Virginia Jackson Kiah


Virginia Kiah is seen among friends in a historically preserved picture.
SCAD is honoring Civil Rights activist, educator, painter, and museum founder Virginia Jackson Kiah with a permanent collection, “Live Your Vision: An Online Exhibition by Virginia Jackson Kiah.”

The gallery will live online without a formal closing date. SCAD will pay tribute to Kiah’s lifelong desire to inspire future artists to live their vision through this nontraditional online space.

“Virginia Kiah believed in the power of creativity, imagination, and dreaming,” said Savannah College of Art and Design Curator DJ Hellerman. “That is also the SCAD ethos. She saw the importance of sharing these three things with young people who will become the future. For Kiah, art and life were always connected. This exhibition is a great way for us to honor her legacy and to share her values with the widest audience possible.”

Virginia Jackson Kiah lived from 1911-2001. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art in 1931; her Master of Arts from Columbia University in 1950; and honorary Ph.D. of Humanities from SCAD in 1986. Kiah came from a family of activists; her mother Lillie May Carroll Jackson was active in the Civil Rights movement.

Kiah opened The Kiah Museum in 1959 in her mother’s home, dedicated to her mother’s role in activism. For 30 years, Kiah served as president in the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and advocated for nonviolent change against racial segregation. In 1951 Kiah and her husband Calvin Lycurgus Kiah — 1910-1994 — moved to Savannah. She was an acclaimed figurative artist who painted people she encountered throughout her life, such as her family, friends, strangers and celebrities.

“Kiah’s work allows us to see what mattered to her, what she cared about, and the many different people she encountered in her daily life,” Hellerman added.

Kiah has a decade-long relationship with SCAD and was appointed to the Board of Trustees until 1997. A SCAD Museum of Art building was renamed in her honor in 1993. And Kiah herself created the Kiah Painting Endowed Scholarship, which is still active today. Her portraits and life drawings in oil, watercolor and graphite are on display at SCAD.

“Some of the portraits Kiah painted are hanging in classroom spaces and in other buildings at the SCAD Savannah campus,” said Executive Director of Communications at Savannah College of Art and Design Michelle Gavin. “Many of her works are too fragile to put on display. An online exhibition means anyone, anywhere, can view her collection of works and learn more about this treasured Savannah artist.”

“Live Your Vision: An Online Exhibition by Virginia Jackson Kiah” is SCAD’s first permanent online exhibit. To view, visit

About The Author

Nicole Youngblut

Nicole Youngblut is a contributing writer for Connect Savannah, where she covers the local art and events scene. As a graduate of The Fashion Institute of Technology, she spent many years in New York City as a fashion stylist and promoter. Her passion for biographies, entertainment and the arts is the perfect...

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