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Arts & Culture

Brush With Greatness

Former Terps Cornerback Tackles Subjects’ Essences on Canvas

By Chris Carroll

artist poses in front of paintings

Artist and former Terps football player Lynde Washington '99 poses with a few of the oil paintings he's created over the years, often focusing on African American athletic and cultural luminaries.

Photo by Ryan Donnell

Unlike many working artists, dissecting his peers’ techniques and the politics of the art world bores Lynde Washington ’99. He’d rather figure out how to put you in the shoes of a quarterback about to get flattened by legendary Bears linebacker Mike Singletary.

“He’s nice as can be, but when you see the painting, I want you to feel his aggression,” Washington says of his intense image of the Hall of Famer. “It’s all about that person, capturing their essence.”

The former Terps cornerback graduated with an art degree and signed briefly with the Ravens, but it’s been during Washington’s subsequent two-decade painting career that he’s really rubbed shoulders with legends: In contrast to Singletary, boxer Mike Tyson exuded Zenlike calm. A weekend in L.A. with portrait subject and childhood hero Jim Brown, an all-time NFL great who died in May, brought Washington’s football past and painterly present into star-struck alignment.

Sports are his core subject, but he paints African American leaders, musicians, actors—all life-size or bigger and rendered in oil paints. He even does pet portraits. “I’d rather paint only stuff that excites me, but business is another thing,” says Washington, who lives in Southern Maryland with his wife and twin daughters. “I don’t turn down commissions.”

Sometimes business and personal passions coincide, as in a recent commission for portraits of Black gridiron leaders to adorn the offices of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches. They include Grambling University coaching legend Eddie Robinson, and Tony Dungy and Doug Williams, the first Black coach and Black quarterback, respectively, to win Super Bowls. The fourth painting is of the organization’s head: Maryland head football coach and Washington’s longtime friend Mike Locksley, who decades ago helped recruit him from nearby DeMatha Catholic High School.

“The fact that they’re from a former player makes them that much more rich for me in terms of not just seeing them as art,” Locksley said. “As one of my former players, it’s the proud dad moment where you’re saying, ‘My kid did this.’”

Washington’s name comes from his great-grandfather, Lynwood “Lynde” Jordan—but that’s not all. Jordan was an accomplished artist and cartoonist who worked for the Walt Disney Co., creating hand-painted billboards and other promotional materials around the country. A fine artist as well, he inspired the youngster to develop his talent with a brush.

Jordan was not, however, a football fan, calling it a “dummy sport.”

“He told me, ‘No matter how far you get it in, there’s always a man who’s going to tell you that you can’t play anymore,’” Washington said. “That’s exactly what happened: At the Baltimore Ravens, someone tapped me on the shoulder and I was done.”

But his great-grandfather gave him another piece of wise advice: “’Keep working with your art. Learn to do something with your hands, and you’ll never need money,’” Washington said. “And here I am today.”

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