Ogden Museum of Southern Art

University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA



The following essay and artist biographies are reprinted with permission of the author, The Amistad Research Center and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The essay and artist biographies are from the catalogue for the exhibition Treasures from the Amistad Research Center, on exhibit August 4 - September 29, 2001 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Images are courtesy of the Amistad Research Center.


The Amistad Research Center

by Mora J. Beauchamp-Byrd


Founded in 1966, the Amistad Research Center is the largest independent archives specializing in the history of African Americans and the study of ethnic history, culture and race relations in the United States. The center houses more than 10 million primary documents, 250,000 photographs, 400 video and audio tapes, and more than 20,000 books relating to African Americans and other ethnic groups throughout the world.

The Center's visual arts holdings include more than 270 works in the Aaron Douglas Collection of late 19th and early 20th century art, African American art and more than 500 works by African Diaspora artists in the AFAC (Amistad Fine Arts Collection). The Center's traditional African art collection, largely West African in origin, is particularly strong in textiles and beaded objects made by artisans of the Kuba kingdom in Zaire. Other holdings include masks, carved figures and posts, musical instruments and ceremonial clothing. (left: Aaron Douglas, Portrait of an Ambassador, c. 1939, oil on canvas, 28 x 24 inches)

Donated to the Amistad Research Center by the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries of the United Church of Christ, the Aaron Douglas Collection includes works by Edward Mitchell Bannister, Henry O. Tanner, Aaron Douglas, Hale Woodruff, William H. Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, Malvin Gray Johnson, Richmond Barthé, Jacob Lawrence, Ellis Wilson, Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden.

Among the best-known works in the collection are the 41 paintings that make up the Toussaint L'Ouverture series, completed in 1938 by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), one of the most celebrated American artists of the 20th century. Toussaint was Lawrence's first series, completed when he was only 21 years old and still a student.

Ellis Wilson's oil painting entitled Funeral Procession (c. 1950s) is also a collection highlight. Funeral Procession, completed during one of Wilson's many visits to Haiti, was the subject of an episode of "The Cosby Show" in the 1980s. A reproduction of the work was displayed on the set of the show's living room for the remainder of its run on television. (right: Aaron Douglas, Defiance (from "The Emporer Jones" series), undated, gouache on paper, 13.5 x 9.5 inches)

Numerous works in the collection belong to the generation of artists who were productive both during and immediately after the period known as the Harlem Renaissance, a 1920s flowering of literary, theatrical and visual culture centered about Harlem in New York City. Aaron Douglas, the renowned African American artist and scholar for whom the collection is named, has been frequently regarded as the leading artist of this period.

More recently, the center's direction has focused on the work of contemporary African Diaspora artists of African, African American and Caribbean origin. Complimenting the collection's strengths in the 19th and 20th centuries, recent acquisitions include works by African, African American and Caribbean artists of African descent, such as: Elizabeth Catlett, Kim Dummons, Vivian Ellis, Joy Gregory, Ben Jones, Rita Keegan, Jacob Lawrence, Anita Jeni McKenzie, Louise Mouton Johnson, Senam Okudzeto, Martin Payton, George "Geo" Smith, Danijah Tafari and Geraldine Walsh.

Treasures from the Amistad Research Center speaks to our institutional commitment to documenting the palpable traces of history and preserving cultural traditions and innovations for generations to come.


Artist Biographies

Compiled by Mora J. Beauchamp-Byrd


A native of Washington, N.C., William Artis (1914-1977) first exhibited in 1933 at a Harmon Foundation show. He received attention in publications such as Time and Sculpture Review for his sculpture.

Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901) was born in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, and immigrated to Boston in 1848. He began working with photography and daguerreotypes and became known for his portraiture. He moved to Providence, R.I, in 1869, founded the Providence Art Club in 1872, and was awarded a Bronze Medal in Art at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876.

Richmond Barthé (1901-1989) was born in Bay St. Louis, Miss. and was an active participant in the Harmon Foundation exhibitions, where he became known for his lyrical, exacting sculptural portraits.

Romare Bearden (1914-1988) is often considered the most recognizable African American artist of the 20th century. Born in Charlotte, N.C., he studied at the Art Students League, New York (1936-37) and later at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1950. In the early 1960s, he began to work primarily in collage, which brought him sustained mainstream recognition.

Born in Gastonia, N.C., John Biggers (1924-2001) studied with Viktor Lowenfeld and Charles White at Hampton University during the 1940s. He earned a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. In 1949, he established an art department at the university now called Texas Southern University. A printmaker, painter and muralist, Biggers is best known for his iconic images of Black women juxtaposed with images of shotgun houses set in the predominantly African American Third Ward area of Houston, Tex.

Born in 1961, Jeffrey Cook studied painting, drawing, and sculpture with John T. Scott and Martin Payton at Xavier University from 1979-1983. His darkly patinaed and wrapped objects reflect the subtle intimacy and spiritual potency of traditional West African objects of ritual. (right: Elizabeth Catlett, Sharecropper, 1970, linoleum cut, 19 x 18 inches [interior mat])

Elizabeth Catlett, born in 1915 in Washington, D.C., is primarily known as a sculptor and printmaker. In the 1940s, she became affiliated with the Taller de Grafica Popular in Mexico, a printmaking collective producing works on the social and political concerns of working people. Her poised, smoothly executed wood, bronze and marble sculptures, as well as her prolific body of well-known prints, have made her one of the most celebrated American artists.

Born in Rockingham, Ga., in 1915, Claude Clark migrated with his family to Philadelphia, where he won a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Art. A Carnegie grant in the 1950s allowed him to travel to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean where he produced works in his signature style with thick, exuberant smears of paint applied with a palette knife. (left: Claude Clark, The Arena, undated, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches)

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) was born in Topeka, Kan. and educated at Columbia University Teachers College in New York and L'Academie Scandinave in Paris (1931). Douglas was chair of the art department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., from 1937 to 1966. He designed and illustrated works by the major writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Douglas apprenticed with German artist Winold Reiss, whose Art Deco formulas and interest in African art further solidified Douglas' Modernist style.

David Driskell was born in 1931 in Eatonton, Ga., and received his art training at Howard University and The Catholic University of America. Driskell became chairman of the art department at The University of Maryland in 1978 and retired in 1983. He contributed greatly to African-American art scholarship, producing numerous books, exhibitions and exhibition catalogues.

Born in Baton Rouge, La. in 1972, Kim Dummons graduated from Xavier University in 1995 with a degree in Art. Dummons has exhibited locally and is currently pursuing her M.F.A., with a concentration in sculpture, from the University of New Orleans.

Clementine Hunter (c. 1887 -1988) spent her life doing domestic work and picking cotton in and around Natchitoches in northern Louisiana. A self-taught artist, her subjects included weddings, baptisms, funerals, religious scenes, harvests and other scenes of everyday life in the area surrounding Melrose Plantation, where she worked for over 60 years. In addition to painting, she also produced quilts, dolls and murals.

Born in New Orleans in 1954, Louise Mouton Johnson is a printmaker with a B.F.A. from Xavier University. She also received an M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and teaches art at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

Malvin Gray Johnson (1896-1934), the youngest member of the Harlem Renaissance artists, was born in Greensboro, N.C. Johnson migrated to New York with his family at an early age. He studied at the National Academy of Design where he was influenced by French Impressionism and Cubism.

Sargent Johnson (1887-1967), a frequent exhibitor and prize-winner in the Harmon Foundation competitions, was born in Boston, Mass. but was orphaned as a child and raised by relatives in Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Va. He worked for Roosevelt's "New Deal" Works Progress Administration.

Born in Florence, S.C., William Henry Johnson (1901-1970) learned silk-screening while working on WPA projects in 1939, when he joined the mural section of the WPA/FAP in New York. He studied at the National Academy of Design and the Cape Cod School of Design. He lived in Denmark after his 1930 marriage to a Danish weaver and ceramicist. He returned to New York in 1939 and, after the mid-1940s, became best known for his colorful portrayals of African Americans in a simplified and expressionistic style.

Born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1941, Ben Jones is primarily known as a painter and installation artist. For nearly 40 years, he has produced a body of work marked by such diverse influences as West African sculpture, dance and masquerading traditions, African-derived belief systems in Brazil, Cuba and Haiti, Abstract Expressionism, and artists Romare Bearden, Wilfredo Lam and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as global civil rights movements.

The career of painter, illustrator, and costume, textile and stained glass designer Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998) spanned more than 60 years. Born in Boston, her work ranges from Realism to Impressionism, which she knew from her numerous summertime trips to Paris.

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was born in Atlantic City, N.J. and studied with Charles Alston and Augusta Savage in 1930s Harlem. The Migration of the Negro, (1940-1941) brought him immediate national recognition when it was exhibited at New York's Downtown Gallery in 1941. He was the first African American artist to be represented by a New York gallery. Lawrence's works combine Cubist-tinged flat planes of intense color of symbolically charged themes from African American history and scenes of everyday life. The Toussaint L'Ouverture series chronicles the life of the revolutionary founder of the Republic of Haiti. Lawrence produced a number of limited edition serigraphs from fifteen of the original paintings from the Toussaint series, actively re-working many of the images while translating them to silkscreen.

Born in New Orleans in 1925, William Pajaud is best known for his vibrant, celebratory watercolors featuring voluptuous, powerful African American women, jazz funerals, street scenes and other images from his childhood in New Orleans and his adult life in Los Angeles.

Martin Payton was born in New Orleans, La. in 1948, received his B.F.A. from Xavier University and his M.F.A. from Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1975. He has been an Associate Professor of Art History at Southern University since 1990. Payton's influences include traditional West African sculpture and dance, African-derived belief systems, Egyptian art and Abstract Expressionism and the kinetic sculptures of Alexander Calder, George Rickey and John Scott.

Steven A. Prince was born in 1968 in New Orleans, La. and received his B.A. from Xavier University, where he studied with John Scott. He received his M.F.A. from Michigan State University in 1995 and is an Assistant Professor of Art at Hampton University. Intercessor's Song (2001), a linocut, evokes New Orleans jazz funerals, spiritual rejuvenation and the tragic effects of violence. It also references the 20th century Ghanaian tradition of constructing decorative coffins recalling an activity or event marking the life of the deceased.

John Scott was born in New Orleans, La. in 1940 and earned a B.A, from Xavier University in 1962. He received an M.F.A. from Michigan State University in 1965, and has been a Professor of Fine Art at Xavier since 1965. He is best known for his vibrantly colored and multi-layered prints and his fluid kinetic sculptures utilizing industrial metal rods, whisper-thin wires and a complex system of weights and counter-weights. Scott's work ranges from sophisticated, eloquent kinetic sculptures influenced by the African diddley-bow to delicate line drawings of unparalleled draftsmanship. Diversity is perhaps the defining characteristic of his work. He received a prestigious John D. McArthur Fellowship, commonly called the McArthur "Genius" Fellowship, in 1992.

Born in Indianapolis, Ind., William Edouard Scott (1884-1964) graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907 and later studied in Paris with Henry O. Tanner.

Born in New York, N.Y., artist and jazz musician Albert Alexander Smith (1896-1940) was one of the earliest African-American etchers, exhibiting a number of his works at the Paris Salon during the 1920s. He sailed to France in 1928 where he resided until his death.

Danijah Tafari was born in 1955 in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to England in 1966. He received a B.A. from St. Martins School of Art in London and an M.A. from the City University of London in 1990. Tafari's early works included hazy portrait paintings of groups of family members framed with text conveying story fragments culled from family lore. Tafari's frenzied, highly energetic work entitled Dance Hall (1995) is from his prolific series of photographs chronicling the vibrant Jamaican reggae club scene in early 1990s London. Dance Hall captures the extremely agile, sensuous female dancers who form an integral part of these celebratory events. (left: Ellis Wilson, Woman in a Red Dress, undated, oil on masonite, 24 x 18 inches)

Born in Pittsburgh, Penn., Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) is often considered the most important African American artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He studied with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, then with Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant at the Academy Julien in Paris. Tanner was the first African American to be elected to the National Academy of Design.

Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was born in Columbus, Ga. She was the first student to graduate from Howard University's art department (1924). Thomas was influenced by the gardens near her Washington, D.C. home. In 1972, she became the first African American woman to receive a one-person exhibition at The Whitney Museum of American Art.

James Lesesne Wells (1902-1993), a pioneer in American printmaking, was an early director of the Harlem Art Workshop and Studio under the auspices of the Harmon Foundation. Known for his fine white-line woodcuts and linoleum prints, Wells was influenced by the German Expressionists as well as Cubism, West African sculptural motifs and the flat color of the Fauves.

Born in Mayfield, Ky., Ellis Wilson (1899- 1977) graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago and worked as a commercial artist before moving to New York in 1928. He received Guggenheim fellowships in 1944 and 1945, which enabled him to travel throughout Georgia and South Carolina, painting the everyday lives of Southerners.

Born in Cairo, III., Hale Woodruff (1900-1980) was one of the most acclaimed African American artists of the Depression era. His works include the Amistad murals, installed in 1939 in the Savery Library at Talladega College, Alabama, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Amistad mutiny. He taught at Atlanta University from 1931 to 1946, where he organized important annual exhibitions of African American art in the forties.

Frank Wyley (1905-1978) was born in Long Beach, Miss. He moved to New Orleans at the age of five, where he lived until his death. He worked as a porter and taught himself to paint and make prints through studying books and magazines. Influenced by Paul Cezanne, Raoul Dufy, Henri Matisse and Georges Roualt, his work ranges from portraiture to Cubist still-lifes to New Orleans cityscapes. (right: Frank Wyley, St. Augustine Church, undated, oil on canvas, 23.5 x 17.5 inches)


Please see a related article: Treasures from the Amistad Collection (8/20/01).

Read more about the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in Resource Library Magazine

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

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/7/11

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