RICHMOND -- Artist and educator Stephen Von Mason dreams of building a "critical mass" of art featuring African-American subjects.
The Glen Cove resident and Richmond middle school art teacher hopes that one day children will go to a museum and be presented with artistic representations of "this figure as black as an ace of spades," side-by-side with another "lily-white as this wall -- and they're equally as poignant on their own terms."
Mason, an Indiana native who has spent the past 36 years in California, 10 of those living in Vallejo, is about to embark on a three-week art show at the Agora Gallery in New York City.
A portion of art sale proceeds will go toward the Children's Heart Foundation in time for February's "Heart Month." Later this year, his paintings will be featured in a solo display in upstate New York.
"I work with children anyway, so it's right up my alley," Mason said recently during a break from teaching art at Making Waves Academy Middle School.
Despite his art shows and several upcoming features in art publications, Mason feels very little connection to Vallejo's art scene, or even to that of the larger Bay Area's. While he thinks part of that decision is because of Bay Area museum and gallery reluctance to feature his style of art, Mason said he also has plans to target a wider audience.
"I have to keep on with the major museums, because if (African-American artists) all go local, my granddaughter will be at that museum and she won't see anything that looks like her," said Mason, rapidly firing off his thoughts with barely a breath in between.
"I would love San Francisco, but they just haven't been friendly to me. So I figure, you go on the road to get into the club down the street. ... You make it happen by making your work so strong, so compelling that it cannot be dismissed."
While Mason continues following his art career, which included a 15-year hiatus to co-write a movie that did not end up in theaters, he also keeps himself busy teaching art to fifth- through eighth-grade students at Richmond's public charter school, Making Waves Academy. Six years ago, just a year after the school first launched, Mason was brought on to help create the art department there.
In that time, Mason said he has seen a sea change in art and education.
"When I came here, it was still kind of under the era of when they wiped out art departments," Mason said. "Now, President (Barack) Obama ... says that the creative schools, going forward, will be the best schools. So that's all changing -- they're bringing art departments back. They realized that by taking all that away, we sort of robbed the kids of a well-rounded education."
In 2012, Mason said he was invited to attend a presentation for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in San Francisco, headed by Michelle Obama. Mason brought a student and a presentation on his curriculum at the time, which had students designing homes and building their own scale models.
In between time with family and work, Mason cherishes the "serenity" of Vallejo that has allowed him to paint while living in a beautiful neighborhood since he relaunched his career in 2010.
"I'm doing some of my strongest work, living in Vallejo," Mason said.
Mason's paintings depict scenes of triumph and celebration and often pays homage to important African-American heroes, past and present, he said.
"I look to them for strength. If they can get there ... I can get there," Mason said. "That's what it is for black people. We have to have examples to see that we can do it -- amongst all the odds."
For more information about Mason online, visit his website at stephenvonmason4.see. me.
Hometown: South Bend, Ind.; in Vallejo since 2004
Occupation: Painter, art teacher at Making Waves Academy in Richmond
Family: Wife, Regina, three stepchildren
Quote: "My job, as an African American artist, is to create a critical mass ... of dark faces ... where my work is so great and so compelling that a museum wants to collect and put it in their permanent collection."