Rev. Richard Allen
Rev. Thomas Higginbothan talks VI 19. r I ; 1? 1 V 1 ; im v Jack history lives in portrait By Jon Anderson Tribune staff reporter Quite amazed, the guests at the art party in Logan Square made their way into a back room, two or three at a time. They looked in awe at what collector Mila Alexander had found, in disrepair, in a Belmont Avenue antiques store. "Wonderful," added Rev. Thomas Higginbothan, pastor of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black institution in Chicago, once a station on the Underground Railroad between the South and Canada. Now restored, properly framed and delicately lit, the work an oil painting 3-feet high and 5-feet wide commanded one wall. Unsigned, it showed two serene, proud, unyielding faces, a man and a woman. For many in the crowd, looking at the figures in the double portrait quickly identified as Rev. Richard Allen, and his second wife, Sarah was a religious moment. For others, it with artist Mila Alexander, who is was a wonderful artistic mystery. To a visitor, Alexander offered her part of the story. "I bought it in the late '80s, in an antique shop on Belmont where I went all the time. It's gone now," said Alexander, herself an artist. "I love portraiture," she went on. "I was poking around and I saw something nailed above the door to the bathroom. I bought it, took it home and nailed it to a wall above my dresser. I didn't know." Higginbothan, a friend, knew. Invited to a Valentine's Day party at Alexander's home, he quickly identified the portrait figures in her new painting. "Do you know who you have?" he asked her. "That's Richard Allen." What Alexander had stumbled across was a rare likeness of the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a denomination whose history is packed with drama, dating to the day in 1787, in Philadelphia, when Allen led a delegation out of a white 3 , : - 'i ,i if j Photos for the Tribune by Anthony Robert La Penna reflected in the mirror beneath the portraits. L.m- .jiuihi . t j i i ilk rarrri , s It t'ti Art dealer Paul Waggoner stands by the portrait of Rev. Richard Allen, which he is showing privately at his gallery. church and founded the first organized black church in America. "We date our history from 1787, the day of the walkout," said Higginbothan, himself an AME pastor. As others explained, today's United Methodists and AME Church both descend from an 18th Century denomination called the Methodist Episcopal Church. Their separation began in 1787, when black members of St. George Methodist Church in Philadelphia decided they would no longer be segregated into the gallery They withdrew and formed what became Philadelphia's Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the I country's oldest black congregation. The denomination now has about 3 million members, including those at Chicago's Quinn Chapel, at 2401 S. Wabash Ave., built in 1847. Many of the guests put questions about the painting to the host of the party, art dealer Paul Waggoner, who has the work in his new gallery, in the former rectory of the Bethel Lutheran Church, at 2101 N. Humboldt Blvd. Waggoner said judging from the canvas, the work probably dates from about 1795. The artist is unknown. The work will not go on public display, he added, but private showings can be arranged by calling the Waggoner Gallery at 773-862-5142.