Birmingham At Work

A portrait collection by Celestia Morgan

SFA commissioned Birmingham artist Celestia Morgan to create a series of portraits documenting restaurant labor across the city. Morgan pairs the images with quotations from each subject in the exhibit, which debuted at our 2019 Winter Symposium in February.

The collection, titled “A Portrait of Birmingham at Work,” will be on display at the Birmingham Public Library through Tuesday, March 26, 2019.

About the artist

Photo by Cary Norton.

Celestia “Cookie” Morgan is a photographic based artist working primarily in the area of retrospect imagery. She found a love for photography in high school with a 35mm film camera. After high school she hesitated to attend college, but she was inspired to be the first member of her family to receive a college education. With great endurance and her faith in God, she accomplished her goal. She received her BFA in photography at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and recently earned her MFA at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Morgan’s work has been exhibited in Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota, State of the Art: Discovering American Art – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, – Alabama Artist: Birmingham Museum of Art- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, South x Southeast online feature, UAB Hospital Palliative and Comfort Care Unit, and is held in numerous private collection across America. Morgan also contributed a photo essay to our spring 2017 issue of Gravy.

Joseph Washington Jr. | Jim N’ Nick’s, Pit Master

“I started out washing dishes, then the pit. I take pride in my work — they trust me and know that I will get the job done the right way. I’ve never called in never late, I love what I do. Sometimes I come to work early. It’s like I’m married to what I do.”

Dana Hill | Ted’s Restaurant, Waitress

“I know everyone! We joke all the time that it’s like Cheers, where everyone knows your name, your story, your husband, and yo mama and them. I have customers I’ve waited on the first day I started working here that I still wait on.”

Dr’ean Whitner | Highlands Bar & Grill, Saucier

“I’m a student at UAB, and I like to skateboard. I definitely enjoy food and working with food. I think it’s admirable and an enjoyable line of work.”

Caleb Millwood | Hero’s Doughnuts, Manager & Doughnut Maker

“Working at Hero’s has turned me into a morning person.”

Martin Vaca | Bob Sykes Barbecue, Pit Master

“I enjoying cooking for a lot of people.”

Sharon Mayes | Bob Sykes Barbecue, Cake and Pie maker

“People call me to give them tips on how to bake.”

Romelle Adams | Ted’s Restaurant, Head Chef

“My grandmother owned a cafe in Titusville. Back in the day everything cooked came right from the garden. If I did a good job I ate fried chicken if I did a bad job I ate boiled chicken. That’s where the cooking came from that’s how I learned, I cook the way my grandmother taught me.”

Paul Cook | Sam’s Super Samwiches

“Everyone in Homewood knows this place. I grew up in Homewood, my dad lives in Homewood. I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid. Most of the people who live around here have.”

Gwendolyn Monroe | Jonny’s Restaurant, Waitress

“The customers greet me by my name and ask me how I’m doing; that’s a shocker to me!”

Nick Lee | Post Office Pies

“I go where I’m needed but not in the kitchen. There are times when I’m the cashier, I run drinks, I cut up pizzas at the expo station, and bring them to the tables.”

Tabitha Boatwright | Satterfield’s, Waitress

“I started to build relationships with our guest, and I really enjoy that interaction, I enjoy making them feel comfortable and welcomed. That’s kind of the way I was brought up in my parent house. It’s always been a welcoming environment.”

Khadra Abubaker | Al’s Grill and Deli, Potato Maker

“I was a nurse back home in East Africa before I got married, when I got married I spent my time with my kids My husband and Al has long shifts long hours, what I use to do is bring my daughter and one of the twins to see their dad. but I love the kitchen, I love cooking that’s is my favorite place.”

Victor Chanchavac | Little Donkey Mexican Restaurant, Head Lineman

“You have to move fast.”

Tanisha Bell | Post Office Pies, Food Prep

“My grandma got sick, and I had to quit my job. After she died, I needed another job. She was always there to keep me on my feet. I was a grandma’s baby, and I was so used to staying with her. I had to find me a job because I got five kids, so a friend told me about this Post Office Pies.”

Ethan Mankins | Johnny’s Restaurant

“When I moved to Birmingham, everyday I was mowing lawns, and all I could think about was, man, I wish I was behind the line, I wish I was on the grill.”

Chase Lavan | Davenport’s Pizza Palace, Pizza Maker

“Making pizza is more of a motion. I don’t even think while I’m doing it, but I do focus on what the pizza looks like—to see if I made it round enough.”

Jamel Cheatham | Satterfield’s, Wait Assistant & Bread Cutter

“My father had a stroke and can’t work anymore. So me and my brother have to put money in for bills. I’m fine with that. I live there, and I love to help.”

Greg Pappas | Pappas Grill, Owner

“I love to eat, and I’m very proud of my heritage. I always hoped that one day I can make it where the cuisine was all Greek.”

Rodrick Kennedy | Satterfield’s, Dishwasher

“I love to use my hands. After I run the dishes, I come up front to see what everyone else is cooking. I ask questions because I love to cook. Even though I’m washing dishes doesn’t mean I’ll be washing dishes in a couple of months. I might be doing something else. I try to stay ahead of the game.”

Hector Tapia Reyes | Hot and Hot Fish Club, butcher

“I came from a family that worked in a bakery. I get emotional when people taste the food and hear one say the food is delicious and I become proud of myself.”