ST. PETERSBURG — Last school year, her first as a college student, food didn’t quite fit into Lauryn Latimer’s budget.
Latimer, 19, said it was weeks before she could afford a meal plan at Florida State University, where financial aid and a $5,000 scholarship from the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum were making it possible for her to be the first in her family to attend college.
For Zakaria White and her mom, the Woodson scholarship was a godsend.
“It took a weight off my mom’s shoulders, because she really didn’t have to worry about how to fund extra things, like food and books and everything,” said White, 19, who attends the University of Central Florida.
“I cried, because I knew that going to college had been her goal since she was a little girl. And we realized how much money it was going to be once she was accepted." said Nicole White, a housing specialist for the Tampa Housing Authority. "The scholarship helped out tremendously.”
Such stories are of Gulfport and Cape Cod artist Jane Bunker’s making. Bunker proposed establishing a scholarship program for African-American students three years ago. She would produce a portfolio of paintings and work with the Woodson Museum to sell them to raise funds.
She initially painted 21 paintings, and 17 of them sold. The effort, supplemented with donations, raised $43,000 for 17 scholarships. Students got $5,000, $3,000 or $250 awards.
Demetrius Williams received one of last year’s scholarships and hopes to get another one for the upcoming school year.
“For me, it really helped with getting books,” said Williams, 19, who attends the University of Miami, where he is majoring in business. “I think what she is doing is amazing, and I really feel like I have a connection to her.”
This year, Bunker painted another 19 pieces for an auction that was to take place in April. The coronavirus forced its cancellation, and the pieces are being sold online, at bunkerscholarshipauction.com. The hope is to raise enough money to help send the original Woodson Warriors Scholarship winners on to their second year of college. Money raised after May 31 will be put into next year’s fund.
Bunker is a retired psychologist. She began studying art as a young child, but did not return to painting until about 25 years ago, after she retired.
“From my perspective,” she said of her work, “it feels very spiritual and luminous and somewhat of a photo realist. It goes way beyond photographic. It’s sort of dreamy.” It has been represented by galleries in New York, Santa Fe, Aspen, Boise and Cape Cod. Her one-woman show, Illumination, at the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut, featured mostly landscapes. Works from that era also are being sold for the scholarship program at janebunkerartist.com.
Three years ago, Bunker and her husband, Mason Morfit, a graphic designer and photographer, designed and built a house in Gulfport. She began volunteering at the Woodson Museum and the idea of the scholarships was born.
“When I lost my mother in 2017, she wanted desperately to do something for me, and she offered to create a scholarship in my mother’s name,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, the museum’s executive director.
“I loved the idea of a scholarship,” Scott said, but suggested that it be named for the museum, rather than her mother, Dessie Lipsey, who had been active in education in her hometown of Savannah, Ga.
The paintings for the scholarship program, a series of lilies, Bunker decided, would be “a bouquet of appreciation of love and gratitude for the African-American community.”
This year, the museum hopes to sell at least five paintings, priced from $3,000 to $5,000 each. About $30,000 has been raised so far. Respect 90, a foundation of Major League Baseball manager Joe Maddon, donated $1,000. Louise Del Basso, owner of Galleria Misto and who displays artwork at the Mahaffey Theater, has given Bunker’s paintings exposure over the past two years.
Nine students have applied for scholarships to help them return to college. ”They are absolutely outstanding. They wrote essays about their first year,” Bunker said.
“College has been a wake-up call for me and has made me realize that not everything will be easy, and that there is no substitute for discipline and hard work,” wrote Latimer, who has held on to her job at Publix.
Diamond Scrivens, who attends Florida State University, said college has broadened her world. “A lot of times, I felt lonely. It was a different cultural setting to me. I had to adapt," she said during a telephone interview.
"It shows that the people that care about you don’t have to look like you,” she said of Bunker.