Some of the Saunders family furniture

Photo courtesy of: Multicultural Center


One of the paintings by a Saunders family member featured in gallery

Photo courtesy of: Multicultural Center

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Saunders family featured in Multicultural Center Art Gallery

Exhibit closes March 17

"An Athens Family of the Arts: The Saunders' Family," an exhibit focusing on the history behind one of Athens County's first black families, is on display until March 17 at the Ohio University Multicultural Center Gallery.

The exhibit features paintings by Herpel Saunders and his three children as well as some of the family's instruments.

The Saunders' family, descendents of Thomas Jefferson, was a prominent family in Athens County. Herpel Saunders, the father, was a deacon at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Mary Louise Pettiford, his wife, would often stand in for Herpel as deacon when he was absent from his duties, as well as teach Sunday School and play the piano. This was an amazing accomplishment for a black woman during the 1930s.

The Saunders children grew up in a musical home as Herpel and Mary Louise each sang and played multiple instruments. Ronald, the eldest son, played the cello. Gerry, the middle son, played the saxophone and viola. Phillip, the youngest child, played the bassoon and the violin. All three children also were exquisite painters.

All members of the Saunders family went on to live extraordinary lives. Herpel Saunders once performed at the famed Berry hotel, a historical landmark that once stood where the Court Street Diner now stands, among other musical functions attended by luminaries from both coasts. Each son attended Ohio University.

Ron has a successful business and musical career playing the cello in New York City. Gerry shared his kind disposition with others as an educator. Phillip was the first black drum major at Ohio University and once beat former U.S. Sen. George Voinovich for the position of class president. He had a successful television career in Chicago where he created a religious soap opera and hosted "Harambee," the first integrated interview-based talk show that featured many famous guests such as Sydney Poitier. He also became a counselor, minister and a founding member, with Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., of Chicago's Operation Breadbasket (now Rainbow Push Coalition).

The exhibit is curated by Raymond Abraham, Gavin C.P. Thompson and Tanya Thompson. Items are from the collections of those listed above as well as Ada Woodson Adams, Ronald and Adriana Saunders, Brandon C.D. Thompson and Dr. Harold C. Thompson.