Annually, Oak Bluffs remembers Della Hardman, fondly

Esther Hopkins — Photo by Ralph Stewart

“She earned the title renaissance woman because she never stopped reinventing herself,” said Charlayne Hunter-Gault about the late Della Hardman, a central figure in the Island’s African-American community and the Oak Bluffs community at large.

Ms. Hunter-Gault was speaking to a crowd gathered under a tent in Ocean Park last Saturday at the sixth annual celebration of the life and spirit of a woman who was a painter, photographer, poet, weaver, and potter.

This year’s Della Hardman day started with a sunset gospel concert on Friday at the East Chop Lighthouse with the Spirituals Choir led by Jim Thomas. On Saturday, the Oak Bluffs library held a reception for an exhibit in memory of Ms. Hardman. Scattered around the walls of the library are photos of and by Ms. Hardman, many articles about the former Oak Bluffs columnist for the Vineyard Gazette, and a sampling of her tapestries and other works of art.

The granddaughter of slaves, Ms. Hardman earned an undergraduate degree in education, a masters in art and, at the age of 72, a PhD. She taught at West Virginia State University for 30 years and during that time she hosted “The Black Experience” radio show.

She was very involved in the community, wherever she went. On the Vineyard she served on a number of committees after moving here in 1986. She died in 2005 at the age of 83.

The ceremony held on Saturday in Ocean Park featured a number of speakers, including Ms. Hunter-Gault, the presentation of awards to the winners of a highschool essay contest named Savor the Moment after a favorite phrase of Ms. Hardman, and readings by poet Sonia Sanchez. Winners of the essay contest are Caroline Fournier, Kayla Johnson and Maggie Johnson. Friends of Ms. Hardman also stepped up to the podium to recount memories and stories. The event concluded with the cutting of a huge cake and the distribution of copies of Ms. Sanchez’s book “Haiku Morning.”

In her greeting words, Esther Hopkins said of Ms. Hardman, “She always showed respect to everyone she met — from people she encountered at the post office to famous authors.”