In 2002 Della Hardman told the Vineyard Gazette: “When I retired I could have stayed in West Virginia, or gone wherever, somewhere, anywhere, but I chose to come to Martha’s Vineyard. And I didn’t plan to come and sit. I planned to be involved. Wherever I am, that’s the way I like it. Life is interesting.”
Thanks to her, life on the Vineyard certainly continues to be.
Della Louise Hardman was born in 1922 and raised in Charleston, W.V. In 1945 she received a master’s degree in art from Boston University in 1945. After moving to the Vineyard in 1986, Mrs. Hardman dove into the Island community, becoming involved in the Nathan Mayhew Seminars, the Oak Bluffs Library, Vineyard Nursing Association and the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society. She succeeded the late Harlem Renaissance author Dorothy West as author of the Oak Bluffs column for the Vineyard Gazette. She was an associate professor of art at West Virginia State University for 30 years, during which time she hosted The Black Experience radio show, served as a chairman of the board of trustees of the Charleston Art Gallery, and the National Art Education Association recognized her as an Outstanding Art Educator. Most notably the Vineyard NAACP awarded Mrs. Hardman its first Humanitarian Award in 1994 for her service to the community. Among other honors she garnered in her lifetime, Mrs. Hardman was named as an Outstanding Art Alumna of West Virginia State College in 2000, inducted into the National black College Alumni Hall of Fame in 1998 and named a Distinguished West Virginian by Gov. John D. Rockefeller in 1979. Governor Rockefeller also appointed her to serve as a commissioner on the West Virginia Arts and Humanities from 1979 to 1978.
She died Dec. 13, 2005.
During her 83 years, Della Hardman was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, writer, painter, photographer, potter weaver and scholar.
Since 2005, the town of Oak Bluffs has designated the last Saturday in July as a day to honor Mrs. Hardman. Saturday, July 27 marks the ninth Della Hardman Day, a day that has grown to become a weekend-long celebration of the arts with music, art, a guest speaker and essay contest for young writers. This year’s guest speaker is Khalil Gibran Muhammad, PhD, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. He will address one of the Della Hardman Day sub-themes for festivities: commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 50th anniversary of March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. He speaks at 4 p.m. Saturday in Ocean Park.
“It was a hot August day,” recalled Andrea Taylor, daughter of the late Mrs. Hardman, in a conversation with the Gazette. “Della attended the March on Washington along with about 35 other residents from Charleston, W.V., including her son, Francis Taylor Jr., her brother, Attorney Willard L. Brown, president, Charleston NAACP and organizer of the delegation, and me.” The group chartered a bus and departed the evening before the march was to take place and drove through the night without respite, unable to find a hotel that would provide them lodging. “We arrived in DC early on the morning of the March,” Mrs. Taylor continued. “To escape the heat me and my high-school boyfriend sat under the shade of an enormous tree and watched events unfold. We knew in that moment that this was a transformative moment in American history and in our own lives.”
The events of nearly 50 years ago stand irrefutably as a landmark for the path America had chosen toward a progressive and modern culture. Yet the opportunity to continue paving the way toward similarly monumental signposts remains as pertinent now as it was on that sweltering day in August. “The irony is that back in 1963 we were marching for jobs and freedom,” mused Mrs. Taylor, “and now more than ever, all you hear about is the need for jobs and justice. The younger generation has always been crucial to change, and is still the driving force.”
In honoring Della Hardman’s many accomplishments, one is reminded of the role that youth has and continues to hold in shaping an increasingly creative and progressive future. Her often referred to mantra, Savor the Moment, acts as a simple reminder of Mrs. Hardman’s inexhaustible drive to encourage people to stay present and interact with the world around them, and to facilitate positive change.
“My approach was trying to teach people to see,” Mrs. Hardman recalled in 2002. “I can remember trying to make them aware of the world in which they lived. Instead of looking through things, to really see and get some sense of the things that they were looking at and were associated with that were part of their lives.”
The events for the ninth annual Della Hardman Day are as follows:
Saturday, July 27 at 4 p.m. in Ocean Park, special guest Khalil Gibran Muhammad, PhD, director, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, will speak. The one-hour program will also include greetings from the town of Oak Bluffs and award presentations to high school essay contest winners (essay are published on the Commentary Page in today’s edition) and a cake reception.
Sunday, July 28 at 6 p.m., the Della Hardman Day committee and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum will present a sunset concert at the East Chop Lighthouse featuring the spirituals choir led by Jim Thomas and also featuring Christina Montoya, dancer.