The area outside the room where the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee meets in Annapolis is getting a small facelift that Chairman Will Smith calls symbolic but important.
In January, the antechamber outside the committee room will be home to a newly commissioned portrait of a young Thurgood Marshall. The portrait will take the place of a portrait of a member of the family who founded the state.
“Symbols really do matter,” said Smith, a Democrat who was the first African American elected to the Senate from Montgomery County and the first Black to chair the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“We’re now at a moment where we have the first woman comptroller, first African American governor, first African American attorney general,” said Smith. “You’ve got a lot of first that are coming late in time in Maryland.”
Smith said he wanted visitors, particularly persons of color who have been disproportionately impacted by some state laws, “to feel more connected to government and to the change we are implementing in that committee.”
Staff at the Maryland State Archives, which oversees the state’s art collection, credited Smith with the idea of increasing the diversity of its collection by adding a portrait of Marshall, a civil rights attorney from Baltimore who later became the first Black Supreme Court Justice.
Smith wanted something particular — a portrait of Marshall as a young civil rights attorney.
“So many of the portraits that we know of Marshall show him in his elder statesman role,” said Catherine Rogers Arthur, senior curator and director of the state Commission on Artistic Property, speaking Thursday during a meeting of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property.
“It’s really an important direction for the artistic property commission to diversify and broaden our collections,” she said. “This, I think, is a huge step, and it’s just been such an exciting project for all of us to be part of.”
Smith, Arthur and a team comprised of staff from the archives as well as Leslie King-Hammond, founding director of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and attorney Larry Gibson set out to commission an artist to bring the vision to life.
In January, Smith and others hope to unveil the portrait by Ernest Shaw Jr. Shaw, 53. It will replace a portrait of Cecil Calvert, the second Baron of Baltimore and proprietor of the Maryland colony.
Shaw is a Baltimore-born artist. In addition to portraits, he is known for his murals, including roughly a dozen in Baltimore.
The portrait cost about $33,000 — all paid for by private donations from lawmakers, law firms and other entities, according to a list provided by Arthur. Official portraits of Gov. Larry Hogan and his wife Yumi cost about $100,000 combined. Former Gov. Parris Glendening’s official portrait cost $35,000.
Shaw, who was not immediately available for comment, likely drew inspiration from pictures provided by the archives.
Smith, Arthur and others have yet to see the completed work but have seen early renderings. Smith said those early images show a younger Marshall as he prepared to argue Murray v. Pearson, the case that desegregated the University of Maryland School of Law. Smith said Marshall is shown practicing his oral arguments on the second floor of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.
Donald Gaines Murray himself would go on to become a civil rights attorney and argue cases that desegregated the rest of the University of Maryland.
“There are so many cool intersections of history,” said Smith. “I think it’s a fantastic way to project a more welcoming and open environment for the committee.”