exhibitions.

Tips for Visiting

Explore the art. When you visit the exhibition, take time to look carefully at a few works of art rather than walking quickly through each room. 

Look together. Explore artworks in the galleries as a group and discuss what you see, think, and wonder. 

Try an activity. Try some of the activities that follow selected works to enjoy a more meaningful experience of the works of art.  Activity prompt cards are also available in the Start Orientation Space in the WestRock Art Education Center. 

Additional activities are also available on the VMFA Learn site. 


Benjamin Wigfall & Communications Village

Benjamin Wigfall was born and raised right here in Richmond, Virginia in the Church Hill neighborhood. He took art classes at VMFA and soon after the museum displayed his artwork. Read more below to learn more about Wigfall and the first work of art VMFA added of his to the collection.


What do you see? Anything you recognize?

This is a picture of chimneys. The artist saw these chimneys on his walk to and from school every day and he thought they were beautiful silhouettes, which are dark shapes or outlines, against the sky.

Do you see something during your day that you think is beautiful? How would you create a work of art of that scene?  


Activity to try: Look (10 x 2)

Look at Chimneys quietly for at least 30 seconds. 

Let your eyes wander. 

List 10 words or phrases about any aspect of the artwork. 

Look at the artwork again and try to add 10 more words or phrases to your list. 


Feeling inspired? Create your own work of art using the Art Activity: Shape Your City.


Jump Rope, ca. 1952–54, Benjamin Wigfall (American, 1930–2017), woodcut on mulberry paper, 24 5/8 × 17 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2022.199

Find a wood block that is carved on both sides. Now can you find the prints that were created from each side of the wood block? What are they pictures of?  

Wigfall sometimes created artwork that was representational, meaning you can find things that you recognize in it, like a child jumping rope, but he also created abstract art, or artwork that doesn’t show something you can recognize.   

Compare the abstract print to the representational print. How are they alike or different?


Activity to try: I Used to Think . . . Now I Think

Find a work of art you want to know more about and . . .  

Before reading the label next to the work of art, think about what you see and what the work might be or what it might mean. 

After looking for a while, read the label, or have someone read it to you. Did your thoughts on the work of art change?  


In this room, you can see works of art and push buttons to hear a conversation between two people. Wigfall interviewed his father to learn more about his family’s history.

Look for the words that you are hearing in the artwork. Why do you think Wigfall created these works with these words?

What stories or words would you include in an artwork?

Why do you think he made some words bigger than others? 

How do you make a print?

Benjamin Wigfall with young people from Communications Village, ca. 1976, left to right: Teresa Thomas-Washington, Raymond Gaye, Benjamin Wigfall, Robert Easter, Donnie Timbrouk, Dina Washington, and Larry Carpenter, digital scan from photograph by Pat Jow Kagemoto. Courtesy of Pat Jow Kagemoto © Pat Jow Kagemoto

To learn more about printmaking processes step inside the Printmaking Studio across the way! Learn about the printmaking process and hear from students, like those in this picture, who learned from Wigfall at a community studio called Communications Village.

Can you find the print and follow the steps of the printmaking process?

Print courtesy of artist Kristen Andes.

Outstanding Black Artist: Betty Blayton

Betty Blayton, who created this work, was one of the artists who visited Wigfall and his students at Communications Village. Displayed nearby is an etching plate created by the artist that is like the painting Blayton made. What similarities do you see?


Activity to try: The Elaboration Game

Find an artwork that looks interesting and complex. Before reading the label (the text next to the object), do the following: 

Think about the art object as being divided into sections such as “top, middle, and bottom.”  

Ask one person in your group to begin describing what he or she sees in a specific section of the artwork. Another person elaborates on the first person’s observations by adding more detail about the same section. A third person elaborates further by adding yet more detail. 

Repeat this process until each section of the artwork has been described or until everyone has had a chance to contribute. 

Now read the label. How does it add to your observations and ideas? 

Whitfield Lovell: Passages

Whitfield Lovell was born in New York City and has travelled all over the world, including a stop in Richmond. He is inspired by the places he visits and the people that lived there. Learn more about Lovell and how he features communities of people in his artwork.  


Deep River, 2013, Whitfield Lovell, Fifty-six wooden discs, found objects, soil, video projections, sound, Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York.

What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? 

The artist, Whitfield Lovell, likes to create art in many ways. The work you are looking at is called a multi-media artwork meaning there are a combination of different art-making tools used in its creation, like video, sculpture, drawing, even sound. Can you find each an example of each of these in this work Deep River?

Lovell combines all these different elements, like the sound of the river, the found objects, and the pictures of people, to show us what it might have been like for enslaved individuals escaping the South during the Civil War. 


Because I Wanna Fly (detail), 2021, Whitfield Lovell (American, born 1959), conté on wood with attached found objects, 114-inch diameter. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund, by exchange, 2022.14a-j

The artist was inspired to create this work because of his love of music and his friendship with a singer named Nina Simone. Read and/or listen to (or sing!) the song below and look at the work. How does the song remind you of the artwork?

“Blackbird” by Nina Simone 

Why you want to fly Blackbird you ain’t ever gonna fly

No place big enough for holding all the tears you’re gonna cry

’cause your mama’s name was lonely and your daddy’s name was pain

And they call you little sorrow ’cause you’ll never love again

So why you want to fly Blackbird you ain’t ever gonna fly

You ain’t got no one to hold you you ain’t got no one to care

If you’d only understand dear nobody wants you anywhere

So why you want to fly Blackbird you ain’t ever gonna fly


Anthem Phone 2, 2021, Whitfield Lovell, Vintage telephone and chair, Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Put the phone to your ear. What do you hear? 

Anthem Phone 2 is playing the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. What are the lyrics that you can hear? You can read some of the lyrics below. 

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise High as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun

Let us march on till victory is won.

This song is understood to be an anthem, or an uplifting song. What about the lyrics are inspiring to you? 


Activity to try: Rename it!

Using Lovell’s Anthem Phone 2 or another work of your choice, try giving it a new title. What would it be? Why?

Now take a closer look at the artwork. Can you rename it one more time?


Visitation: The Richmond Project, Our Best, 2001, Whitfield Lovell, Charcoal on wood, found objects, Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Lovell created this piece while he was visiting Richmond and learned about the people who lived in Jackson Ward, the country’s first major African American business community. One of those people was Maggie L. Walker, who was the first African American woman to start a bank in the U.S.  

Find the box in front of the man sitting down. Notice the pennies inside. These pennies reminded Lovell of Maggie L. Walker’s story and accomplishment. Can you find another artwork in this gallery that reminds you of pennies? 


Activity to try: Strike a Pose

Artists have reasons for posing people in their artworks. Sometimes, just by copying the poses, you can understand more about the art. 

Pick a person in this artwork. 

Study the gestures and body language of the person you see and the way they are posed. Carefully move your body and adjust your facial expression to match that of the figure. What does this tell you about what the person may be thinking or feeling?


Take a break. Sit in the museum’s sculpture garden or café to share a snack and think about the art you have seen today. Take time to reflect on what you noticed, felt, or thought and share your reflections with someone you came with or write down your own thoughts. 

Search for other artists and artworks that may have something in common with Benjamin Wigfall and Whitfield Lovell. Pick up a Collection Connection on your way out of the exhibitions to help you find them! 

Visit the Interactive Gallery and explore the exhibit A Closer Look. 

Create artwork of your own inspired by the artists you’ve seen today using the activities below:

At-Home Art Activity: Create Your Community

At-Home Art Activity: Shape Your City

At-Home Art Activity: At-Home Art Activity: My Story, Inspired by Whitfield Lovell