MONTPELIER — A Middlebury artist has been picked to paint a portrait for the Vermont Statehouse of Alexander Twilight, who is thought to have been the first African American state lawmaker in the country.
Katie Runde was selected from a field of 18 artists who applied for the commission, the Caledonian Record reported Wednesday. She will paint a large-scale portrait of Twilight, an early Vermont educator and minister.
“I am honored to be commissioned to paint such an important figure both in terms of Vermont’s enterprising, progressive past and how we now choose to model our future,” Runde said.
The Friends of the Vermont State House announced in September that it was commissioning a portrait of Twilight. Twilight had been on a short list of possible portrait commissions for several years as part of a larger plan to broaden the representation in the State House of women and people of color.
“It is the edifice that represents our government, and all Vermonters need to feel connected to it,” said State House Curator David Schutz. “Mr. Twilight was a man of remarkable accomplishments.”
While Vermont had what is believed to be the country’s first state legislator of African descent in the early 1800s, it has not been exempt from racism. In 2018, Democratic state Rep. Kiah Morris of Bennington, who in 2014 was the second Black woman to be elected to the Vermont Legislature, resigned after being the victim of racial harassment.
Twilight was born in Corinth in 1795, and rose above his childhood status as an indentured servant to attend and graduate from Middlebury College in 1823, Schultz said. “Middlebury claims him as the first American of African descent to graduate from college,” he said.
Twilight later moved to Brownington to serve as the principal of the Orleans County Grammar School and pastor of the Brownington Congregational Church, which both flourished under his leadership. In 1836 he was elected to represent Brownington in the Legislature.
The Friends of the Vermont State House committed to the Twilight portrait idea last summer and they were ready to launch a fundraising drive, when the National Life Group offered to pay for the portrait.