High Museum of Art

Atlanta, GA





To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities


Clark Atlanta University (CAU) Art Galleries and the High Museum of Art have forged a unique partnership to bring to Atlanta the extraordinary exhibition "To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities." This major consortium project encompasses a touring exhibition, a conservation training program for minority students, treatment of the work included in the exhibition and a scholarly catalogue. Atlanta is one of seven cities nationwide hosting "To Conserve a Legacy" and is both the first southeastern stop on the exhibition tour and the first city in which one of the historically black colleges and universities in the consortium, CAU, is serving as a venue. The exhibition includes more than 200 works of American art from the 19th and 20th centuries and is organized thematically into six roughly chronological sections. CAU Art Galleries is presenting parts one through three, and the High is hosting parts four through six. "To Conserve a Legacy" runs through September 24, 2000.

It is apt that Atlanta is one of seven cities on the "To Conserve a Legacy" tour. Not only is CAU one of the six historically black colleges and universities taking part in the "Conserve" consortium (the others are Fisk University, Hampton University, Howard University, North Carolina Central University and Tuskegee University), but several of the artists in the show have significant ties to the city of Atlanta or to Georgia. The most notable of these connections is Hale Woodruff's distinguished tenure, beginning in 1931, on the faculty of Atlanta University (AU), which merged with Clark College in 1988 to form Clark Atlanta University. Woodruff instituted the AU Annual Art Exhibitions, called the Art Annuals, in the 1940s which brought exposure and distinction to many of the artists represented in "To Conserve a Legacy." Among the artists in the show who studied with Woodruff are Frederick Flemister, William M. Hayden and Wilmer Jennings. David C. Driskell was born in Georgia, and Henry Ossawa Tanner taught at Clark College. A number of the show's artists -- Roy DeCarava, Otis Galbreath, Hayden, Eddie Jack Jordan Sr., Jacob Lawrence, Samella Sander Lewis, Guy L. Miller Jr., Rose Piper, Alvin Smith and John Wilson -- were prize winners in the Art Annuals and are represented in the CAU Art Galleries' permanent collection. (left: William H. Johnson, Untitled (farm couple at work), c. 1941, oil on canvas, 34 x 37 inches, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama)

Tina Dunkley, director of the CAU Art Galleries, has been instrumental in bringing the exhibition to Atlanta and in organizing the national program. "This exceptional exhibition provides an important foundation on which the Atlanta community can build its future as a multi-cultural and educational center. It should also serve to heighten awareness and appreciation of the quality holdings of American art in the collections of historically black colleges and universities," said Dunkley.

Michael Shapiro, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High Museum of Art, praises the Clark-High partnership: "'To Conserve a Legacy' is such a laudable project in terms of art conservation, education and in the number of imaginative institutional partnerships that have contributed to its success. The High is honored to partner with Clark Atlanta University to present this show, which so boldly affirms our nation's diverse artistic creativity and celebrates its preservation for future generations."

Many of this nation's historically black colleges and universities have amassed significant collections of American art and founded galleries and museums on their campuses. These collections provide a rich resource for the study of 19th- and 20th-century American art, with a special emphasis on work by African Americans. The exhibition places this work within a comprehensive historical context and stylistic range of American art and culture, and it highlights the need for preservation of this important resource.

The exhibition explores the links between the six historically black colleges and universities, works in their collections, and their missions and histories, and it underscores the important connections between the historically black colleges and universities' collections and American cultural history. Exhibition highlights include works by: Josef Albers, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Roy DeCarava, Aaron Douglas, Charles Demuth, Arthur G. Dove, Sam Gilliam, Marsden Hartley, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Edmonia Lewis, Georgia O'Keeffe, Horace Pippin, Alfred Stieglitz, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Thomas Waterman, Charles Wilbert White, Hale Woodruff, and others. (left: Georgia O'Keeffe, Radiator Building--Night, New York, 1927, oil on canvas, 48 x 30 inches, The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee)

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Richard J. Powell, chair of the department of art and art history at Duke University, and Jock Reynolds, director of the Yale University Art Gallery and former director of the Addison Gallery of American Art. In Atlanta, the exhibition is coordinated by Tina Dunkley and Carrie Przybilla, curator of modern and contemporary art at the High Museum of Art. "The collections amassed by historically black colleges and universities are a national treasure featuring the full scope of 19th- and 20th-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 to 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." (left: Charles S. Livingston (active early 1900s), George Washington Carver, n.d., collodian print on printing out paper mounted on board, 7 1/8 x 5 1/8 inches, Collection of Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL; right: Romare Bearden (1912-1988), Jazz: (Chicago) Grand Terrace Ballroom -- 1930s, 1964, photomontange, 49 3/4 x 68 1/4 inches, Collection of Howard University Gallery of Art)


Exhibition Themes

The exhibition is divided into six sections, each exploring a major theme concerning history, legacy and conservation. The first three sections are featured at the CAU Art Galleries, and the High Museum of Art is presenting the remaining three themes.

1. Forever Free: Emancipation Visualized (CAU Art Galleries) explores the visual expressions and optimism of the last quarter of the 19th century, when many of the historically black colleges and universities were founded. Works from this section include Henry Ossawa Tanner's "Poplars" from the North Carolina Central University (N.C.C.U.) Art Museum and Charles Demuth's "Calla Lilies" from Fisk University Art Galleries, both of which explore literal and abstract expressions of freedom.

2. The First Americans (CAU Art Galleries) examines the important and often overlooked relationship between Native Americans and African Americans at the turn of the century, when both groups struggled to enter the larger social and scholarly community. Many of the works in this section -- including Francis Chickering Briggs' "Dakota Album" and Leigh Richmond Miner's "The Young Chief," both from the Hampton University Museum -- demonstrate that people were thinking about what it meant to be American.

3. Training the Head, the Hand, and the Heart (CAU Art Galleries) showcases the commitment of the historically black colleges and universities to emancipate the Black American community and prepare people to enter a new world and culture, one filled with a larger sense of mission. 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 "William J. Edwards and the Teachers at Snow Hill Institute" from the collection of Tuskegee University, and in such works as Jacob Lawrence's "Palm Sunday" from the N.C.C.U. Art Museum.

4. The American Portrait Gallery (High Museum of Art) reveals the voice and presence that the visual arts gave to Black Americans early in this century. Works like Arthur Bedou's photographs of Booker T. Washington from the collection of Tuskegee University and Charles White's "Progress of the American Negro" from the Howard University Art Gallery, show real people engaged in the major and minor activities of life.

5. American Expressionism (High Museum of Art) traces the development of an underexplored art movement that, like German Expressionism, uses visual distortion to evoke internal emotions. As African American artists explored black life within American society in the early 20th century, many of them turned to this expressionistic style. Works in this section, like Bannarn's sculpture "Day Work" and Galbreath's "Let By gones Be By gones," both from the CAU Art Galleries, offer novel depictions of such difficult subjects as lynchings and segregation scenes.

6. Modern Lives, Modern Impulses (High Museum of Art) looks at how the historically black colleges and universities and African American artists were moving toward a new way of thinking and living in the mid-20th century, as exemplified by Archibald Motley's "Carnival" from the Howard University Art Gallery and Arthur Dove's "Swinging in the Park," from Fisk University Art Galleries.



The exhibition has visited The Studio Museum in Harlem; the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, NH; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Art Institute of Chicago. Following its presentation at CAU Art Galleries and the High Museum of Art, it will travel to: the North Carolina Central University Art Museum and Duke University Museum of Art and the Center for Documentary Studies, Durham, NC, October 15-December 1, 2000; Fisk University and the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, TN, January 2-March 31, 2001; and Hampton University Art Museum and the Chrysler Museum, Hampton and Norfolk, VA, April 22-July 29, 2001.



A fully illustrated catalogue was published by the Addison Gallery of American Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem. The catalogue includes two essays by the curators, placing the historically black colleges and universities' art collections and this collaborative project in an historical context and developing the six themes around which the exhibition was organized; an introduction by Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Director Emerita, The Studio Museum in Harlem. The catalogue is distributed by MIT Press. Profiles of each university collection; color reproductions of over 100 works, including "before-and-after" images and descriptions of conservation methods used, and biographies on all the represented artists, are also included.


Web Site

"To Conserve a Legacy" is represented on the World Wide Web at http://www.africana.com/exhibition. The site includes a digital tour of the show and sections on art conservation, education resources, and additional information about the "Legacy" project. The digital exhibition was made possible through a generous grant from AT&T. The exhibition was organized by Roanne Edwards and Mitsi Sellers of Africana.com, which produced the web site in cooperation with Koret Communications.


Conservation and Training Program

Thomas J. Branchick, director of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC) and conservator of paintings, oversaw the conservation and training component of the project, which included the treatment of over 1,400 works, including those featured in the exhibition. The professional training program for minority students helped bring new talent into the field of conservation and supported the preservation and long-term care of these important works for future generations. WACC worked closely with exhibition curators to identify the works for treatment and display in the exhibition. WACC's team of conservators conducted thorough surveys of the collections to identify and prioritize treatment needs and provided recommendations for improving the care and maintenance of the collections. Twelve selected students participated in summer-long internships at WACC to learn about conservation and collections care and returned to their institutions to serve their collections during the academic year. (left: Frederick Flemister, Man with Brush, 1940 (before treatment), oil on canvas, 26 x 21 inches, Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries, Atlanta, Georgia; right: Frederick Flemister, Man with Brush, 1940 (after treatment), oil on canvas, 26 x 21 inches, Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries, Atlanta, Georgia)

The trained staff of the Southeastern Regional Conservation Center, housed at the High Museum of Art, will oversee educational programs for children and conservation workshops for adults in conjunction with "To Conserve a Legacy" during its stay in Atlanta.

"To Conserve a Legacy" is organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem in association with the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. 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 project's catalogue. Additional support has been generously provided by The Henry Luce Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, the LEF Foundation, the Greentree Foundation, the Joseph Harrison Jackson Foundation and the Trellis Fund.

Readers may also enjoy Narratives Of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection (6/15/00)

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/2/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.