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On Exhibit: Powerful Portraits of African American Living Legends of Alexandria

Compelling collection of black and white portrait photography pays tribute to notable men and women who have left their mark.

Living Legends Nina Tisara and Living Legend Lawrence Robinson (Photo: Tisara Photography)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – This spring and summer the Alexandria Black History Museum has hosted an important exhibit of the African American Living Legends of Alexandria. The compelling collection of black and white portrait photography by Living Legends founder Nina Tisara and her son Steven Halperson pays tribute to the notable men and women who have left their mark upon the ongoing progress of the City these past two centuries.

Alexandria Living Legends, former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and David Martin enjoy a word at the exhibit reception. (Photo: Tisara Photography)

Living Legends of Alexandria is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 by Nina Tisara.
Its purpose is to spotlight and chronicle those people who have made a significant impact bettering the city through their advocacy, activism, philanthropy and service. The legends stem from all walks of life: volunteers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, clergy, politicians, artists, entrepreneurs,  bankers, bakers, and business leaders.

All nominees and honorees demonstrate a dedication to serving and commitment toward  making Alexandria, if not the world, a better place to live. Nina explains, “What I like about this project is that it reaches into business people, professionals, artists, activists. It’s everyone.”  Living Legends promotes a perpetual legacy of service and giving back which inspires those going forward to carry on the tradition of community engagement that is the foundation of the African American community and Alexandria as a whole.

Celebrating African American Living Legends of Alexandria. (Photo: Tisara Photography)

The exhibit is curated by Audrey Davis, the Director of the Alexandria Black History Museum. Many of the portraits on exhibit represent those Alexandrians who lead the charge against segregation and were on the forefront of the battleground opposing institutional racism and prejudicial policies. Ms. Davis is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Arts in Art History. She has been on the Living Legends of Alexandria Board since 2011.

Ms. Davis was named Director of the Black History Museum In 2015. She curated the extraordinary “Before the Spirits are Swept Away” – an exhibition of Sherry Sanabria’s African American historic site paintings. Sanabria, who passed away in 2014, had a studio in the Torpedo Factory. Her family donated 23 of her paintings from the “Sites of Conscience” series to the museum. The museum is housed in the building originally used as the segregated library space for Alexandria’s African American residents.

Artist and activist, Nina Tisara reminded the audience that this collection is forever archived by the Office of Historic Alexandria as well as the Library of Congress. (Photo: Tisara Photography)

At a reception honoring the African American Living Legends at the museum on July 21, Nina Tisara reminded people that Living Legends is much more than a recognition award.
As a photojournalist she has been an archivist, recording and documenting future history as it happens. As Nina notes, “Telling the stories of the people who are making current history in Alexandria is important work!”

Living Legend Ronal Butler and his wife Martha Lloyd at the reception for the exhibit. Ronal currently serves on the board of the Alexandria Symphony, and Martha is on the board of Living Legends Alexandria and  serves as its vice president. (Photo: Tisara Photography)

Nina pointed out that the Living Legends (and her collection of “Witness Worship: Connecting Through the Lens of Faith” series) are the only images and stories that are currently maintained and preserved by the Office of Historic Alexandria. The entire collection is cataloged by the Library of Congress as well.

Nina thanked Audrey Davis for conceiving of the the exhibit as well as the museum staff, the Office of Historic Alexandria, the Board of Living Legends of Alexandria and her son Steven for installing the exhibit, promoting the events, and, most of all, for his Herculean efforts picking up the reins of the Living Legends portrait documentary photography.
For both it’s a labor love.

Alexandria School Board Member Jacinta Greene with Ella Jackson. (Photo by Alexandria Council Member Amy Jackson.)

Nina, Living Legends of Alexandria, and the Alexandria Black History Museum acknowledged and are extremely grateful for the support of the sponsors who helped put these powerful portraits on exhibit: Manumission Tours, Dishes of India, Glory Days Grill, the National Council of Negro Women, Joyous Events, The Enchanted Florist, and the Royal Restaurant.

Celebrating at the African American Living Legends of Alexandria Exhibit. (Photo by Alexandria Council Member Amy Jackson.)

Nina is as humble as she is generous, tireless and talented: “I am credited with being the mother of Living Legends. It was one of my better ideas but good ideas are not that hard. Bringing them to fruition is hard. Living Legends would not be what it is without Steven Halperson.”

[Editor’s Note: Go to the Alexandria History Museum for the African American Living Legends of Alexandria portraits by Nina Tisara and Steven Halperson on exhibit through the end of the month. Stay for the marvelous historical displays and diverting gift and book shop inside the intimate but impacts-a-punch museum space.]

The Alexandria Black History Museum

902 Wythe Street, Alexandria 22314
Tuesday ~ Saturday 10:00 AM ~ 4:00 PM



Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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  1. Thank you for the lovely review Kelly. You are consistently amazing. How in the world did you get a copy of my remarks! Of course, you don’t have to divulge your source.

  2. Nina–my apologies but our website has had a glitch today and we have had trouble uploading the photos that accompany this piece. Stay tuned. I have it on my list to tackle TODAY!

  3. I try to be everywhere!
    Even when I can’t be there!
    I am nonetheless ALWAYS there in spirit!!!!
    Especially when it involves YOUUUUU❣️

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