By Deja Trudeaux
Creator: Barthe, Richmond (1901-1989)
Extent: 3.0 Linear Feet
Arrangement: Alphabetical and chronological
Date Acquired: 12/01/1987. More info below under Accruals.
The papers of Richmond Barthe, Harlem Renaissance sculptor, consist of correspondence, contact books, programs, brochures, news and magazine clippings, notes, lists, financial information, poetry, letters, passports, publications, resumes, advertisements, and photographs. The papers have been arranged in three general groups of correspondence, other materials, and photographs.
The correspondence has been arranged into nine divisions alphabetically according to topic and chronologically within each file unit. The first dates from 1951-1988, containing mostly letters, postcards, and news clippings from close associates. Letters to and from committees involve contractual agreements to erect the statues, Richard Allen, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and the equestrian monument of General Dessalines. The majority of the correspondence consists of invitations, greeting cards, and postcards dating 1974-1988. Individual items are a letter and pamphlet, Negro Giants in History, from Inge Hardison, an African American sculptor. An additional portion contains letters and photographs from a close friend, Kitty Spence. Finally a letter, photographs, and a program from the 1930 exhibition at the Women's City Club in Chicago sent from A'Lelia Walker, an African American businesswoman and patron of the arts.
Other materials contains Barthe's collected objects, resumes, passports, and awards. These items are organized alphabetically according to name, topic, or format and chronologically (if applicable) within the file units. These items include contact information (address, contact, and telephone number book NYC years circa 1929), lists (passenger list S.S. Constitution, artworks, financial supporters 1983), a profile of accomplishments, letters from other repositories 1941, cards (business cards and post cards, including Barthe at the naming of Barthe Drive 1986, handmade card by Robert Villegas 1988), Barthe's Living Will, and an audio tape interview of Barthe from 1987. Also included are Barthe's collected creative writings (personal, anonymous poems, Susan Hodge poems, Robert Schlick poems circa 1932, and manuscript of poems by John Bryan), a calendar designed and signed by Geraldine McCullough, information from the Gumby Scrapbook, Barthe's study tools (sketches, photographs, and news clippings), an unfinished canvas painting (included with oversize materials) and sheet music (The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes). Other collected materials include news and magazine clippings, pamphlets, programs, catalogs (1930 show in Chicago, Sculpture by Richmond Barthe, and Manfredi exhibition), articles (Arno Breker), newsletters (National Sculpture Society 1977), and publications. Six passports dated 1951-1974, financial information from 1947 to 1975, the notice of taking deposition of James Garner in the Barthe vs. Bill Cosby case, and resumes circa 1942 are also included with the collection, as well as a diploma from Xavier University and portfolio which is situated with the oversized materials.
The final group in the Barthe collection is photographs, in boxes 3 and 4 arranged in alphabetical order and chronologically within each separate folder. There are photographs and negatives of sculptures (Claude Ardrey, winged phallus sculpture with negative, classical sculpture, contact sheets, medieval statues, professional photographs and negatives of Barthe's sculptures), photographs of people (Mary McLeod Bethune, and the artist’s mother), places (polaroids of studio in Pasadena, Jamaica 1939-1970), events (Passion Play), and study aides (two children in low relief for Haitian coin). In box 6, photographs are separated between color and black and white and generally are organized chronologically. Loose photograph pages from a scrapbook are included with oversize materials.
Richmond Barthe was an African American sculptor known for his public works. Originally from the South, Barthe moved north in pursuit of training as a artist and eventually became associated with the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first African American artists to focus thematically on the lives of African Americans.
Born on January 28, 1901 in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to parents Richmond Barthe and Marie Clementine Roboteau, Barthe's father died at 22 when Barthe was only one-month-old. When Barthe was very young, he developed talent as an artist. When he was twelve years old, his work was exhibited at the Mississippi County fair, where he received a blue ribbon for first prize. In 1915 at the age of 14, a family from New Orleans hired Barthe as a butler and handyman, at which time he quit school and continued drawing in his free time. Lyle Saxon, a literary critic for the New Orleans Times Picayune, recognized his talent and tried to help his artistic development by enrolling him into New Orleans area art schools, but he was denied admission because of his race. Saxon and parish priest Harry Kane were determined to find an art school in the United States where Barthe could expand his talents.
With the aid of the Reverend Kane, and with no high school degree, Barthe was admitted into the Art Institute of Chicago in 1924. Majoring in painting, he paid for his supplies by working as a porter and a busboy. In 1927, Barthe was introduced to sculpting by his anatomy teacher, Charles Schroeder. He exhibited two busts of his classmates in the Negro in Art Week Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, which were later also shown at the Chicago Art League annual exhibition.
After his graduation in 1928, he moved to New York City (1930-1939) and established his first studio in Harlem. During this time, he developed his reputation as a Harlem Renaissance sculptor, although he became impatient with racial discrimination and being called a "race" artist. Harlem was a center for gay life, and Barthe became integrated into this culture, having many gay patrons and subjects. A major theme in his work was the exploration of race and homoeroticism. His early works were mostly of African subjects, such as African Woman and Blackberry Woman, and the theme of homosexuality was made apparent in sculptures of male nudes, such as Feral Benga, and African Man Dancing. He was inspired by Italian Renaissance artists Michelangelo, Pollaiuolo, Ghirlandaio, and Reni. Barthe's first solo exhibitions began in 1934 at the Caz-Delbo Gallery in New York, Grand Rapids Art Gallery in Michigan, and Women's City Art Club in Chicago. His work was also exhibited in numerous group shows at various institutions, such as the Harmon Foundation and New York's World Fair.
In the mid-1930s, Barthe moved from Harlem to midtown Manhattan to move closer to theatrical celebrities. Here, he made portrait busts and also sculpted his largest work, an 8 x 80 ft. frieze for the Harlem River Housing Project. In the 1940s, he received numerous awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1945 was elected to the National Sculpture Society. He also won the Audubon Artists' Gold Medal of Honor, and the James J. Huey Award for interracial injustice. He was a member of the Liturgical Arts Society, New York Clay Club, and the Sculptors' Guild.
In 1949, Barthe purchased a house in Jamaica to escape the violence of the city, but continued to split his time between the small village of Colgate, Jamaica, and New York City. In 1950, he received a commission from the Haitian government to sculpt Toussaint L'Ouverture, which now stands in the front of the palace of Port-au-Prince. In 1964, he received the key to the city of Bay Saint Louis. He left the West Indies because of increasing violence in 1969 and spent five years traveling between Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, finally settling in Pasadena, California to work on his memoirs and create many of his works. Actor James Garner, took an interest in Barthe's work in California, providing him with financial assistance. In 1978, he had a solo exhibition at the William Grant Still Center in Louisiana and was honored by the League of Allied Arts (1981). He died in 1989, and his retrospective was held at the American Art Association in New York in 1990. His work toured around the United States along with that of Richard Hunt in the Landau/Traveling Exhibition, Two Sculptors, Two Eras. His work is found in the Metropolitan and Whitney Museums in NY, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and also the Art Institute of Chicago.
Access Restrictions: None
Use Restrictions: Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.
Physical Access Note: The Barthe hats within the collection cannot be handled at this time.
Acquisition Source: Estate of Richmond Barthe
Acquisition Method: Gift
Appraisal Information: This collection documents the Harlem Renaissance sculptor, Richmond Barthe.
Related Publications: Vendryes, Margaret Rose. Barthe, A Life in Sculpture. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.
Preferred Citation: Richmond Barthe papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA.
Processing Information: Processed from June to August 2009.
Publication: Information for Bearers of Passports, 1951 January 25
Publication: Information on the Marshall Plan for Americans Going Abroad, 1950
Publication: St. Augustine's Seminary "Messenger", 1951 September.
Publication: St. Augustine's Seminary "Messenger", 1949 June-July. (2)
Publication: Travel Guide to Haiti, undated
Publication: Interracial Review 14:7 (1951 July).
Publication: Florence and Tuscany (1951 July - August).
Publication: The Atlanta University Bulletin 1:75 (1951 July).
Publication: Interracial Review 25:1 (1952 January).
Publication: Interracial Review 25:3 (1952 April).
Publication: National Sculpture Review 1:3 (1952 June).