To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities
To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem, is a major consortium project that encompasses a touring exhibition, a conservation training program for minority students, conservation of the work included in the exhibition, and a scholarly catalogue. The exhibition premiered at The Studio Museum in Harlem in March, 1999, followed by the only New England presentation at the Addison Gallery of American Art, August 31-October 31, 1999.
"The Addison Gallery is pleased to serve as a co-organizer of To Conserve a Legacy," said Adam D. Weinberg, Director, the Addison Gallery of American Art. "This important project represents an enormous effort to build awareness of the impact of African American art on American culture and society as well as highlights the need to preserve this rich legacy for generations to come. We are happy to bring the exhibition to Massachusetts where the project began, where the conservation work took place, and where it can be appreciated by students, scholars, and the general public free of charge."
The historically black universities participating in the consortium are: Clark Atlanta University, Fisk University, Hampton University, Howard University, North Carolina Central University, and Tuskegee University. Following its presentation at the Addison Gallery, the exhibition will travel to five of the historically black universities, where it will be co-presented with leading institutions in the same city, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago.
Many of this nation's HBCUs hold significant collections of American art and have founded galleries and museums on their campuses. To Conserve a Legacy features more than 250 important works of art drawn from the collections of six historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). These collections provide a rich resource for the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art, with a special emphasis on African American art. The exhibition places this work within a comprehensive historical context and stylistic range of American art and culture and highlights the need for preservation of this important resource.
The exhibition is both an exploration of the links between the HBCUs, the works in their collections, and their collective missions and histories, as well as an exploration of the important connections between the HBCU collections and American cultural history. The six participating HBCU collections represent magnificent holdings of American art, including works by Josef Albers, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Roy DeCarava, Aaron Douglas, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Sam Gilliam, Marsden Hartley, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Mary Edmonia Lewis, Georgia O'Keeffe, Horace Pippin, Alfred Stieglitz, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Thomas Waterman,Charles H. White, Hale Woodruff, and Boston area artists Allan Rohan Crite and John Wilson.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Richard J. Powell, Chair, Department of Art and Art History, Duke University, and Jock Reynolds, Director, Yale University Art Gallery, formerly Director of the Addison Gallery of American Art.
"The collections amassed by HBCUs are a national treasure featuring the full scope of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art, but one that has been sadly unknown to many people," said Dr. Powell. "To Conserve a Legacy showcases six of these magnificent collections, encompassing works by artists from Georgia O'Keeffe to Jacob Lawrence, to place African American art within a broader cultural, historical and social context, and allow audiences to build a deep appreciation and understanding of its role in the American art historical canon."
"This project provides a unique forum for institutions, students, scholars, conservators, and curators to collaborate with one another in an important and meaningful way," added Mr. Reynolds. "To Conserve a Legacy brings together many artists and ideas, spanning more than 150 years of education and creative expression, and through the conservation of this rich and diverse legacy, preserves this area of American visual culture for generations to come - for students and scholars, for artists, for families and children, and for the general public. It has been a great honor to work with all the consortium partners to make this project a reality."
The exhibition is divided into six sections, each exploring a major theme concerning history, legacy, and conservation -- Forever Free: Emancipation Visualized; The First Americans; Training the Head, the Hand, and the Heart; The American Portrait Gallery; American Expressionism; and Modern Lives, Modern Impulses.
Forever Free: Emancipation Visualized explores the visual expressions and optimism of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Many of the HBCUs were founded at this critical juncture, in the 1860s and 70s, and through their pioneering efforts explored the many notions of freedom. Works from this section include Henry O. Tanner's "Poplars" from the North Carolina Central University Art Museum and Charles Demuth's "Calla Lilies" from Fisk University Art Galleries, and explore both literal and abstract expressions of freedom.
The First Americans examines the important and often overlooked relationship between Native Americans and African Americans at the turn of the century, as both groups struggled to enter the larger social and scholarly community in America. Many of the works in this section, including selections such as Francis Chickering Briggs' "Dakota Album" and Leigh Richmond Miner's "The Young Chief," both from the Hampton University Museum, demonstrate how people were thinking about what it means to be American in the broadest possible sense at this time.
Training the Head, the Hand, and the Heart showcases the commitment of the HBCUs to emancipate the Black American community and prepare people to enter a new world and culture, filled with a larger sense of mission and purpose. As envisioned and initiated by Booker T. Washington, these lessons were both social and political as well as moral, and are exemplified in the anonymous photograph of William J. Edwards and the teachers at Snow Hill Institute from the collection of Tuskegee University, as well as works such as Jacob Lawrence's "Palm Sunday" from the N.C.C.U. Art Museum.
The American Portrait Gallery looks at the voice and presence that the visual arts gave to the Black American community in the early part of this century. Works in this section, from Arthur Bedou's photographs of Booker T. Washington from the collection of Tuskegee University, to Charles White's "Progress of the American Negro" from the Howard University Gallery of Art, show real people engaged in the major and minor activities of life and coming into their own.
American Expressionism traces the development of an unexplored movement in American art which mirrors the German Expressionist movement, and, similarly, uses visual distortion to evoke the inner portrait of the subject. This section argues that many African American artists created works in this style and spirit as they were exploring Black life within American society in the early twentieth century. The works in this section explore lynchings and segregation, using art to create a new expressionistic vision of this era and include Barnarn's sculpture "Day Work" and Otis Galbreath's "Let By gones Be By gones" both from the Clark Atlanta University Art Gallery.
Modern Lives, Modern Impulses looks at how the HBCUs and African American artists were moving into a new way of thinking and living in the mid-twentieth century, as exemplified by Archibald Motley's "Carnival" from the Howard University Gallery of Art and Arthur Dove's "Swinging in the Park," from Fisk University Art Galleries.
Following its presentation at the Addison Gallery of American Art, To Conserve a Legacy will travel to Howard University Gallery of Art with The Corcoran Gallery of Art, November 1999 - January 2000; the Art Institute of Chicago, February - May 2000; Clark Atlanta University Art Collections with The High Museum of Art, June - September 2000; North Carolina Central University Art Museum with Duke University Museum of Art and the Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University, October - December 2000; Fisk University Art Galleries with the Tennessee State Museum, January - March 2001; and the Hampton University Art Museum with the Chrysler Museum, April - July 2001.
A fully-illustrated catalogue, documenting each component of the project, will be published by the Addison Gallery of American Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem and distributed by MIT Press. The catalogue will include an introduction by Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Director, The Studio Museum in Harlem; two major essays by the curators, placing the HBCU art collections and this collaborative project in an historical context and discussing the six themes of the exhibition; and over 40 catalogue entries.
Profiles of each university collection; color reproductions of over 150 works, including "before-and-after" images and descriptions of the conservation methods used to preserve the works for future generations; and biographical information on all the represented artists, are also included.
The project is co-organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem. The Addison Gallery managed the project including catalogue production and fundraising, under the supervision of project manager, BJ Larson. The Studio Museum, led by Kinshasha Holman Conwill, oversaw marketing and publicity. In addition, the institutions jointly coordinated exhibition management. Together, these institutions have worked closely with all consortium partners, the curatorial team and other presenting venues to realize this project which showcases the riches in the collections of many of this nation's HBCUs.
The exhibition and its national tour are made possible by AT&T and Ford Motor Company. Both companies have also provided support for the conservation programs and the catalogue. Additional funding has been provided by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, LEF Foundation, Greentree Foundation, Joseph Harrison Jackson Foundation and the Trellis Fund.
Read more in Resource Library Magazine about Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy
For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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