Those who live in Portland know Edward Renard “Nardie” White. His and his family’s roots run deep in the community, himself a third-generation resident. He spent his early adulthood working with the Portland Boys and Girls Club, a staple space among the memories of Portland’s fellow long-timers. Gordon Brown – who served as Director of the Boys and Girls Club during White’s tenure before moving on to being President / CEO of Home of the Innocents for 21 years – has this to say about the White family legacy:
The Whites were an anchor family for the Black Community on Lytle street in Portland. They were leaders in bridging the racial gap in the neighborhood which was very tough to penetrate in those days. The Whites were distinguished, had high aspirations for their children and were cherished friends of both black and white residents. Nardie is a product of this great family.
From there, White would discover a passion for working with children, leading to his co-founding of Louisville’s River City Drum Corp, a vital after-school organization that for over 30 years now has utilized Pan-African rhythm culture to mentor West End youth.
Ed White officially retired from the Corp in 2019, as chronicled in the acclaimed 2020 documentary River City Drumbeat, leaving it in the capable hands of a mentee. In most other accounts, this would have been the beginning and end of a rich life’s story. However, White has been quietly fostering his interests in being a multimedia artist since childhood. Having graduated from Jefferson Community College with an associate degree in commercial photography, he has both examined his locality and traveled the world with camera in tow. For years he utilized these skills as a professional photographer, and for more years as an outlet of personal expression. Since his retirement, White has also begun to explore ceramics and large-scale multimedia sculpture, exhibited last year at Louisville’s Shawnee Public Library. Even more recently White has earned the titles of 2022 Community Scholar from the Filson Historical Society, and Oral Historian from the Kentucky Arts Council, with a focus on preserving the stories of his hometown congregation of the Portland Memorial Baptist Church. But not even these additions fully recount the ever-evolving story of Ed “Nardie” White.
On February 20th, 2022, Portland Museum officially opened Edward R. White, Returning Home: A Life’s Retrospective, a sweeping exhibition featuring over one-hundred pieces made by White over the last thirty years of his life. In his seventh decade on earth, White designed and curated the show as a personal reemergence into his community. Having been an artist privately for most of his life, White was ready to be recognized as one, and this exhibition made it happen.
White’s photography is focused on the medium’s ability to capture essence, and his exhibit reflects this mastery. Familial love, the personalities of Portland locals, the character of cities abroad, and the unprecedented energy of Louisville’s 2020 racial justice protests are all represented on the museum’s walls. Debuted was a sculpture entitled Portland Now, employing White’s Pan African-inspired multimedia style at monumental scale. Featured as well was ceramic works and other mementos of White’s long life and wealth of careers. Having been a board member of the Portland Museum for two years now, White was proud to bring his life’s work back to the neighborhood where it all started. We were incredibly proud to help him showcase it. Thank you for returning home, Nardie.
Check out some of the coverage the show received from local media!