Illuminating History

Greg Crumbly ’80’s art brings Black leaders to light
by Katie Williard
Through his detailed, historical portrait work, artist Greg Crumbly ’80 digs for truth. He has curated his most significant pieces into a book he describes as “a timeline of Black historical figures.” For the art & art history major, it’s the culmination of his experience at Bucknell coupled with decades of brush strokes and curiosity-fueled research — the preserving of legacies from which others can learn.
Greg Crumbly painting “African Lions”
Photo: David J. Crumbly
Greg Crumbly ’80’s painting “African Lions” features Shaka Zulu of Southern Africa, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Nelson Mandela.
Black Heroes Throughout History tells the stories of Nzinga, St. Maurice, Vicente Guerrero, Yasuke and other oft-untold Black leaders. The book brings to light “quirks of history,” and serves as evidence of Crumbly’s abilities as a painter, storyteller and scholar.

His pursuit of historical truth was sparked in his childhood by the encyclopedias his grandparents bought him from the Cooks Coffee truck in Erie, Pa. — one letter volume each weekend until he had collected the full set.

“They challenged me to read those encyclopedias,” Crumbly remembers. But the history his sharecropping grandfather lived didn’t match what he read in those books. As he compared recorded “facts” to his grandfather’s experience, the divide became clear. “From that, I learned how to dig,” he says. “That’s what my book is all about: putting history right and learning the truth.”

“What kind of a world would we have if we taught history starting from the truth? It’s the fountain of youth,” he says. “If you drink it, you’ll always be alive in some way. People will tell the stories you’ve told.”

In addition to creating historical paintings, the Army National Guard veteran frequently donates artworks in honor and memory of military service members. He also paints notable current celebrities as well as superstar athletes.

He hopes his work inspires others to dig into history, explore untold stories and challenge what they’re taught. To not settle into accepting facts as they’ve been recorded, but to do the hard work of cracking the surface to reveal the depth and layers of each historical event we witness.

“It’s never just black and white — like books make us think it should be,” says Crumbly. “There is always another layer to the truth. It’s our job to find it.”