Baltimore Sun’s 2023 Business and Civic Hall of Fame honoree: Leslie King Hammond

Leslie King Hammond has ushered new generations of talent into the art world and curated exhibits in New York and Maryland. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Dr. Leslie King Hammond never minded being sent to her room for timeouts as a child, growing up in New York City. Under her bed, stashed in a Cuban cigar box, she had a treasure trove of art supplies to soothe her: scissors, pencils, a needle and thread, beads, shells and other precious scraps.

“When my mother would say, ‘OK, you can come out now,’ I’d say, ‘That’s OK, I’m good,’” says King Hammond, now 78. She made doll clothes and African masks and beaded bracelets using a loom.


That little cigar box “was a place where I could mediate my emotions,” she says. For King Hammond, making art is how she has always made sense of the world. It is her world.

As a young adult, King Hammond moved to Baltimore, which she has now called home for over five decades. Her mark here is significant. At the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) — where she taught and served as the dean of graduate studies and the founding director of the Center for Race and Culture — she ushered new generations of talent into the art world. She has curated exhibits in New York and Maryland, published writing on other artists and received awards from organizations across the country.


Underpinning it all, she says: an openness to all that life has to offer.

“I allowed myself to follow the path of where my curiosity demanded that I needed to be,” she says.

She read her way through the alphabet, absorbing information about anthropology, archaeology, biology and more. She was particularly interested in books documenting her own history and identity as “a woman of African descent,” but what she found often left her disappointed. There were no “real books about Africa, other than animals, a lot of animal books,” she says. “Even as a young person, I knew that that was part of the exoticized mythology around Africa.”

King Hammond’s love for learning continued into her young adulthood. She earned a B.F.A. degree from Queens College, part of the City University of New York system, followed by a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University’s art history department.

At Johns Hopkins, King Hammond and Lowery Stokes Sims, who would go on to curate New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, acted as “older sisters” to the university’s cohort of Black students, Sims says. She and King Hammond both participated in a Girl Scouts group as children in Queens, and their time at Queens College overlapped, but they grew closer at Johns Hopkins, where Sims earned a master’s degree in art history.

“We struck up a friendship,” Sims says. “She always was a kind of energetic, take-charge person.”

Acquiring knowledge wasn’t limited to the classroom for King Hammond; it was also done on trips to Canada, Puerto Rico and Barbados. “I loved the experience of being young and dumb and stupid, and learning from those experiences how to navigate the world,” she says.

At MICA, serving as the project director of the Fellowship for Artists of Color, King Hammond worked to “make sure the door of opportunity is open” for a new crop of artists, she says.


As a lecturer, her courses on African American art in particular were “life-changing,” according to Susie Brandt, who has taught in the school’s fiber department for over 20 years.

“[African American students] were thrilled to find out that there was this whole world of art history that was particular to [the] African American community that they knew nothing about, and they were discovering it,” she says.

King Hammond is “just a whirlwind,” Brandt says.

During the COVID pandemic, the pair spent time together quilting, when MICA’s quilt group, which raffles handmade quilts to raise money for student scholarships and other causes, began meeting via Zoom in 2020.

When King Hammond came into the fold, she became the life of the party.

“She really knows how to bring people together. … She understands the importance of community,” Brandt says. “The enthusiasm and excitement that she generates is extraordinary.”


King Hammond’s efforts with the quilting group would eventually make television. Working with MICA’s group and the local guild of African American quilters, King Hammond helped create quilts and other props for FX’s “Kindred,” a sci-fi show based on Octavia Butler’s book of the same name, in which a Black woman travels through time between 1970s California and an antebellum Maryland plantation.

King Hammond turned to drawings and written descriptions to ensure historical accuracy. Roughly 30 participants pieced together 28 quilts entirely by hand in only two weeks. When they gathered to watch the show, which aired in December, “people were screaming every time they saw a crack of a quilt, or a piece of embroidery,” King Hammond says.

Those Zoom meetings blossomed into something beautiful for King Hammond, as so many things do.

“My life is a journey,” she says, “a journey into the arts.”

Leslie King Hammond

Age: 78


Hometown: New York City

Current residence: Baltimore

Education: B.F.A. from Queens College, City University of New York; M.A., Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University

Career highlights: Historical consultant, FX’s “Kindred”; founding director of MICA’s Center for Race and Culture; lecturer in MICA’s art history department; dean of graduate studies (MFA/MA programs) at MICA; project director of the Ford Foundation-Philip Morris Fellowship for Artists of Color at MICA; exhibits curated in New York and Maryland; authored brochures, essays, books and more for over 60 projects and exhibitions

Civic and charitable activities: Board member: Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Baltimore Art Realty Corporation, American Craft Council, Minneapolis, Walters Art Museum, Collections Committee

Family: Married to Jose Mapily, deceased; one son, one stepson, one grandson