CRAFTSBURY – Artist Crystal Stokes of Worcester was recently commissioned to paint the historic principal of Craftsbury schools, George Washington Henderson. Henderson was a central figure in Craftsbury when he served as principal at Craftsbury schools from 1877-1880, and again from 1886-1888.
Anne-Marie Keppel, who had discovered the story of Henderson through the Craftsbury Historical Society, commissioned the artist to paint the portrait. The community raised the money for the painting and the framing.
Stokes said that “As a biracial female artist of Vermont, I am incredibly honored to have been commissioned to paint this important figure in Vermont’s history. As someone who was raised in Morrisville, away from any sense of diversity, I can only imagine the strength it took him to pursue his many accomplishments. I am continuously inspired by his story.”
Henderson was born in Clark County, Virginia, enslaved at birth, and was largely illiterate until age 14 or 15. After the Civil War he followed a Vermont infantry officer to Vermont, where he attended school and graduated with a Master’s Degree from the University of Vermont, completed a Bachelors of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and later attended university in Berlin, Germany. He was the first African American initiated into Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest collegiate academic honor society in the country.
After his wife died in childbirth and his child died thereafter, he became a well-respected minister (Reverend Henderson), author of several literary works, and an accomplished professor of Theology, Latin, Greek and Ancient Literature.
The painting will be displayed in one of the main corridors inside Craftsbury Academy. Harry Miller, school board chair, accepted the portrait on behalf of the Craftsbury schools. Merri Greenia, principal of Craftsbury schools said that, “Craftsbury Academy is very proud to have a portrait in our school of the first African-American principal in the state of Vermont.”