A photo of Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen in costume on the set of Gone with the Wind is the taking-off point for “Epitaph for a Darling Lady,” an exhibition of works by Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based artist Stacy Lynn Waddell at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond through Jan. 8.
The picture captures a routine moment, but the two women were anything but ordinary. McDaniel stands imposing and squinting somewhat as she’s in direct light; McQueen is turned and gazes in an expression of respect for her colleague. The two women, forever fixed in cultural memory for their roles, lived far different experiences.
Neither attended the movie’s Dec. 14, 1939, premiere because the Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta barred blacks. McQueen received her nickname from a role dancing as a butterfly in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She established a career on stage and in film, but usually playing a maid. Tired of the typecasting, she eventually moved to Harlem, serving at a soul food restaurant and teaching dance to community children. McDaniel received a best-supporting Oscar for the film, the first given to an African-American. She also played many domestics and retorted to critics of her on-screen subservience, “I’d rather play a maid than be one.”
Waddell’s installation of mixed-media work creates a personal, visual narrative around McQueen’s life. 353-0094 or visarts.org.