On February 5, 2019, team members, Laura De Becker, Kelly Askew and Traci Lombre, traveled to Atlanta, to begin studying the African art collections at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as other arts institutions in the city. We were not only welcomed warmly by the staff at Spelman College, Clark-Atlanta University, the Hammonds House, Emory University and the High Museum of Art, but greeted with 70-degree temperatures in early February before returning the blustery Michigan winter!
Our trip started with a visit to the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, where its staff was feverishly preparing for two days of artist’s talks connected to its recently installed exhibition of works by artist Amy Sherald. Just a year before, Sherald rose to international prominence when her portrait of the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. Amy Sheard, an alumna of Clark-Atlanta University (CAU), took her painting classes at Spelman. After taking in the amazing works of the Sherald exhibit, we were welcomed by Makeba Dixon-Hill, the Museum’s Curator of Education. She shared valuable information about several works in the gallery, as well as the museum’s commitment to showcasing the art of women of the African diaspora, as an HBCU committed to educating women of African descent, since its founding in 1881.
We walked over to Clark-Atlanta University for a visit with Dr. Maurita Poole, the director of the Clark-Atlanta University Galleries. Right outside of her office, we reveled at the wonderful murals that were painted by the great educator and artist, Hale Woodruff. Hale Woodruff built the Art Department at Atlanta University in the 1930s and 1940s, incorporating African art as part of its curriculum, evident in these murals. In our meeting with Dr. Poole, she offered useful recommendations for our research and a wealth of information about Art education at HBCUs as a collective. Her parting recommendation was for us was to travel across campus to the Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library Archives to review the Countee Cullen/Harold Jackman Collection. Consequently, we ended each day in Atlanta, researching at this archive.
On Thursday we met Dr. Amanda Hellman, Curator for African Art, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. As we entered the gallery, we experienced “DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual, Resistance” an exhibition of works by Dr. Fahamu Pecou, an Emory Alumnus. This deeply engaging exhibit explores the intersections between African-based spiritual traditions and the political and societal violence against black male bodies in the US, as presented in Pecou’s paintings, drawings, fabric and short film, all centered on an Egungun mask designed by the artist. Dr. Hellman graciously guided us through the rest of the African Art gallery where we marveled at an Igbo mask on display, donated in 2015 by former Peace Corps volunteers.
From Emory University, we traveled to the High Museum of Art to meet with Carol Thompson, the Fred and Rita Richman Curator of African Art. She guided us through the display of African art that included ancient pieces,15th century Congolese works and an Epa mask formerly belonging to Civil Rights activist, Bayard Rustin. After leaving the High Museum, we returned to the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art to meet with Anne Collins Smith, Curator of Collections, who graciously found time for us in the midst of one of the museum’s busiest days of the year, with the Sherald talk that evening. Ms. Collins-Smith gave us the history of the Spelman Museum, its collections along with several useful recommendations and contacts for our research, which included making a quick trip to the Spelman College archives.
Graduate Student Researcher