During the past 15 years, anyone who has walked through the doors of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey has witnessed the artistry of Leonard “Lenny” Wilkinson without knowing it.
Wilkinson, a longtime Atlantic County resident whose artwork has been exhibited throughout New Jersey, died Sunday after a battle with cancer.
His age was not immediately available.
Ralph E. Hunter Sr., the museum’s president and founder, said Wilkinson helped frame artwork that has been shown in the museum since its inception and had his own artwork exhibited there.
On Saturday, Hunter held a fundraiser at the Stockton University Noyes Arts Garage in Atlantic City to raise money for the overwhelming medical costs Wilkinson was facing, but it now also will help pay for his funeral, Hunter said.
“We did a show of his work in the museum’s first year,” Hunter said. “He was seriously involved with art and history.”
Wilkinson was a member of the Atlantic City Art Center, the Ocean City Art Center and the Ocean City Art League.
Wilkinson taught art and worked as a head framer at A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts in Egg Harbor Township before venturing out on his own.
“Lenny’s been in almost every art show in South Jersey,” Anne Glapion, a volunteer with the museum, said at the auction.
Wilkinson, who gained attention as a portrait painter, completed several murals in the Atlantic City area and had the Atlantic County Chapter of the Links commission him to paint the portrait of Atlantic City’s former Mayor James Usry for the Atlantic City Day Care Center.
Hunter organized the silent auction for Wilkinson within the last three weeks. Forty pieces of Wilkinson’s artwork went up for sale, along with more than 30 other pieces created by friends and people who know him, Hunter said.
The auction featured Wilkinson’s original drawings, paintings, pastels and prints. At the auction, Hunter said he was thrilled with the turnout of more than 100, and it drew people “from all walks of life.”
Fellow artist Belinda Manning said Wilkinson was a member of the art community for a long time, at least since Usry was mayor during the 1980s. He was also a veteran and a police officer.
“He pays close attention to those things that are the essence of our human qualities,” said Manning about Wilkinson’s art. “He helped make (the arts community of) South Jersey what it is.”
Another artist, Marie Natale, of Egg Harbor Township, said it was just beautiful how many different forms of art — drawings, acrylics, pastels — Wilkinson did.
Hunter said Wilkinson was very excited to hear about the auction.
The bidding started at $50 for donated artwork that would retail for $100, and bid amounts increased in $10 increments. If the artwork would retail for $1,000, the bidding increased by increments of $100.