Profile: Varnette Honeywood (1950-2010)

Varnette Patricia Honeywood was an American painter, writer, and businesswoman whose paintings and collages depicting African-American life hung on walls in interior settings for The Cosby Show after Camille and Bill Cosby had seen her art and started collecting some of her works. Her paintings also appeared on television on the Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, as well as on the TV series Amen and 227.

Early years

Honeywood was born on December 27, 1950, in Los Angeles. Her parents, Stepney and Lovie Honeywood, were elementary school teachers who had come to California from Louisiana and Mississippi. Honeywood earned her undergraduate degree in Art in 1972 from Spelman College in Atlanta, the first historically black female school of higher education in the United States. (She would exhibit there in 1987.) She earned her master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1974, where she majored in education.

Career beginnings

As part of a community outreach program conducted by USC, Honeywood used her educational training to teach multicultural arts and crafts programs to minority children in the public schools. Her work, influenced by such artists as Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence showed black Americans in everyday life, in family and social settings. The time she spent visiting relatives in the South during her childhood, her college experience at Spelman and a 1977 trip to Nigeria all provided themes for her paintings. She and her sister Stephanie established the greeting-card company Black Lifestyles with cards showing her brightly colored portraits depicting the daily life of African Americans, making it the first such company specializing in black themes.

Later life and legacy

Honeywood died at age 59 on September 12, 2010, in Los Angeles after fighting cancer for two years. Her family, Tiffany Allen (Executive Director of Cancer Research), Joyce Allen (Executive Director/President), Jennell (Vice President), and Carolyn Allen (Secretary) along with Edward Hamilton Jr and Sherice Roper started the Varnette P. Honeywood Foundation to support those who suffer from and are prone to having reproductive cancers. Varnette P. Honeywood Foundation is inspired by the principals of fostering a sense of common ground among all people, improving the quality of life for every member of the human family, and cultivating a widespread shared commitment to creating a more enlightened society for the benefit of future generations. The Varnette P. Honeywood Foundation is focused on the following priorities: Scholarship programs for talented and promising art students and artists in all genres whose work makes a positive contribution to society. Medical and other scientific research focused on conquering cancer of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and testicles while relieving human suffering. Providing medical awareness and preventive medicine to communities conflicted by reproductive cancers. Although Ms. Honeywood is no longer here in the physical form, her artwork can still be seen on numerous show such as Amen, The Steve Harvey Show, My Wife and Kids, Smart Guy, Melrose Place, Golden Girls and various other television shows, movies and book covers.

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