Sampson Levingston is excited to tell people about Madam Brice – a businesswoman who ran a cosmetics and hair product business, Always Young Cream Company, out of her home on North Senate Avenue in Indianapolis.
He discovered her in the Jan. 25, 1913 edition of the Indianapolis Recorder, while researching his latest walk and talk event for this weekend’s second annual Butter art fair, which highlights Black visual artists.
“Some of us may know about the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker and her impact,” Levingston said. “But we’re going to have other women who are doing their thing, too. Madam Brice, right here. Her home on North Senate? OK. So I’m going to show you where that’s going to be.”
He pointed down the avenue, where no home remained.
“Right up this way,” he said. “Still more parking lots.”
Levingston runs Through2Eyes, providing tours that peel back the layers of history in Indianapolis neighborhoods. This weekend, he’s circling the block around the Stutz building while thousands of people come to see the art on display inside.
“This building right here – between 10th and 11th, Capitol and Senate – is the perfect place to host this art fair here in Indianapolis,” Levingston said. His tour highlights the rich history within the Indiana Avenue Cultural District.
Mali Jeffers is the founder and executive director of the cultural development group GANGGANG. She’s also the creative director – and a curator – for Butter 2.
Jeffers called the area a natural home for the fair, which spans Labor Day weekend. She said it’s an experiment to test new models of equity in the art industry. Artists are not charged a fee to enter, and receive all the proceeds from the sales of their work.
“The unique thing about [Butter] is the context in which we are showing the art,” said Jeffers. “Of course there are art fairs all around the world. Indianapolis does not have a Black fine art fair. So we thought – this is what our city needs next. We are all kind of collectively looking for ways to show – produce – equity in action.”
Levingston said he wants to help contextualize the art visitors view through the history lesson his tour provides.
“You’re now a part of this art,” Levingston said.
His tour resurrects sites like the Ferguson Hotel, a former fixture of the neighborhood that was torn down in the 1950s and never rebuilt.
“What we’re looking at right now is a parking lot that is…five percent occupied – if that – that sits underneath I-65,” Levingston said.
Levingston said he considers his own work a form of art – and he’ll be incorporating pieces from the show into the tour.
“Everybody here is telling a story very similar to the one that I just told you about Black excellence,” Levingston said. “But also Black sacrifice – as far as losing your neighborhood, maybe losing some of these businesses…all of this art, showcased at the highest level, is exactly what Indianapolis needs to be doing, as far as paying respect to the people, the history, and the spirit that was here. Let’s bring some of that energy back.”
Butter 2 runs through Sept. 4. Walking tours are available on Saturday and Sunday.