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In This Case: African American Artists

Smithsonian American Art Museum

African American Artists and the Hudson River School

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Recently, you may have heard  about the ways art from the Hudson River School has been a source of inspiration for new artistic works. Well, the luminous landscape paintings have inspired us, too. In honor of Black History Month, we’d like to highlight a couple of African American artists with ties the school. These artists more »

When France Was Home to African-American Artists

Smithsonian Magazine

The Studio Museum of Harlem in New York City has mounted an exhibition on an interesting but little-known chapter in the history of American art. Entitled "Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris, 1945-65," the show presents 70 paintings and sculptures by seven artists, all of whom worked in France after the end of World War II.

The artists whose works are featured Lois Mailou Jones, Herbert Gentry, Ed Clark, Harold Cousins, Larry Potter, Beauford Delaney and Barbara Chase-Riboud found a stimulating art scene in France, as well as a sense of freedom that they had not experienced in the United States.

Some came over with the aid of educational grants or funds from private patrons, while others were supported by the G.I. Bill. One of them, Herbert Gentry, ran a Left Bank nightclub called Chez Honey, a popular watering hole for artists and jazz aficionados. The exhibit, which will travel nationally, remains in New York City until June 2.

Spiral: Discussing the Role of African American Artists in the Civil Rights Movement

Smithsonian Libraries

  We are always finding great materials in our Art and Artists Files at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library and we’re excited it to share it with the public. In our mission to provide greater access to our ephemera files, we are working on adding our corporate files to the Art and Artist more »

The post Spiral: Discussing the Role of African American Artists in the Civil Rights Movement appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

Panel Discussion - A Closer Look at African American Artists in SAAM’s Collection

Smithsonian American Art Museum
SAAM is home to one of the largest collections of work made by African American artists in the world. Join artist and scholar Allan deSouza, art adviser Schwanda Rountree, and DC-based art collectors Mel and Juanita Hardy for a panel discussion highlighting important works by African American artists from our collection. About the Speakers: Allan deSouza is a photographer, mixed media artist, and associate professor in the Department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. His work restages colonial-era material legacies through humor and (mis)translation. DeSouza’s recent publication How Art Can Be Thought challenges interpretive norms in art. Schwanda Rountree is an attorney and independent art consultant based in Washington, DC. She currently serves as Member of the Museum Advisory Council at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art and Board Member of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. Schwanda served as an Advisory Board Member for the 30 Americans exhibition when it was on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 2011. Mel and Juanita Hardy are avid art collectors with a particular interest in works by African American artists. They founded the DC-based organization Millennium Arts Salon in 2000. This organization is committed to “advancing cultural literacy” through its art and cultural programming, which includes salon talks, exhibitions, tours, and special events. Credit: This program is part of an annual series at SAAM titled A Closer Look. Support for the series comes from the Thelma and Melvin Lenkin Education Endowment. Image Credit: William H. Johnson, Art Class, ca. 1939- 1940, oil on plywood, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.579

This African-American Artist’s Cartoons Helped Win World War II

Smithsonian Magazine

Rosie the Riveter. A pointing Uncle Sam. Art has always been a powerful motivator—which is why it can be such an effective medium for political messaging. But though Rosie and Sam have gained iconic status since the two world wars, fewer people remember the compelling war effort campaigns that specifically targeted African-Americans.

As Jessie Kratz writes for the National Archives blog, the Office of War Information hired a black artist named Charles Alston to create a series of motivational drawings especially for African-American newspapers during World War II. His subject matter ranged from famous black heroes to the necessity of growing victory gardens—all in an attempt to boost morale and African-American war contributions.

The drawings were designed for and distributed through black newspapers, the press that offered powerful news for and about black life during an era of segregation. The black press was also ambivalent about the United States’ entry into World War II—a stance that reflected the view of many African-Americans that it was impossible to fight for freedom abroad when black lives were not valued at home. One black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, was even investigated for treason and sedition because of its “Double V” campaign, which declared that black people should fight for a dual victory over enemies at home and abroad. Today, the campaign is seen as a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement.

Alston’s images battled that ambivalence by highlighting the accomplishments of African-Americans within the U.S. Armed Forces and their necessity to the war effort at home, and spotlighted famous black people like Willa Brown, the United States’ first African-American woman pilot, in biographical cartoons.

Despite a segregated military, black people contributed significantly to the war effort, serving bravely overseas in the military, volunteering for war duty and working in munitions factories and participating in homefront privations. Perhaps some were inspired to serve because of Alston’s images. 

Alston didn’t only draw cartoons. In the 1930s, he produced a series of murals about black history for the Harlem Hospital Center under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, and his long career included stints as a painter and art teacher. But you may know him best as the sculptor of the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that currently sits in the Oval Office. Another copy is owned by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture—a tribute to an artist who knew how to turn art into motivation.

African American Artworks at SAAM

Smithsonian American Art Museum
ThumbnailThe Smithsonian American Art Museum boasts more than two thousand works of art in its collection by more than two-hundred African American artists. Covering centuries of creative expression, the artworks explore themes that reflect the African American experience in paintings, sculpture, prints, textiles and photographs.

Block prints by African American women artists and friends: Margaret Taylor Burroughs and Elizabeth Catlett

National Museum of American History

Did you ever cut a linoleum block in art class? While rolls of linoleum were used for floor covering from the 1860s, artists only began to use the material about 1910. Pieces of linoleum, sometimes mounted on wood blocks, were quick to cut and offered a readily available material for making bold lines for prints. The material took on a useful role in art education, and many students from the 1930s to today first learned about printmaking from cutting and inking linoleum blocks, also called linocuts.

Major artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Roy Lichtenstein made linoleum cuts. You've probably heard of them, but it's possible you're less familiar with Margaret Taylor Burroughs and Elizabeth Catlett. For Women's History Month, here's a closer look at their work.

Among the artists in the museum's collection who made linocuts, let me introduce Margaret Taylor Burroughs (1915–2010) and Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012). They became friends—and roommates—while working at the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago in 1941, and later reconnected at the Taller de Gráfica Popular (People's Graphic Workshop), an artists' printmaking collective in Mexico City, in the 1950s.

Burroughs stands out for her many cultural contributions in Chicago as well as her artwork. With both bachelor's and master's degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as honorary doctorates from several universities, she became an educator in the Chicago Public School system (1946–1968), and a professor of humanities at Kennedy-King College (1968–1979). During the New Deal she supported the creation of the South Side Community Art Center where she and her friend Catlett studied and exhibited their work. During the 1950s Burroughs took a sabbatical year in Mexico City where she was a guest artist at the Taller de Gráfica Popular working on linoleum prints and lithographs with her friend Catlett. Burroughs and her husband, Charles, founded the DuSable Museum of African American History in 1961.

The block print "On the Beach" was inspired by a family group Burroughs saw sitting on the beach at Montego Bay in Jamaica in the 1950s. She designed the image in that decade, and the block was printed in 1977. She gave some impressions an alternate title, "At the Beach."

A print picture depicting several women sitting down at the beach with several children playing around them. They look at a woman wearing a swimsuit holding a child and a basket

A deep grey substance with a pattern cut into it depicting several women sitting down at the beach with several children playing around them. They look at a woman wearing a swimsuit holding a child and a basket

Catlett earned her bachelor's degree from Howard University and her master's degree from the University of Iowa. Known as a printmaker and as a sculptor, Catlett made powerful portraits in black and white, which often were linoleum cuts. She received a Rosenwald fellowship that took her to Mexico in 1946, where she later married artist Francisco Mora and had a long association with the Taller de Gráfica Popular.

Catlett made the untitled print of a female portrait head as a demonstration piece for a Howard University art class taught by Lila Asher about 1970. She cut multiple blocks and printed the image using a paper mask to cover sections that she didn't want to print.

A deep brown substance with lines cut out of it in the shape of a head

A work of art depicting a person's face looking at the viewer. There is a lot of texture and hatching added to give depth to the work.

A sketch. An outline of the head with black on the left side and white on the rest of the paper.

A work of art portraying a face in the fore and a red and black design in the back.

Women artists often had difficulties in showing their work and in being accepted in the art world largely dominated by men. African American women faced additional discrimination due to racism. Both Burroughs and Catlett found ways to exhibit and to teach, and they both helped to establish institutions that were supportive and inclusive, like the South Side Community Art Center and the Taller de Gráfica Popular. Each of these artists is now well represented in museum collections, and their stories are included in a comprehensive study of women printmakers, Paths to the Press: Printmaking and American Women Artists 1910-1960, edited by Elizabeth G. Seaton and published in 2006.

Helena E. Wright is curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts.

Posted Date: 
Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 08:00
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Block prints by African American women artists and friends: Margaret Taylor Burroughs and Elizabeth Catlett

National Museum of American History

Did you ever cut a linoleum block in art class? While rolls of linoleum were used for floor covering from the 1860s, artists only began to use the material about 1910. Pieces of linoleum, sometimes mounted on wood blocks, were quick to cut and offered a readily available material for making bold lines for prints. The material took on a useful role in art education, and many students from the 1930s to today first learned about printmaking from cutting and inking linoleum blocks, also called linocuts.

Major artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Roy Lichtenstein made linoleum cuts. You've probably heard of them, but it's possible you're less familiar with Margaret Taylor Burroughs and Elizabeth Catlett. For Women's History Month, here's a closer look at their work.

Among the artists in the museum's collection who made linocuts, let me introduce Margaret Taylor Burroughs (1915–2010) and Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012). They became friends—and roommates—while working at the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago in 1941, and later reconnected at the Taller de Gráfica Popular (People's Graphic Workshop), an artists' printmaking collective in Mexico City, in the 1950s.

Burroughs stands out for her many cultural contributions in Chicago as well as her artwork. With both bachelor's and master's degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as honorary doctorates from several universities, she became an educator in the Chicago Public School system (1946–1968), and a professor of humanities at Kennedy-King College (1968–1979). During the New Deal she supported the creation of the South Side Community Art Center where she and her friend Catlett studied and exhibited their work. During the 1950s Burroughs took a sabbatical year in Mexico City where she was a guest artist at the Taller de Gráfica Popular working on linoleum prints and lithographs with her friend Catlett. Burroughs and her husband, Charles, founded the DuSable Museum of African American History in 1961.

The block print "On the Beach" was inspired by a family group Burroughs saw sitting on the beach at Montego Bay in Jamaica in the 1950s. She designed the image in that decade, and the block was printed in 1977. She gave some impressions an alternate title, "At the Beach."

A print picture depicting several women sitting down at the beach with several children playing around them. They look at a woman wearing a swimsuit holding a child and a basket

A deep grey substance with a pattern cut into it depicting several women sitting down at the beach with several children playing around them. They look at a woman wearing a swimsuit holding a child and a basket

Catlett earned her bachelor's degree from Howard University and her master's degree from the University of Iowa. Known as a printmaker and as a sculptor, Catlett made powerful portraits in black and white, which often were linoleum cuts. She received a Rosenwald fellowship that took her to Mexico in 1946, where she later married artist Francisco Mora and had a long association with the Taller de Gráfica Popular.

Catlett made the untitled print of a female portrait head as a demonstration piece for a Howard University art class taught by Lila Asher about 1970. She cut multiple blocks and printed the image using a paper mask to cover sections that she didn't want to print.

A deep brown substance with lines cut out of it in the shape of a head

A work of art depicting a person's face looking at the viewer. There is a lot of texture and hatching added to give depth to the work.

A sketch. An outline of the head with black on the left side and white on the rest of the paper.

A work of art portraying a face in the fore and a red and black design in the back.

Women artists often had difficulties in showing their work and in being accepted in the art world largely dominated by men. African American women faced additional discrimination due to racism. Both Burroughs and Catlett found ways to exhibit and to teach, and they both helped to establish institutions that were supportive and inclusive, like the South Side Community Art Center and the Taller de Gráfica Popular. Each of these artists is now well represented in museum collections, and their stories are included in a comprehensive study of women printmakers, Paths to the Press: Printmaking and American Women Artists 1910-1960, edited by Elizabeth G. Seaton and published in 2006.

Helena E. Wright is curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts.

Posted Date: 
Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 08:00
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=fsAwTFeT0pA:Xq_c5AwCcxE:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=fsAwTFeT0pA:Xq_c5AwCcxE:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

SAAM's African American Art on Google

Smithsonian American Art Museum
ThumbnailSAAM got the opportunity to showcase some of its best art from African American artists when the Google Art Project asked us to participate in its online project.

Announcement for "Painting and Sculpture by American Negro Artists"

Archives of American Art
1 exhibition announcement ; 21 x 14 cm. announcement on 29 x 22 cm.mount

Announcement glued to page

African American Art Curator Talk

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator, explores the work of Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Lois Mailou Jones, Melvin Edwards, and other artists featured in the exhibition African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond. These artists participated in ongoing dialogues about art, black identity, and individual rights that engaged American society in the twentieth century. Using documentary realism, painterly expressionism, and the postmodern assemblage of found objects, they rewrote American history and its art.

Who's Who on Artists of American Negro Artists Exhibit

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
A list of who's who of the artists featured in the American Negro Artists exhibit that opened on the ground floor of the U.S. National Museum Building on May 16, 1929. A traveling exhibition, the artwork was on display in Washington, DC, for twelve days. These artists, including Archibald Motley, Palmer Hayden, and Hale Woodruff, represented African American achievement and were the first representations of black life and culture that were partially controlled by African Americans themselves.

African American Astronauts

Anacostia Community Museum

Open Now: African American Art

Smithsonian American Art Museum
ThumbnailOur latest exhibition, African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, opens today and runs through September 30, 2012. The show features a selection of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs by black artists from the museum's collection.

Latino Artists on Race, Representation, and African Diasporic Culture

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Artists María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, and Freddy Rodriguez discuss the varied ways in which they engage Afro-Latino themes and issues in their work. Panelists will consider whether Latino artists bring a unique perspective to representing African diasporic people and culture in American art. Discussion is moderated by curator for Latino Art E. Carmen Ramos.

Artist's Quilts Pay Tribute to African-American Women

Smithsonian Magazine

The quilts of Baltimore-based artist Stephen Towns resemble luminous paintings. In his first museum exhibition "Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning," the textile work sparkles and shimmers with glass beads, metallic thread, rich colors and translucent tulle. Through 10 quilts on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), the visual artist tells the story of the slave rebellion Nat Turner led in August 1831 as well as the deeper story of how slavery and the labor of African-American women shaped America.

The centerpiece of exhibition, which was previewed in the New York Times, is a seven-and-a-half foot tall tapestry that shows a black woman nursing a white infant in front of the first official flag of the United States. The woman's profile is tall, her face bent towards the babe. The piece hangs suspended above a bed of earth piled on the gallery's wood floor, inches above but not touching. Towns calls the piece "Birth of a Nation."

The piece was the very first quilt that Towns worked on, he says in an interview with Los Angeles-based artist Mark Bradford, hosted in early March by the BMA. "I had tried various different ways to create the work, to create the message— the idea that black women have in many ways fed a nation," he says. "They are the very foundation of America. And through painting and drawing it just didn't work. So I decided to do quilting."

Towns' has a BFA in Studio Art from the University of South Carolina. The sensibilities he brings to his oil and acrylic paintings spills over into his textile art. While he says he picked up sewing from his mother and his sisters as a youngster, he actually turned to YouTube to teach himself quilting for this project.

"Quilting was the only way to get it done because it's an old tradition; it's a tradition that African-Americans have used for many years; it's a way of preserving memory through fabric," Towns tells Maura Callahan of Hyperallergic.

According to historian Pearlie Johnson an expert in African-American quilting history, since the 17th century, cultures in Ghana have been practicing strip textile weaving. While in West Africa, traditionally it was the men who were employed as weavers and commercial textile creators, in the United States, "gendered labor division" shifted that role to women on slave plantations.

"Quilt making had an important role in the lives of enslaved African-American women. It is possible that quilt making was one laborious activity that brought them a sense of personal accomplishment. Since then, African women passed... down these aesthetic traditions from one generation to the next generation of African-American women," Johnson writes in ​IRAAA+.

The familial connection to the women of Towns' family is manifested literally in "Birth of a Nation": The background flag's white stripes are cotton once worn by his mother, Patricia Towns, reports Mary Carole McCauley for The Baltimore Sun. The woman's headwrap and shirt are a pattern of green, red and blue fabric that Town's late sister, Mabel Ancrum, wore.

Towns recalls how his sister would clean wealthy people's offices and homes when he was young. He says the lack of respect she encountered made a deep impression on her. "Mabel would talk about the level of uncomfortableness she felt in that situation," he tells McCauley. "'Why do they treat me that way,' she would say, 'when my great-grandmother fed their grandfather?'"

Other pieces in the exhibition depict events in the story of Nat Turner, who led a bloody rebellion of free and enslaved black people in 1831. Turner saw a solar eclipse in February of that year and took it as a sign from God. “And about this time I had a vision—and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened,” Turner wrote in The Confessions of Nat Turner. Lauren LaRocca for Baltimore magazine notes that the sun, the moon and stars feature prominently in Towns' series inspired by Turner. In the piece "The Prophet," Turner's head is haloed by the sun, much like the moon during a solar eclipse.

For a previous exhibition at Goucher College, Towns painted portraits of formerly enslaved African-Americans who were hung after the Nat Turner rebellion. But when a female African-American security guard was offended by the paintings of men with nooses around their necks, McCauley reports​ that Towns voluntarily took down the work to respect her experience. He returned to the subject of the rebellion through quilting, using the medium to consciously engage in the narrative and craft of black women.

His work is personal, though none more so than "Birth of a Nation." As Towns tells McCauley, he made that quilt specifically as a tribute to his sister Mabel.

Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning is on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art now through September 2, 2018. Admission to the museum and the exhibition is free.

African Violet

Smithsonian American Art Museum

African Sculpture

Smithsonian American Art Museum

African Sculpture

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Flier for an African American Resource Machine benefit with Eldridge Cleaver

National Museum of African American History and Culture
A flyer for a benefit hosted by the African-American Resource Machine advertising a presentation by Eldridge Cleaver. The flyer is mostly off-white with a black silhouette of a man dominating the center left side of the flyer. The top and bottom of the flyer have thick black bands with the name [ELDRIDGE] and [CLEAVER] writing in negative space, off-white text. There is a small red design in the black band in the top right corner. Printed vertically and along the right edge, and horizontally along the bottom edge, is repeating black text that reads [African-American Resource Machine]. Next to the silhouette, at the center right, is the benefit information printed in black text that reads [Saturday, / April 14 / Artist's Television Access 2pm / 992 Valencia St. / San Francisco / 824-3890 / BENEFIT: A A R M]. The ticket price is printed in black vertical text next to Cleaver’s last name, [$18]. There is a quote by Cleaver printed in negative space, off-white text over the shoulders of the silhouetted figure that reads: “The system is evil. It is criminal; it is / murderous. And it is in control. It is in / power. It is arrogant. It is crazy. And / it looks upon the people as its proper- / ty. So much so that cops, who are pub- / lic servants, feel justified in going onto / a school campus, and spraying Mace in / the faces of the people.” The back of the flyer is blank with two handwritten pencil inscriptions in the top left corner.

African Americans in Richmond

National Museum of American History

African Americans in Richmond

National Museum of American History
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