Saturday, March 28, 2009

Historical Exhibition, 2

In May of 1945, the names of 46 recipients of the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for 1946 were announced. That number included 29 Black fellows and among its ranks was Alice Elizabeth Catlett who, at the time, was an instructor of art at George Washington Carver school in New York city. Catlett's vision, as a fellow, was to do a series of lithographs, paintings, and sculptures of Negro women. After a year of planning, thought, and work, her vision was clearly defined and brought into focus in her reapplication for a fellowship in 1947, and she received her second award. In that reapplication process, Catlett settled on a "complete unit" of prints. This complete suite of 15 images are a strong and well-told commentary on The Negro Woman, stirring and intense in both images and words. Each of the images can stand along, but their strength is even more enhanced when seen and read as a cohesive unit. The story of The Negro Woman is clearly and strongly expressed in images and words.

In December 1947 - January 1948, the thirty (30) pieces that were conceived and created while Catlett was studying for two years on a Rosenwald Fellowship were exhibited at the Barnett Aden Gallery in Washington, DC. It is an undisputed fact that The Barnett Aden Gallery is one of the first privately owned Black galleries in the United States and the first one in Washington, DC. It was founded in 1943 by James Vernon Herring, chair of Howard University's Department of Art, and Alonzo Aden, curator of the Howard University Gallery of Art. In addition to providing a venue for such Black artists as Romare Bearden, Lois Mailou Jones, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Archibald Motley, John Robinson, and others, it was one of the few galleries in the city in which artists representing different nationalities, races, and ethnicities exhibited together.
The cover and a page from the 1947, The Negro Woman, exhibition catalogue listing the pieces that were on exhibit are shown above (see illustrations). This catalogue contained 4 pages that included a Preface written by Gwendolyn Bennett. Under the section labelled Prints appears the full series of The Negro Woman, consisting of 15 pieces. These 15 pieces present a narrative with each image and its caption representing one phrase of the narrative. Look carefully at the captions of those individual pieces as they spell out the significance of The Negro Woman, acknowledging hard work, celebrating renowned heroines, and focusing on the fears, struggles, and achievements. The series begins with I am the Negro Woman and ends with the fifteenth in the series, My Right is a Future of Equality with other Americans. In their entirety, the images and words make a powerful statement of social commentary for the time period.

Jane Watson Crane, in a review appearing in the December 21, 1947 issue of the Washington Post (page L5), states "Two things stand out concerning the Elizabeth Catlett exhibition on The Negro Woman... one is the meticulous craftsmanship, the other the straightforward approach. The artist has something to say here, and she pulls no punches. This is an unusually strong show for a woman--unusual also in the variety of media--paintings. sculpture and prints are shown--in all of which she seems perfectly at home."

My curiosity was raised as I read Crane's review and noticed the statement an"unusually strong show for a woman," yet there was surprisingly no mention of race. With an understanding of segregation in the South in 1947, I would have expected some mention of race, as well as the sexist comment; however, such was not the case. Racial tones in Crane's review were not mentioned which led me to think that perhaps Crane was of the school of thought that more readily accepted blacks as accomplished artists which probably demonstrated a more liberal position of those working in the arts. My thoughts and questions will probably drive me into conducting some research to find out who was Jane Watson Crane, not the Washington Post writer, but Crane the person.

Roughly 62 years after their completion, we are still afforded an opportunity to see the entire suite of prints from The Negro Woman series in a traveling exhibition, A Force of Change: African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, currently at Spertus Museum (Chicago, Illinois, on view through August 16, 2009). The exhibition will travel to the Allentown Art Museum (Allentown, Pennsylvania, September 13, 2009 - January 10, 2010); and end at the Montclair Art Museum (Montclair, New Jersey, February 6 - July 25, 2010). A catalogue accompanies this exhibition. For more information on A Force of Change: African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, follow this link:

© 2009 Black Art Project... all rights reserved. For permission to reproduce contact: or .

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Validate Yourself...Question 4

This is a continuation, Part 4, of the series of questions posed by the Black Artists of DC (BADC).

When were the black art files at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library established and why? What exactly should artists submit and to whom?

The DC Public Library does not have a file called the black art files. However, the Local Artists File began over 60 years ago and black artists are a part of that historic file. About 13 years ago, the Art Division of DC Public Library made a concerted effort to identify and encourage black artists to become a more active part of this file because there was such a presence of black artists in the city and metropolitan area. With the emergence of BADC, it has been somewhat easier to identify the artists who need to be a part of this wonderfully rich file. It is important for artists to have information accessible for researchers, collectors, appraisals, students, etc. The Local Artists File, which is a secure reference file, in which information is given to customers to use a few pieces at a time, contains much of the primary source materials that one can use to write articles, reviews, biographical sketches, appraise art, identify an artist, etc. The materials in this file do not circulate; they must be used in the Library.

Each artist is asked to fill out a two part questionnaire that is on acid free paper. This questionnaire is the basic foundation of the file which contains pertinent information on the artist, including samples of the artist's signature(s). In addition to this basic questionnaire, the artist is free to donate any supplemental and ephemeral material that he/she chooses. The file consists of exhibition catalogs, pamphlets, gallery announcements, newspaper clippings, letters, and etc. It is continually updated through a network that has been created with a number of the local commercial galleries and organizations that share copies of local artists information, biographies or resumes. The collection is constantly growing, and presently has in excess of 1,800 artists, each of which is in a separate folder. Some artists who are very conscientious about updating their material will have more than one folder full of materials. Questions about this file can be addressed to any art librarian at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, District of Columbia Public Library System by calling 202/ 727-1291.

After an artist has had a file established, information may be sent to the Art Division, Room 209, District of Columbia Public Library, 901 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. I encourage local artists to become a part of this Local Artists File, and to keep their information current, creating a schedule that best suits them for updating. A quarterly or even an annual update should not be taxing on the artist. The success and advantage to having a current file is that you are a part of building a legacy for the future.

© 2009 Black Art Project... all rights reserved. For permission to reproduce contact: or .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art

TRAJECTORIES: Discourse and Critique in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora

This is an excellent opportunity for art historians, artists, critics, curators, collectors, interdisciplinary scholars, museum professionals, gallery owners, librarians/archivists, students, and the general public to support and be engaged in the documentation of African American art and visual culture. Participate in the 20th Annual Celebration of the James A. Porter Colloquium at Howard University.

Dates: April 16 - 18, 2009

Place: Howard University, Armour J. Blackburn Center, Washington, DC

Honorees: Sharon Patton and Judith Wilson

Keynote Address: Salah Hassan

Speakers: Cheryl Finley and Emma Amos


To register and for the full Colloquium schedule and highlight information on honorees and speakers, follow this link:

"The James A. Porter Colloquium is the leading forum for scholars, artists, curators and others in the field of African American Art and Visual Culture. Established at Howard University in 1990 by art historian, Dr. Floyd Coleman, the annual Colloquium is named in honor of James A. Porter, the pioneering Art Historian and Professor, whose 1943 publication Modern Negro Art laid the foundation for the field of study. The Colloquium continues his legacy through dynamic programming, scholarly research and artistic leadership. Past Colloquium presenters have included such leading scholars and artists as David Driskell, Ann Gibson, Leslie King Hammond, Michael D. Harris, Samella Lewis, E.J. Montgomery, John Scott, Deborah Willis and Judith Wilson."

"The Porter Colloquium continues its tradition of boldly promoting innovative perspectives, ground breaking scholarship and open critical dialogue on African American art. During this year’s three-day program, scholars, artists, and cultural critics will examine the ideas that influence how works of African American artists are viewed, interpreted and valued. To this end, the Colloquium reveres the legacy of Professor James A. Porter and honors artists of color with clear and probing analyses of our visual traditions."

This is the 20th Annual Celebration of the James A. Porter Colloquium, celebrating the legacy of Professor Porter and honoring artists of color with clear and probing analyses of our visual traditions. As has been its tradition, during this annual three-day program, scholars, artists, and cultural critics will examine the ideas that influence how works of African American artists are viewed, interpreted and valued.

This year’s theme, Trajectories, "provides a frame by which art historians, artists, critics, curators, collectors and interdisciplinary scholars, privilege topics, concepts, and issues that further tease out the complexities, the multiple levels of meaning, the subtleties, the contradictions in recent artistic production and art scholarship. The trajectories that are being explored in Porter Colloquium sessions this year include demographics, the movement of people and ideas over large parts of the world and particularly their immigration to the United States and to major art centers around the world. To be sure, the changes that have taken place over the past two decades need reexamination, particularly with respect to the changes in artistic productions and the exploration of concepts and ideas that have helped to change the artistic landscape."

The presentation of James A. Porter Colloquium is presented in conjunction with the following programmatic partners: The David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland: and the Howard University Art Gallery.

© 2009 Black Art Project... all rights reserved. For permission to reproduce contact: or .

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Historical Exhibition

It is exciting to run across and physically hold one of those rare exhibition catalogues documenting a time period when there were fewer opportunities for the black artist to exhibit and certainly to exhibit in a black owned gallery. Such is the case with the first annual exhibition from June 8 - 22, 1939 at the Salon of Contemporary Negro Art sponsored by the Augusta Savage Studios, Inc. The gallery was located at 143 West 125th Street, New York, New York.

By today's standard, the small catalogue is a single sheet folded into 4 pages and would probably be referred to simply as a brochure. Yet historically, it is an invaluable art history document that allows us to put the gallery and the actual exhibition into an historical perspective. Augusta Savage, George W. Lattimore, and Kenneth W. Smith are listed as directors. Listed on the two inside pages of the catalogue are the titles and artists of the 54 pieces included in the exhibit. A list of 30 artists which represent a virtual 20th century who's who of black artists includes such artists as Meta Warrick Fuller, Richmond Barthe, Robert Pious, Rex Gorleigh, Morgan Smith, Gwendolyn Knight, Norman Lewis, Ellis Wilson, Beauford Delaney, Georgette Seabrooke, Marvin Smith, William Farrow, Francisco P. Lord, Lois Mailou Jones, Selma Burke, Ernest Crichlow, James Lesesne Wells, and Augusta Savage.

According to the Chicago Defender (National edition), June 10, 1939, the headline on page 13 reads: "Artists Get New Inspiration --From Augusta Savage-- Who Opens Gallery To Sell-- Their Work To The Public." As stated in the article, "The first art gallery in America devoted to the exhibition and sale of the works of artists of the Race will be opened at 143 West 125th Street, New York City on June 8.... This new owned and operated by Race members and will open formally with an exhibition of the works of outstanding artists of today." Augusta Savage was president of the corporation (Augusta Savage Studios, Inc,) which sponsored the Salon of Contemporary Art; George W. Lattimore was vice-president; and Kenneth W. Smith was secretary-treasurer.

In announcing the opening of the new gallery, Augusta Savage said, "I have long felt that Negro artists, in the course of our development, have reached the point where they should have a gallery of their own--one devoted to the exhibition and sale of Negro art. The Salon of Contemporary Negro Art will attempt to fill that need. We have made every effort to make this one of the finest galleries in the country." (Artists Get New Inspiration From Augusta Savage Who Opens Gallery To Sell Their Work To The Public (1939, June 10). The Chicago Defender (National edition), p. 13.)

© 2009 Black Art Project... all rights reserved. For permission to reproduce contact: or .