In the U. S. many slaves were safely carried to freedom. This monumental undertaking has virtually gone unnoticed. Over the past thirteen years this has been the subject of Priest’s work. His focus is on Underground Railroad (UGRR) Conductor, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, slavery in Maryland and freedom seekers.
The viewer will find no noted heroes of the traditional kind. Those who take center stage in these works are the men and women who risked their lives and the lives of their families to seek freedom and preserve the UGRR. Each painting helps to memorialize a dangerous occupation that played a crucial role in the development of American society. In an ever-changing era these artworks are the chronicles of an almost silent part of history.
Priest began his research in 2003 and in May of 2004 he and his family followed the routes on which Tubman took passengers to freedom. Forever etched in his memory are an infinite number of untold stories of individuals who toiled tirelessly to attain freedom. Many events were recounted by noted historians, genealogists and descendants while they traveled through, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and Canada; retracing the steps of many who went before them on this route to freedom. The wealth of personal experiences and detailed information obtained is the foundation of this series or artworks.
He strives to create dramatic compositions to portray the intensity of each moment. The life of freedom seekers and those involved with the Underground Railroad was one of uncertainty. Every moment could have been there last. They carried on undaunted and these are the ideas that Priest strives to portray in this series. Figures are tugging and heaving, hoisting and dragging. Figures depict the mental, emotional, and physical prowess needed to succeed on the UGRR. Every muscle is strained to the limit. Vibrant color and light are used to lead your eye through the composition.
The viewer can share both the positive and negative experiences of freedom seekers, their families, masters and various passengers on the UGRR. His aim, as he thinks they would have liked it to be, was not to glorify individuals. But rather to acknowledge the fortitude, love of family and neighbor and celebrate the value of all human life. In thus doing he hopes to give a candid portrayal of the enormous effort that went into changing the tides of history for the African-American.