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Harlem Renaissance

February 5 - April 19, 2009

 

Visitors will explore the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance with a one-of-a-kind exhibition held only at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, February 5 through April 19, 2009. Organized by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Harlem Renaissance will include more than 100 paintings, sculptures, and photographs by artists such as Richmond Barthé, Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson, Malvin Gray Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Archibald J. Motley Jr., James VanDerZee, and others. From the "vogue" of Harlem in the twenties to the Great Depression in the thirties, artists created innovative works that expressed the uniqueness of their experiences as African American artists, while participating in larger developments in American art. (right: Malvin Gray Johnson (American, 1896-1934). Negro Soldier, 1934. Oil on canvas, 38 x 30 inches (96.5 x 76.2 cm). Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art & Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)

Harlem Renaissance marks the first exhibition of African American art at the Museum in more than 20 years. Organized thematically, Harlem Renaissance will explore a number of subjects, including Harlem as a literary center, portraiture and the "New Negro," life in Paris and abroad, the influence of European modernism and African art, as well as images related to daily life, African American history, and the South. The exhibition also will examine the idea of Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance as a later artistic subject, through works by Romare Bearden and Faith Ringgold.  Highlights include Aaron Douglas's The Creation (1927), Palmer Hayden's Nous Quatre à Paris (We Four in Paris) (ca. 1930), Archibald J. Motley Jr.'s Jockey Club (1929), and Faith Ringgold's Jo Baker's Bananas (1997).

Illustrations for books and publications reveal Harlem as a literary and artistic center. The exhibition will include an original copy of The New Negro (1925), an important anthology edited by Alain Locke, in addition to James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927), which features illustrations by Aaron Douglas. Harlem Renaissance also will explore issues of representation in African American art, featuring portraits and portrait "types" by artists such as Winold Reiss and Malvin Gray Johnson.

Harlem Renaissance will display the types of works artists created while living and traveling abroad. Throughout the twenties and thirties, numerous artists traveled to Paris where they received instruction, visited museums, and escaped the restrictions of segregation.  Painted while living in the South of France, William H. Johnson's Village Houses, Cagnes-sur-Mer (ca. 1928-1929) reflects the influence of European expressionism.

The exhibit will show the influence of African art, through works such as West Coast artist Sargent Johnson's copper Mask (1933) and Malvin Gray Johnson's painting Self-Portrait (1934). During this period, many artists turned to their own lives and experiences for inspiration. Seeking to create accurate depictions of African American life and culture, artists portrayed a variety of subjects and styles. From urban life to folklore and the South, artists sought to be fresh and modern in their portrayals of life. Examples include Archibald J. Motley Jr.'s Saturday Night (1935) as well as William H. Johnson's Jacobia Hotel (1930) and Landscape with Sun Setting, Florence, South Carolina (1930).

Harlem Renaissance also will feature works related to African American history, which became an important theme among artists by the thirties and during the era of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Artist Hale Woodruff's Negroes with Jackson at New Orleans (1934) reflects this new interest and the stylistic influence of the Mexican muralists. Jacob Lawrence also turned to history on numerous occasions throughout his career, depicting scenes from the life of important historical figures, such as Harriet Tubman in Daybreak - A time to Rest (1967). (left: Palmer Hayden (American, 1890-1973). Nous Quatre à Paris (We Four in Paris), ca. 1930. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 21 3/4, x 18 1/8 inches (55.2 x 46 cm). Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph H. Hazen Foundation Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.125) Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art )

The period's lasting influence also will be explored in later depictions of the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Age, through Romare Bearden's Jazz: (Chicago) Grand Terrace - 1930s (1964) and Faith Ringgold's Jo Baker's Bananas (1997).

In addition to painting and sculpture, the exhibit will highlight photography as an important medium of artistic expression during the Harlem Renaissance. Photographers such as James VanDerZee captured the people and activities of Harlem, while others, such as James Latimer Allen and author and Harlem enthusiast Carl Van Vechten, captured the likenesses of notable Harlemites and Renaissance figures. Harlem Renaissance will also display photographs of Oklahoma City's African American community during this period, which includes musician Charlie Christian, the young author Ralph Ellison, and the area known as "Deep Deuce."

Harlem Renaissance also will include early short musical films of the period, featuring the first filmed appearances of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, and Bessie Smith. These films reveal the astonishing musical talent during the Harlem Renaissance as well as a visual document of black urban life in the 1920s and 30s.

The exhibition will bring together key works from over 20 lending institutions. Lenders include the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

 

Exhibition catalogue and programs

A 154 page, color catalogue, published by the Museum, will feature an introduction by Curator Alison Amick and essays by Mary Ann Calo, professor of art history, Colgate University; Theresa Leininger-Miller, associate professor of art history, University of Cincinnati; and Deborah Willis, professor and chair, Department of Photography and Imaging, New York University. A 24 stop audio tour, written and produced by the Museum, also will be available. Harlem Renaissance will be presented only at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and will be accompanied by the following programs.

Documentary Film with personal appearance by director Heather Lyn McDonald
Been Rich All My Life
March 12 - 15, 2009
Noble Theater 
 
Book Discussion
Langston Hughes' Not Without Laughter, discussion by Rita Keresztesi, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
Saturday, March 7, 2009
10:30 a.m.
Friends Event Room, Downtown Library 
 
Exhibition Lecture
"The Transatlantic Connection: New Negro Artists in Paris, 1922-1934," lecture by Theresa Leininger-Miller, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
6:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Noble Theater  
 
Book Discussion
Edward Christopher Williams' When Washington Was in Vogue: A Love Story (A Lost Novel of the Harlem Renaissance), discussion by Rita Keresztesi, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
Saturday, March 28, 2009
10:30 a.m.
Friends Event Room, Downtown Library
 
Last Call Friday
Celebrate the closing of Harlem Renaissance with cocktails, live music, guided tours, tastings, and more!
Friday, April 17, 2009
5 - 8 p.m.
Gallery/Lobby 

 

Artists included in the exhibition

Artist Included
James Latimer Allen
Charles Alston
Richmond Barthe
Romare Bearden
Selma Burke
Miguel Covarrubias
Aaron Douglas
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
Palmer Hayden
Wilmer Angier Jennings
Malvin Gray Johnson
Sargent Johnson
William H. Johnson
Jacob Lawrence
Archibald J. Motley, Jr.
P.H. Polk
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet
Winold Reiss
Faith Ringgold
Augusta Savage
Addison Scurlock
Morgan and Marvin Smith
James VanDerZee
Carl Van Vechten
Hale Woodruff

(above: Aaron Douglas (American, 1899-1979). The Prodigal Son in God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson, 1927. Lithograph, lettering by C.B. Wells, New York: The Viking Press, 8 3/4 x 6 1/4 inxhes (22.2 x 15.9 cm). Amon Carter Museum Library, Fort Worth, Texas, (IB) NC959.D67 G6 1927 )

 

 

(above: Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (American, 1877-1968). Ethiopia, 1921. Plaster full figure, bronze cast, 67 x 16 x 20 inches (170.2 x 40.6 x 50.8 cm). Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art & Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)

 

 

Harlem Renaissance Audio Guide Tour

© 2009 Oklahoma City Museum of Art. All Rights reserved.

 

Stop List

1. Introduction

2. Alain Locke, ed. The New Negro opened to Countee Cullen (mention Winold Reiss, Harlem Boy)

3. Aaron Douglas, The Creation

4. Sargent Claude Johnson, Chester

5. Malvin Gray Johnson, Postman and Negro Soldier

6. Palmer Hayden, The Janitor who Paints

7. Palmer Hayden, Nous Quatre à Paris (We Four in Paris)

8. Archibald Motley, Jockey Club

9. Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Congolais

10. Malvin Gray Johnson, Self-Portrait and Negro Masks

11. Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Ethiopia

12. William H. Johnson, Jacobia Hotel

13. Archibald Motley, Saturday Night

14. Carl Van Vechten, Bill Bojangles Robinson and Carl Van Vechten

15. James Latimer Allen, Langston Hughes

16. James VanDerZee, Marcus Garvey & Garvey Militia, Harlem and Black Cross Nurses at UNIA Parade Honoring Marcus Garvey

17. James VanDerZee, Untitled [Dancing Girls]

18. Zelia N. Page Breaux

19. Hughes, Christian and Sheffield Wilson at Ruby's Grill in Oklahoma City

20. Charles Alston, Modern Medicine and Magic in Medicine

21. Jacob Lawrence, Daybreak - A Time to Rest

22. Richmond Barthé, Toussaint L'Ouverture and Malvin Gray Johnson, Toussaint L'Ouverture (mention Jacob Lawrence, Toussaint at Ennery)

23. Romare Bearden, Black Manhattan

24. Faith Ringgold, Jo Baker's Bananas / Conclusion

 

 

1. Introduction

Glen Gentele:

Welcome. On behalf of the board of trustees and staff of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, I want to thank you for visiting. I'm Glen Gentele, president and CEO, and you are about to experience Harlem Renaissance, organized by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

Each stop on this audio tour is marked with a number and a wand symbol. When you see a work with this symbol that interests you, just enter the number on your audio guide. To cancel a selection, press the stop button.

We hope you enjoy your time with us and come again soon. Now, please join Curator Alison Amick on a tour of the exhibition to learn more about the cultural legacy of the Harlem Renaissance.

 

2. Alain Locke, ed. The New Negro opened to Countee Cullen (mention Winold Reiss, Harlem Boy)

Narrator:

The New Negro is an anthology of works by and about black Americans published in 1925. It is considered by many as the definitive text of the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Edited by Alain Locke, a noted Harvard scholar and professor of philosophy at Howard University, the publication features poetry, fiction, and essays on drama, theatre, and art. Illustrated by a variety of artists, predominantly the German immigrant Winold Reiss and his student Aaron Douglas, The New Negro drew attention to the growing interest in black culture and a new sense of racial pride. Though Reiss was not African American, he was invited by Locke to create illustrations for the publication because of his favorable depictions of African Americans that moved beyond the use of caricature. This illustration by Reiss represents the popular poet and literary figure Countee Cullen, whose work is included in the book. Reiss's portraits often incorporated highly detailed renderings of the sitter's face and individual features as well as a looser, more suggestive portrayal of their form. In this gallery, you also will see Reiss's Harlem Boy and Harlem Girl 1. These dignified, sensitive portraits of Harlem youth exemplify Reiss's work from the mid-twenties. While you look, listen to the poem "Tableau" by Countee Cullen read by Mattie Butler, a former member of the Black Liberated Arts Center.

"Tableau" by Countee Cullen [Mattie Butler]:

Locked arm in arm they cross the way,
The black boy and the white,
The golden splendor of the day
The sable pride of night.
From lowered blinds the dark folk stare
And here the fair folk talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
In unison to walk.
Oblivious to look and word
They pass, and see no wonder
That lightning brilliant as a sword
Should blaze the path of thunder.

 

3. Aaron Douglas, The Creation

Narrator:

Artist Aaron Douglas's widespread introduction to the art world came with the inclusion of his work in the popular anthology, The New Negro. This painting, titled The Creation, is one of a series created for poet James Weldon Johnson's book God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Notice the hand of God reaching down from the sky. Here is an excerpt from Johnson's poem of the same name read by Reverend Lawrence Kirk, minister of Christian Education at St. John Missionary Baptist Church.

Excerpt of "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson [Reverend Lawrence Kirk]:

Up from the bed of a river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled Him down;
And there the great God Almightly
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image;
Then into it He blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.

Narrator:

This painting epitomizes Douglas's signature style that was influenced by diverse sources, from Art Deco to cubism to Egyptian and African art. Observe the figure of the man in center of the composition. Notice how Douglas has simplified his form. The use of pyramid-like shapes in the distance and the figure's slit eyes reflect the influence of African art. Douglas also incorporates varying hues of a single color, ranging from dark to light, as well as the repeated circular shapes that infuse his work with a visual rhythm. Douglas became known as "the" artist of the Harlem Renaissance and gained notoriety as one of the first black artists to celebrate African American heritage in his work.

 

4. Sargent Claude Johnson, Chester

Narrator:

Orphaned at fourteen, Sargent Claude Johnson went to live with his aunt, May Howard Jackson, a sculptor living in Washington D.C. There his interest in art was sparked, and he began training before traveling to California to continue his studies. A versatile sculptor, Johnson worked in terracotta, bronze, copper, wood, and marble and exhibited his work frequently throughout the twenties and thirties. In 1931, this cast terracotta bust, Chester, won a prize in the San Francisco Art Association's annual exhibition. Its likeness is of a child that regularly visited Johnson's studio. This portrait bust reveals his interest in African American physiognomy, as seen in the depiction of the boy's hair, eyes, nose, and lips. Notice how Johnson juxtaposes the boy's hand and bust. Though his ancestry included Swedish and Cherokee, Johnson identified himself as African American and sought to create racial pride through his work.

 

5. Malvin Gray Johnson, Postman and Negro Soldier

Narrator:

Malvin Gray Johnson moved to New York City from North Carolina with his family when he was 16, as part of the Great Migration of blacks to northern urban center, such as Harlem. He studied painting at the National Academy of Design, enrolling in 1916 and later in 1925. His watercolors and oils of 1934, of which Negro Soldier and Postman were a part, are considered some of his best work. These genre portraits, painted shortly before Johnson's death, capture the essence of his subjects and explore his interest in portraying character "types," much like Winold Reiss's Harlem Boy and Harlem Girl 1.

Johnson was known for choosing sitters from his own social class. Observe how he has titled his works by occupation. Johnson, like the soldier depicted, served in the armed forces during WWI. Notice how he has placed his figure against a richly colored background, without references to time or place. While in Postman, Johnson has included a table with books, reinforcing the idea that this man is an educated member of the middle class. In both paintings, Johnson elongates and exaggerates the proportions of his subjects to dramatic effect. For example, in Postman, the position of the figure, with his arm draped around the chair, creates a series of strong diagonal lines and adds an element of design.

 

6. Palmer Hayden, The Janitor who Paints

Narrator:

Artist Palmer Hayden left home at the age of 16 to work. He was inspired by his older brother, who liked to draw, and took correspondence courses in art. During his formative years as an artist, he worked as a circus laborer before joining the army. Following his discharge in 1921, he moved to New York City and was employed as a postal worker and as a janitor. This painting depicts his friend and fellow artist Cloyd Boykin, who also worked as a janitor. It was completed while Hayden was living in Paris. In this canvas, he initially painted his subjects drawing upon stereotypical black imagery. However, the artist later painted over these exaggerated features, as seen here. X-Ray analysis indicates that the man originally had a large, rounded head and distorted facial features, and the woman was dressed as a servant, holding a large, smiling infant. Also in the earlier version, the portrait above the woman's head was not of a cat but of President Lincoln. Hayden may have altered the original canvas in response to criticism of his caricature-like figures.

 

7. Palmer Hayden, Nous Quatre à Paris (We Four in Paris)

Narrator:

Hayden lived in France from 1926 to 1932 supported partially by an award from the Harmon Foundation, which promoted African American artists and exhibitions, among other causes. While abroad, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and painted throughout Brittany and in Paris. The Parisian nightclub scene was a great draw for Hayden, who was known for being a spendthrift and for his extravagant wardrobe. This work may depict the artist and three of his friends playing cards at a café. Among Hayden's associates were poet Countee Cullen and artist Hale Woodruff, who may appear in this watercolor.

Hayden's attention to perspective and design can be seen in this work. Observe how the glasses atop the tilted table seem precariously perched, while the card players temporarily look away from their game. Two turn to the left and two to the right, creating a visually appealing, symmetrical arrangement. As in the original version of The Janitor Who Paints, Hayden employs exaggerated facial distortions. The reasons why Hayden and others would draw upon caricature in their imagery are unknown. It could have been used to attract a particular audience or as a means of subverting negative stereotypes or for satirical or humorous purposes.

 

8. Archibald Motley, Jockey Club

Narrator:

Jockey Club was the first painting Archibald Motley completed while living in Paris in the 1920s. Here, you can imagine the couple at right deep in conversation and the woman in the street jauntily walking her dog -- a typical evening on the streets of Paris. The painting is a night scene in which Motley explores the effects of artificial lighting in his work. See how the street lamp, headlights of the car, and interior glow from the open door cast everyone in shadow. Though Motley became known for his paintings of African American life in his native Chicago, this painting is filled with patrons of the Jockey Club, a popular destination of white Americans. The solitary black figure in the work is the doorman, who wears a dark red suit with bright brass buttons. This could be seen as Motley commenting on his social status. Notice how he incorporates his characteristic broad red lips and bright white teeth. Like Palmer Hayden, Motley often utilized facial distortions in his work.

 

9. Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Congolais

Narrator:

Artist Nancy Elizabeth Prophet spent twelve years abroad and studied sculpture for a time at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts. This work, titled Congolais, may have been inspired by the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris, which included displays related to France's African colonies. Like Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller's full-figure bronze, Ethiopia, standing on the pedestal to your right, Congolais mixes references to various locations in Africa. The title refers a person from the Congo, an area located on the western coast of Central Africa. However, the work depicts a Masai warrior from east Central Africa. Sculpted in wood, Prophet's medium of choice during this period, the work is not meant to be a portrait but rather to convey a type ­ the noble African warrior. During the twenties, many African American artists and poets were encouraged to explore their African heritage by critics such as Alain Locke and W.E.B. DuBois. Nevertheless, not all artists felt a strong connection to the continent. As you explore the works in this section, listen to an excerpt from Countee Cullen's poem "Heritage," read by former State Senator Angela Monson.

Excerpt from "Heritage" by Countee Cullen [Angela Monson]:

What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronze men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?

 

10. Malvin Gray Johnson, Self-Portrait and Negro Masks

Narrator:

Painted in 1934, Malvin Gray Johnson's Self-Portrait offers a glimpse into the life of this artist, who became ill and died tragically not long after it was completed. During this period, Johnson was interested in painting various portrait "types," including the "artist," as seen here. Other types, such as Negro Soldier and Postman, seen earlier in the exhibition, were also painted around the same time. In this work, observe not only how Johnson positions himself in the composition, staring directly at you, with his hat in hand, but also how he angles his arm and enlarges his hands. Johnson tended to play with proportion in his work as well as add elements of design or symbolic importance. Here, he has included an image of his earlier work, Negro Masks, which hangs on the wall to your right. Notice how Johnson's mask-like face mirrors the masks in the background. He may have included this work in his self-portrait to indicate his interest in African art.

 

11. Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Ethiopia

Narrator:

Artist Auguste Rodin called her a "born sculptor." Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller traveled to Paris in 1899 and studied under Rodin, who greatly influenced her work. This sculpture was created for the America's Making Exposition of 1921. Though titled, Ethiopia, the work depicts a woman wearing an Egyptian nemes, or headdress. At the time it was completed, Egypt and Ethiopia were often used symbolically to refer to the continent of Africa. The woman's Egyptian headdress and emergence from her mummification linens symbolize the awakening of a black consciousness, the embrace of African heritage, and the movement toward a renewed cultural identity.

 

12. William H. Johnson, Jacobia Hotel

Narrator:

Originally from the South, William H. Johnson moved to New York City in 1918. He worked a variety of jobs, including hotel porter and cook, before entering the National Academy of Design in 1921. His instructor, Charles W. Hawthorne, felt that Johnson would find more success as an African American artist if he lived abroad, and he helped him by raising funds to send him to Paris in 1926. There, Johnson was inspired by the work of Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, and especially Chaim Soutine, who was very visible as a painter at that time. Jacobia Hotel shows the influence of these artists. Painted in 1930, during a visit with his mother, the work provides a unique, distorted perspective of this Florence, South Carolina, landmark. Once a respectable establishment, the Jacobia Hotel of Johnson's day had fallen into disrepair and was reported to be a whorehouse. An inconclusive story surrounds the painting of this work, in which Johnson was arrested for loitering or detained for a period by local authorities. Regardless, it is certain that Johnson's experience while staying in the South was so unpleasant that he didn't return for over fourteen years.

 

13. Archibald Motley, Saturday Night

Narrator:

Saturday Night was painted during Archibald Motley's tenure as a visiting instructor at Howard University in Washington D.C. It's a lively depiction of a typical night at one of the many jazz clubs in the capitol city and relates to the paintings Motley completed in his native Chicago of pool halls and cabarets. See how his use of perspective -- the tilt of the waiter in the distance, the performer at center, and the seated man at front right -- creates a sense of movement in the work. Motley believed a painting should be able to tell a story. Here, that narrative is conveyed in the smiling face of the bartender, the wayward hand of his customer, and the seated, balding man, who has been distracted from his cocktail and cigar. Writer Zora Neale Hurston would have referred to this place as a "jook joint," noting that "Jook is the word for a Negro pleasure house." and means "a bawdy housewhere the men and women dance, drink and gamble."

 

14. Carl Van Vechten, Bill Bojangles Robinson and Carl Van Vechten

Narrator:

Considered a "patron" of the Harlem Renaissance, Carl Van Vechten, seen to the right, photographed many of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. An author and musical and literary critic, his interests encompassed black artists, writers, and musicians and extended to Harlem and African American culture as a whole, greatly contributing to Harlem's "vogue" in the twenties. Here, Van Vechten had himself in a photograph with the famous actor and tap dancer Bill Bojangles Robinson. Robinson was a favorite on Broadway for many years and in the thirties was cast in several films alongside Shirley Temple: The Littlest Rebel and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Van Vechten was known for posing his sitters and often incorporated patterned backdrops. Notice the stars and stripes in this background that could be a reference to Bill Bojangles Robinson's status as an American icon.

 

15. James Latimer Allen, Langston Hughes

Narrator:

This undated photograph by James Latimer Allen depicts a young Langston Hughes, who was a prolific poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. Hughes' best-known works include the 1926 collection of poetry The Weary Blues and his first novel Not Without Laughter, completed in 1930. Allen was a professional portrait photographer who worked in Harlem. His sitters not only included Hughes but also poet Countee Cullen, historian and activist Arthur Schomburg, and Alain Locke, editor of The New Negro. These figures were prominent during the Harlem Renaissance and works by all were included in Locke's The New Negro, where their thoughts and words still resonate, as in Hughes' poem "I Too" read by Khepra NuRa Khem, Ph.D., MPA, Coordinator of Field Services for Access To Recovery at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

"I Too" by Langston Hughes [Khepra NuRa Khem, Ph.D.]:

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes.
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
To-morrow
I'll sit at the table
When company comes
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen"
Then.
Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed,--
I, too, am America.

 

16. James VanDerZee, Marcus Garvey & Garvey Militia, Harlem and Black Cross Nurses at UNIA Parade Honoring Marcus Garvey

Narrator:

In addition to portraits and studio photography, James VanDerZee's work preserved the Harlem of the 1920s and 1930s, by serving as a visual document of its activities and people. His subjects ranged from funeral processions and military parades to young dancers and high profile figures, such as the Jamaica-born, social activist Marcus Garvey. The subject of several works in this exhibit, Garvey was a writer, printer, and publisher who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association or UNIA. He was known for his flamboyant dress, love of ceremony, and for acquiring the title of Provisional President of Africa. Garvey also had a strong interest in returning to Africa and enabling willing African Americans to do the same -- he even went so far as to raise funds to purchase several ocean liners, The Black Star Line. Though this venture ultimately failed and Garvey was later convicted of mail fraud, he had a large following and was a distinct presence in Harlem in the twenties. Marcus Garvey & Garvey Militia, Harlem and Black Cross Nurses at UNIA Parade Honoring Marcus Garvey were taken in 1924 during the UNIA's fourth International Convention in Harlem. Garvey hired VanDerZee to photograph the parades, rallies, and other events associated with the convention, of which he produced several thousand prints.

 

17. James VanDerZee, Untitled [Dancing Girls]

Narrator:

In 1917, James VanDerZee opened a photography studio in Harlem, where he specialized in taking portraits and group photos. He was known for posing his subjects and often went to great lengths to present them in the best light possible, touching up blemishes and age marks and enhancing specific features. In this photograph, these young dancers have been posed and dressed as if for a recital. Notice how VanDerZee has arranged them in the composition, literally putting their best foot forward. This section of the exhibition includes many photographs by VanDerZee. Notice the use of props and backdrops in his studio photographs and how the same settings reappear from image to image. For instance, in Couple and in Sisters, seen in the previous area, VanDerZee used the same backdrop, side table, and floral arrangement. VanDerZee operated a successful portrait studio in Harlem until the mid forties, when he began struggling with the rise of the personal camera and his business declined. VanDerZee was rediscovered in the 1960s and gained renewed fame with his prominent inclusion in The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 1969 exhibition Harlem on My Mind. .

 

18. Zelia N. Page Breaux

Narrator:

Can you imagine being department head at a university at just eighteen years old? That is exactly how old legendary music instructor Zelia N. Page Breaux was when she took her post at Langston University in 1898. Breaux was quite a self-initiator and became known for her excellent business acumen. For a time, she was even part owner of the Aldridge Theater, an Oklahoma City landmark located in Deep Deuce, and later served as director of music at Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. The Aldridge hosted musical talent Charlie Christian, who had been a student of Breaux, as well as vocalists Ida Cox, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. Undoubtedly, Breaux's unwavering dedication to music instruction in Oklahoma helped develop some of the best jazz instrumentalists and vocalists of the twenties and thirties. Now listen as Mike Jackson with Jackson Audio Group describes Breaux in the words of local Deep Deuce trumpeter Bernard "Step Buddy" Anderson.

Breaux as described by Bernard "Step Buddy" Anderson [Mike Jackson]:

She was really something else; she was a giant, manShe played trumpet in her younger daysand the violin in the orchestra, [and] pianoaccompaniments. Went down a different operetta every year school thingsShe, more than anyone, I think, turned the whole town on, musically, in the black community.

 

19. Hughes, Christian and Sheffield Wilson at Ruby's Grill in Oklahoma City

Excerpt from "The Charlie Christian Story" by Ralph Ellison [Felix Linden, Sr.]:

Jazz, like the country which gave it birth, is fecund in its inventiveness, swift and traumatic in its developments and terribly wasteful of its resources. It is an orgiastic art which demands great physical stamina of its practitioners, and many of its most talented creators die young. More often than not (and this is especially true of its Negro components) its heroes remain local figures known only to small-town dance halls, and whose reputations are limited to the radius of a few hundred miles.

Narrator:

Read by Felix Linden, Sr., these words written by Ralph Ellison in 1958 for the Saturday Review introduce one of the greatest jazz guitarists - Charlie Christian. Seated in the center of this photograph, Charlie Christian came from humble beginnings, playing for nickels and dimes alongside his father and brothers, Clarence and Edward, up and down the streets of Oklahoma City. He was first recognized for his talent when he was about 15 years old while at an impromptu jam session with his brothers and some local musicians. Not ten years later, Christian had risen to fame as part of the Benny Goodman Sextet, lived the fast life, fallen ill, and died at the young age of 25. Here we see him jamming with local musicians at Ruby's Grill in Deep Deuce, where he was the featured artist three nights a week just prior to joining the Goodman band in August 1939.

 

20. Charles Alston, Modern Medicine and Magic in Medicine

Narrator:

An exceptional student, artist Charles Alston graduated from high school at the early age of sixteen and went on to major in fine arts and art history at Columbia University. He began his career designing album and book covers and teaching art to underprivileged children, including a young Jacob Lawrence. Later, he became known as a mural painter and credited the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, whom he had met and observed working, as a key influence. Alston's most popular murals were created in 1936 for the entrance foyer of the Women's Pavilion of the Harlem Hospital. Seen here and on the other side of this wall to your right are two studies for his murals -- Magic in Medicine and Modern Medicine. Magic in Medicine references tribal medicinal practices in Africa. Observe the figures, at center, dancing under a full moon in front of a Fang reliquary statue from Central Africa. It was believed that sickness was directly related to the spirit world. In contrast, Alston highlights Western advances in medicine in Modern Medicine. Observe the large microscope in the center and the towering figure of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. Notice too the inclusion of a black physician in the lower left corner. Despite the works appearance in Harlem, the depiction of a black doctor initially caused a stir in the community.

 

21. Jacob Lawrence, Daybreak ­ A Time to Rest

Narrator:

Like his instructor, Charles Alston, Jacob Lawrence was inspired by the Mexican muralists, especially Jose Clemente Orozco. This can be seen in his use of vivid colors and his interest in historical subjects. During the late thirties, Lawrence began exploring African American history as an inspiration for his paintings. In addition to scenes drawn from everyday life, artists such as Lawrence turned to history in their works in order to highlight important African Americans and their roles in American history. Lawrence maintained this interest throughout his career as is evidenced in this work. Painted in 1967, Daybreak - A Time to Rest refers to the Civil War heroine Harriet Tubman. Tubman freed herself from slavery and became a key figure in the Underground Railroad, helping to bring approximately 300 others to freedom in the North. The large feet in the foreground bring to mind the many miles these fugitives had to travel on foot to reach safety. While this painting is not part of a series, Lawrence was known for his historical cycles and completed one on the life of Harriet Tubman as well as another titled the Migration Series, for which he is best known.

 

22. Richmond Barthé, Toussaint L'Ouverture and Malvin Gray Johnson, Toussaint L'Ouverture (mention Jacob Lawrence, Toussaint at Ennery)

Narrator:

Toussaint L' Ouverture rose from slavery in the eighteenth century to become the leader of the Haitian Revolution, which ultimately gained the French colony of Haiti independence. His success as a leader and revolt from slavery made him a prevalent historical subject of many of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, as seen in this section of the exhibition. Here, Toussaint L' Ouverture's portrait is rendered in pastel by artist Richmond Barthé. Though known primarily for his sculpture, Barthé was an excellent draftsman and, in this work, has captured the strength and dignity often associated with Toussaint. In the late forties, Barthé was commissioned by the Haitian government to create two large-scale sculptures, one being of Toussaint. While in Haiti, he developed a genuine respect for the country, its people, and this historical figure. On the wall to your right, artist Malvin Gray Johnson's painting of Toussaint highlights the leader's military heroism. Artists often chose to depict Toussaint in battle, which can also be seen in this gallery in Jacob Lawrence's Toussaint at Ennery.

 

23. Romare Bearden, Black Manhattan

Narrator:

Artist Romare Bearden's family was part of the Great Migration to Harlem in the twenties, and he grew up knowing many of the great artists of the day. His works often draw upon his experiences in Harlem and in the South, where he spent some of his childhood. His work evolved from cartoon illustrations to watercolor and oil paintings, and in the 1960s, he began to develop the collage technique for which he his best known. Several works by Bearden are seen in this section. Jazz: (Chicago) Grand Terrace - 1930's demonstrates his interest in music and was one of his first photomontages. His collages often look back to the people and places of the 1920s and 30s. The work seen here also reveals Bearden's interest in Harlem and is an excellent example of his collage technique. Titled Black Manhattan, it refers to James Weldon Johnson's 1930 publication of the same name that recounts the history of Harlem. In this book, Johnson describes 1920s Harlem in these words read by Shakeitha Bridgewater.

Excerpt from James Weldon Johnson's Black Manhattan (pg. 145) [Shakeitha Bridgewater]:

If you ride northward the length of Manhattan Island, going through Central Park and coming out on Seventh Avenue or Lenox Avenue at One Hundred and Tenth Street, you cannot escape being struck by the sudden change in the character of the people you see. In the middle and lower parts of the city you have, perhaps, noted Negro faces here and there; but when you emerge from the Park, you see them everywhere, and as you go up either of these two great arteries leading out from the city to the north, you see more and more Negroes, walking in the streets, looking from the windows, trading in the shops, eating in the restaurants, going in and coming out of the theatres, until, nearing One Hundred and Thirty-fifty Street, ninety per cent of the people you see, including the traffic officers, are Negroes. And it is not until you cross the Harlem River that the population whitens again, which it does as suddenly as it began to darken at One Hundred and Tenth Street. You have been having an outside glimpse of Harlem, the Negro metropolis.

 

24. Faith Ringgold, Jo Baker's Bananas

Narrator:

A famous performer, Josephine Baker was known for her expressive dances and performed in Parisian cabarets throughout the 1920s. The screen behind you features several of her performances from this period. Here, she is depicted dancing topless from left to right, wearing only a skirt of bananas. Her movements during this well-known performance were loosely inspired by African tribal dancing. Observe how artist Faith Ringgold shows movement in the work, portraying Baker in various poses across the canvas. Born in 1930, Ringgold was too young to actually experience the Harlem Renaissance, however, many of her works are inspired by the period. This work is a canvas with a quilted fabric border recalling the folk tradition of quilting. An avid storyteller, Ringgold has written several children's books and strives to tell stories in her artwork. Jo Baker's Bananas is part of her American Collection series. From another series, Ringgold's Bitter Nest #4: The Letter, which was featured as you walked into this gallery, is also a story quilt set in the 1920s.

 

Conclusion

Glen Gentele:

We gratefully acknowledge the Inasmuch Foundation for its unfailing support as the Presenting Season Sponsor. For the invaluable partnership of leading season sponsors, we offer profound thanks to Allied Arts Foundation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Devon Energy Corporation, Kirkpatrick Foundation, Oklahoma Arts Council, and SandRidge Energy, Inc. For important season sponsorships of Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Company, MidFirst Bank, OGE Corporation, and Quest Resource Corp., we offer our deepest appreciation. For generous assistance in marketing the exhibition, we thank Cox Oklahoma and The Oklahoman. We acknowledge, as well, the Thatcher Hoffman Smith Film Endowment and Sarkeys Foundation and Sonic, America's Drive-In, for their generous support given through arts education endowments. To our exhibition sponsors the National Endowment for the Arts, MetLife Foundation Museum and Community Connections, Oklahoma Humanities Council, GlobalHealth, Capitol Chamber of Commerce, and Willa D. Johnson, we are deeply grateful.

Don't miss the upcoming exhibitions Passport to Paris: Nineteenth-Century French Prints from the Georgia Museum of Art and Julius Shulman: Oklahoma Modernism Rediscovered opening April 30. Thank you for your support of the Museum.

 

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