To mark the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, TIME magazine set out to make some history of its own with the 100 Women of the Year in history project. The weekly news magazine selected a woman, or group of women, to represent each year from 1920 to 2019.
Prior to 2015, only seven individual women had ever been named TIME's Person of the Year.
Magazine editors identified influential women whose reach transcended their time. Cover layouts from past eras were reconstructed and 49 original portraits were commissioned. Leaving intact the 11 original covers honoring a woman as Person of the Year, TIME added 89 new covers to its collection.
To depict Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith and Rosa Parks, whose peaceful and history-making acts of resistance, in 1955, initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott, TIME selected mixed-media artist Lavett Ballard, an adjunct professor at Rowan College of South Jersey.
Ballard's piece "The Bus Riders" was featured as one of TIME's regional covers for the March 16, 2020 double issue. Ballard was also highlighted within its pages.
When she got the initial email from a representative of TIME to say she had been chosen for a commission, Ballard thought perhaps "somebody was playing a very mean joke."
It was not a joke.
"I have been doing art since a toddler, according to my mother who saw beauty in my messy tray of food," she said. "I was chosen for gifted and talented in the arts in my town, from an early age, to take courses at the local high school. My teacher was Rita Owens, the mother of now-celebrity Queen Latifah, who was also a classmate."
For two years, Ballard has been teaching art appreciation, art history, and drawing at RCSJ. The Willingboro resident is an alumna of Rutgers University-Camden, where she earned a dual bachelor's degree in Studio Art/Art History, with a minor in Museum Studies. She went on to earn a M.F.A. in Studio Art from University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Ballard, whose art focuses on “themes of history, colorism and Afro-futurism,” illustrated her TIME cover art with painted photo collage elements adhered to reclaimed wooden fencing.
The evolution of Ballard's artistic style and technique began while she was attending grad school. Once she noticed the symbolism resulting from the connection between wood and history, it took a year for Ballard to figure out how to successfully adhere vintage photographs to rough fences and craft a piece that resembles a painting.
Much of the time spent in Ballard's studio is in researching places to find historic photos to use for her visual storytelling.
"Wood has so much texture and history," she said. "There are fences in our lives and in our relationships. Fences hold some people in and keep others out. With the [Montgomery] boycott being about segregating others, a wood fence was the perfect substrate for this story."
Ballard described the honor of being tapped by TIME magazine as "beyond amazing" although "a bit bittersweet due to the timing of its release" during the country's COVID-19 outbreak.
"A lot of people were happy and supportive. Others were shocked at the enormity of it all," Ballard added.
Being recognized by TIME magazine is indeed an enormous accomplishment.
Lavett Ballard will have exhibitions of her work in Baltimore, North Carolina, and at Syracuse University later this year.