SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Savannah native Donald “Don” Formey never imagined that he would be the face of a critically acclaimed art piece.

“Early on, he wasn’t really accepted by the majority of the art world,” Formey said of artist Barkley Hendricks. “They kinda isolated him a lot, but I think it could very well have been because of the type of art he was producing.”

Hendricks is the first Black artist in history whose work is on display at The Frick Collection in New York City, titled “Portraits At The Frick.”

His contemporary portraits spotlights “people who are not in the forefront” as Formey explains, who was a student of the late artist.

While attending Connecticut College pursuing a degree in sociology, Formey took an elective art class taught by Hendricks.

As one of the only Black students in the class, Formey stood out like a sore thumb, but having a teacher like Hendricks opened his mind to the northern culture.

“He was always calm and smiling and he pretty much got along with everyone, even though, you know, back in the 70s, that was the midpoint of the civil rights era,” said Formey.

One day, he went to class wearing a colorful jacket that he got from a department store along with an apple hat, the style of the 70s, and was approached by Hendricks to be the subject of a new painting.

Surprised by the request, Formey agreed and over the course of three days with one-hour sessions, Hendricks painted the iconic portrait titled “Blood.”

“I had never stood that still in my life,” said Formey.

While listening to music during the session, Hendricks handed Formey a tambourine, which made its way into the portrait.

“That portrait is all me, besides the pants,” said Formey, saying that Hendricks added his own creative touch.

To this day, he doesn’t know the reason for the title “Blood,” which he suspects comes from the slang “young blood,” used at the time meaning young man.

Formey explains that Hendricks captures the feeling of the type of person they are.

“Since his death, he has gotten actually become bigger than life,” Formey said, “and it’s really deserving just because of his character, as well as his expertise.”

Hendrick’s exhibit has garnered rave reviews from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, The Associated Press and more, with over 1,000 people in attendance at the launch of the exhibit on Sept. 20.

Aimee Ng, left, Formey and Susan Hendricks at the Frick Collection.

“I’m really a country boy, and who would’ve known 50 years later, after high school, I would have ended up in New York City where my painting is featured. It was sort of unbelievable, to tell the truth,” said Formey. “I won’t be forgotten.”

He expressed his thanks and gratitude towards Hendricks for capturing his character and was proud that the artist is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

“Be open to different things, to travel, to learn and don’t be comfortable,” said Formey.

“Push for advancement, and in the end, things will work out for you.”