The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Kevin Cole

Art professor and mixed media artist Kevin E. Cole was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on January 19, 1960 to Jessie and Sam Cole, Jr. He received his B.S. degree in art education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1982; his M.A. degree in art education a year later, and his M.F.A degree in drawing from Northern Illinois University in 1984.

Cole began his art career as an art teacher at Camp Creek Middle School in College Park, Georgia in 1985. At the same time, he also became an adjunct professor at Georgia State University’s School of Art and Design where he remained until 1998. In 1990, Cole was chairperson of the visual and performing arts magnet program of Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Georgia until 1994. Later, in 2003, he became the chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Westlake High School where he created the school's first arts program. Cole’s artwork is well known for including imagery of neckties as symbols of power and emphasizes the relationship between color and music, particularly jazz, blues, hip-hop, and gospel. He incorporates patterns and textures from traditional African cloths to speak to human conditions and behaviors.

In 1994, Cole was commissioned by the Coca-Cola Company to create a fifteen story mural celebrating the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. The mural took two years to create and was a little over 800 square feet. He has been featured in Who’s Who in Education and received the Award of Excellence for Public Art by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission.

Cole was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 15, 2007.

Accession Number




Archival Photo 1
Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Marital Status



Pine Bluff High School

University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Northern Illinois University

Indiana Street Elementary School

Belair Middle School

Southeast Junior High School

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau


Archival Photo 2
Speakers Bureau Availability

Evenings, Weekends

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Pine Bluff



Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Youth, Teens

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $500 - $1,000

Favorite Season


Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Youth, Teens



Favorite Vacation Destination

Forests, Water

Favorite Quote

There's No Limit Of What A Man Can Do And Where He Can Go If It Doesn't Matter Who Gets The Credit. You Learn Through The Process Of Doing.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food


Short Description

Mixed media artist and art professor Kevin Cole (1960 - ) was an adjunct professor at Georgia State University's School of Art and Design until 1998. From 1992, Cole's artwork evolved from the use of the necktie as an icon, motif and symbol of power. His work emphasized the relationship between color and music, particularly jazz, blues, rap, and gospel.


Westlake High School

North Springs Charter High School

Georgia State University

Tri-Cities High School

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kevin Cole's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kevin Cole lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kevin Cole describes his paternal grandfather, Sam Cole, Sr.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kevin Cole describes his maternal grandmother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kevin Cole describes his father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kevin Cole talks about his father's education and military career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sam Cole describes his mother's family background, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Kevin Cole describes his mother's family background, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Kevin Cole describes lessons from his mother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sam Cole describes how his mother and father met</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Kevin Cole lists his siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Kevin Cole talks about growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sam Cole describes Pine Bluff, Arkansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sam Cole talks about his daily life as a child</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sam Cole describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sam Cole describes his experience at Indiana Street Elementary School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sam Cole remembers discovering his talent for art</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kevin Cole describes his experience at the integrated Belair Middle School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kevin Cole describes his parents' political views</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Kevin Cole describes his education at Belair Middle School in Pine Bluff</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Kevin Cole describes growing up on the east side of Pine Bluff, Arkansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Kevin Cole remembers Southeast Junior High School in Pine Bluff</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Kevin Cole describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Kevin Cole remembers his early mentors</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Kevin Cole describes his experience at Pine Bluff High School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Kevin Cole recalls his mentors at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Kevin Cole talks about his artistic mentors' awards</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 16 - Kevin Cole describes how his artwork developed in college</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kevin Cole lists his art professors at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kevin Cole describes his experience pledging Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kevin Cole talks about Halima Taha's book</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kevin Cole recalls racial discrimination at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kevin Cole describes his artistic process at graduate school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kevin Cole describes pursuing his Master of Fine Arts degree [MFA]</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kevin Cole talks about his experience as an African American artist</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Kevin Cole talks about racial discrimination in the art world</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Kevin Cole talks about his student, Kara Walker</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Kevin Cole talks about artists he admires</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Kevin Cole remember his early teaching career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kevin Cole recalls his commission to create a mural at Atlanta City Hall</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kevin Cole describes the visual performing arts magnet program at Tri-Cities High School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kevin Cole talks about his art made from bent wood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kevin Cole recalls being commissioned for the 1996 Summer Olympics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kevin Cole talks about collaborating on the 1996 Summer Olympics mural</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kevin Cole describes his career after painting the 1996 Summer Olympics mural</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kevin Cole talks about his future career plans</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Kevin Cole talks about other artists that he admires</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kevin Cole describes the subjects of his recent work</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kevin Cole shares a message for future generations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kevin Cole describes his concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kevin Cole talks about the importance of art education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kevin Cole describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Kevin Cole lists some of the proprietors of his art</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Kevin Cole talks about his children, Skylar Cole and Nia Cole</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Kevin Cole narrates his photographs</a>







Kevin Cole recalls his mentors at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Kevin Cole recalls being commissioned for the 1996 Summer Olympics
So, you decide to go to work--to college, and tell me about your first experience when you get, get to college.$$Well, okay. When I decided to attend University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff [Pine Bluff, Arkansas], I went out for an interview and I talked to this guy. His name was John--the late John Howard, and I know there were a lot of people trying to become artists at Pine Bluff. And Mr. Howard, he took me around and I had these drawings and took me around to all the faculty, and Ernest Davidson, the--'cause I was doing sculpture, Ernest Davidson was the sculpture teacher. He just died recently. And then there was--[HistoryMaker] Henri Linton was on leave. The one that stood--that stood out to me the most was this guy named Tarrance Corbin, guy about maybe 5'6", 5'7". And everybody was ranting and raving over my portfolio. I took my portfolio to him. He looked at it, he said, "It's typical seventeen-year-old work." I got outside, I said, "You know what? That little short man, he think he bad," (laughter). And he became my--he--he's still--he--I'm his--I'm his godson. We, we talk--we talk every--we talk at least three times a week. I never knew he would be that mentor for me. And I always say when my career has gone--I've, I've always had good, good, good mentors. Ernest Davidson, who recently just passed away, he was the one that, that--he was that calm part of it, for me. And Ernest--and, and so that's why if you notice, I do paint and sculptures because I would've been torn between painting and sculpture. So my--I do paint, paint and sculpture or I'm doing metal now. And the late John Howard was the one that got me involved in, in like--in like education. And I always would wonder about Mr. Howard. I'm like--I'll never--I'll never forget, I had a painting class--well, at that time, Mr. Howard--in 1980, Mr. Howard, he was--he, he had gotten old. Whenever you would ask him to come upstairs to look at your painting, he'll tell you he couldn't come up to look at your painting, but--so, you had to bring your painting down for him, him to see, all right. And I would do at a time. He said, you have a nice painting. But then, you see Mr. Howard in the hallway, he'd tell you, "Cole [HistoryMaker Kevin Cole], nice painting you got upstairs." I'm like, "How'd you get upstairs?" "'Cause you never bring it up." And I'll, I'll never forget taking a class with him, and taking a class with Mr. Howard, and in my painting class with him, Mr. Howard, he would beat me up. I had the best painting in the class, he would just beat me up, I mean, tear me up. So this girl named--her name was Dorothy Deportes [ph.]. Dorothy was doing these folk-type paintings. They were real stylized and, and Dorothy would get a A and I'd get a B. "Mr. Howard, but Dorothy can't paint, worth a shit," I would say--but, you know, I would--I would say to myself. So, then at the end of the semester, he said, "You know what? I knew what to say to you. I knew you would always rise to the occasion. You always rise. Even though Dorothy couldn't paint, I had to make Dorothy feel good, like she could." But in my mind, seventeen years old, Dorothy can't paint, okay. I understand what he was trying to do, but his whole thing was, you know, "At the end--at the end of the day, I always wanted to make sure that you would always--I wanted to know each one of my students--." Then--and then I asked, I said, "Mr. Howard, why is it everybody want, want to come to Arkansas Pine Bluff?" He said, "You know what, 'cause--because I know all my people. You gotta know all your students. You gotta know what they're capable of doing, what they're not capable of doing at the end of the day." So I--that philosophy stayed with me as, as I teach. I always trying to build--I'm always trying to build whoever I can up but then push whoever I can on the--on the side, say, "Okay, this is where you can be and this is what you can be."$$Okay. So you had some great mentors--$$Oh--$$--your first year of college. Now, this was in 1978 'cause you graduated from high school [Pine Bluff High School, Pine Bluff, Arkansas]--$$Yeah, in--$$--in--$$Yeah, I graduated in '78 [1978].$$--nineteen seventy-eight [1978], and you went straight to college.$$I went straight to college. I went to--and then--and then another mentor, like Henri, Henri, Henri Linton who's still the chairman of the department. And, and we've talked to--and we've talked--we've talked about me coming back and being chairman but I don't think I'm, I'm gonna do that. But he was the one--he's one of the ones that stayed with me until the end and, and made you work. It was just it. I mean, he'd tell you to work all day, work all night, always be--always be prepared, always be better. And I think with him and Tarrance Corbin, a lot of commissions I've got--you know, commission of Michael Jordan, commission for the Olympics [1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta, Georgia]. See, I learned--I learned how to do murals when I--when I was seventeen years old. I was working as an apprentice for Tarrance Corbin and doing things, things for him, washing out paint brushes, blocking in shapes, so that was easy for me.$So, what happens--you, you were at Tri-City [Tri-Cities High School, East Point, Georgia] from--$$From 1990--$$Ninety [1990] to ninety-four [1994].$$--to '94 [1994]. Well, in 1994, and then I was represented by the, the, the McIntosh Gallery here, here in Atlanta [Georgia], which I always tell the story that she, she, she had some of the top African American artists in the country. She gave Romare Bearden his first show. She gave Benny Andrews his first one and gave John Scott [John T. Scott]. And I was represented by her. And when, when the--when The Coca-Cola Company [Atlanta, Georgia] became official sponsor of the Olympics [1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta, Georgia], they kept asking, who's able to do large scale pieces of artwork? My name kept coming up. And another guy knew her from Coke, said, you know what? Her name is Louisa [Louisa McIntosh Edwards], Louisa, can we talk to this guy? They came over and they--and they talked to me about, about, about, you know, about they wanted to do. And they told me the artists they looked at. So, she and I talked. I said, well, you know what? I think that they are just interviewing me as a part of the process because--and, and, and because I'm black. So I went on, I started to do--I said, well, you know, I really wanna--I really wanna do something for the Olympics. And how you do a 15 story mural, you never touch the wall, they give you what you ask for, and I came in, I, I--my--I said, I, I know what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna do it on--I'm gonna do it on a--I'm gonna do it on like a vinyl, came in with my presentation. I said, gentleman, how many days you--well, you gotta look at it--now, if you want somebody to get this mural done by the time of the Olympics, how many days--I'm looking at how many days it rained from 1990 'til 1994, how many days it was over 40 degrees, how many days it was under 80 degrees, how many days it snowed, how many miles an hour that the wind is going one way. If a person is trying to paint this on a wall that--on a scaffold painting, they would never get it done. Let me--let me introduce you to a vinyl. The vinyl lasts, lasts between seven and ten years. It'll be--it'll be done in sections. I found a company, company that can install it in. I want this, I want this, I want this. I'm gonna use this, I'm gonna use this, I'm gonna use that. I also wanna hire five of my former students, part of the deal, and if you look in the--look in the lower right-hand corner, everything is copyrighted. I would love to hear from you soon. I got the project.$$Wow. And where does this mural hang?$$It was on the side of, of--it was on the side of a building called Carter Hall, which was the dormitory for Clark Atlanta University [Atlanta, Georgia] students, Georgia State [Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia] students. And it took two years, six months, seventeen days, fourteen hours, and thirty-two minutes. I kept a diary on it. It was--it was--it was one them--one of them--matter of fact, the--it, it was--it was 8200 square feet, bigger than the Sistine Chapel [Apostolic Palace, Vatican City] and which was--which was 7700 square feet, okay? It was one of the largest single-hand projects for any Olympics done, but it was done with the input of the community, whereas the idea was to, to paint the unsung heroes. Then, I used some of my former students. I brought in two artists from the community who I knew to just give them the experience of doing it.