Columbus Artist Queen Brooks Inspires Art Lovers and Her Fellow Creators

A new exhibition at the Main Library highlights the longtime local artist’s work alongside others she inspired.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Monthly
Artist Queen Brooks in her home studio

As a single parent in her 30s, Queen Brooks liked art, but she never gave any thought to being an artist. Then one day in the late 1970s, after peering through the windows of photographer Kojo Kamau’s ACE Gallery for the third time, Brooks was invited inside.

“I was intimidated when I first went into the gallery because I thought I had to have some prior knowledge about art, or some money. And I didn’t have either,” Brooks says. “Kojo gave me my first job in the arts. It opened up a new world for me.”

Another mentor, Columbus mixed-media sculptor Barbara Chavous, was the first to tell Brooks she was an artist. “When I started to believe her, I started to work at my craft,” Brooks says.

In the 40-plus years that Brooks has made art in Columbus, her role shifted from mentee to mentor. Janet George met Brooks in the early 2000s, before she thought of herself as an artist. In 2008, while the two friends attended a workshop together, Brooks encouraged George to exhibit her work. “So I got my portfolio together, had a solo exhibition, and it was quite successful,” George says. “She’s always been a support, helping me and guiding me.”

Over the years, George has run into countless artists, particularly other Black women, who’ve been influenced by Brooks. “I feel like she’s a hidden treasure,” George says. “She is revered by other artists, and her opinions are sought, but I don’t think the bigger community knows that.”

To help give Brooks the shine she deserves, George curated a new show in the Carnegie Gallery at the Columbus Metropolitan Main Library: Touching…Recognizing Artist Queen Brooks, which features work by more than 20 artists Brooks inspired, including Antoinette Savage, Lisa McLymont, Barbara Vogel and Gaye Reissland. The show, on view from Aug. 22 to Oct. 14, also features Brooks’ own mixed-media assemblages of wood, cloth, paint, leather and beads. (While she started as a photographer, Brooks later branched into drawing, painting and wood-burning.)

“I wanted the title to be Honoring the Artist Queen Brooks, but she was not going for that. She’s quite humble,” George says. “She came up with the idea of ‘touching’—thinking about the different lives that she’s touched and how she’s touched them.”

While Brooks often plays the role of cheerleader for other artists, she also doesn’t hesitate to critique their work. “She is nothing if not truthful,” George says.

“We don’t always see our own mistakes,” says Brooks, who emphasizes the good stuff first. “It’s important that you learn to accept the negatives with the positives.”

Working with other artists “gives me an opportunity to share and to give and to serve,” Brooks says. “I really love that part of it.”

This story is from Fall Arts Guide in the September 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.