The Amistad Research Center's fine art and African art collections complement its rich archival and printed holdings related to art. Materials from either collection are in most cases available for research. However, individuals interested in viewing art objects for research must contact the Reference Desk at (504) 862-3222 to determine the availability of access to the object. In addition, the Center has a small gallery in which small portions of the collections may be exhibited from time to time.
Fine Arts Collection
Named for Aaron Douglas, the outstanding pioneer of early 20th century African American art and longtime chairman of the art department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, the Aaron Douglas Collection was donated to the Amistad Research Center by the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries (UCBHM). The late 19th century works in the Douglas collection are by Edward M. Bannister and Henry O. Tanner. Amistad also owns works by the mid-19th century African American Louisiana painter, printmaker and photographer Jules Lion. He is credited with introducing the daguerreotype to New Orleans, and was the city’s first professional photographer and co-founder of its earliest art school.
The early 20th century works in the Aaron Douglas Collection represent most of the important post-Harlem Renaissance artists who were active during the first half of the 20th century: Aaron Douglas, Hale Woodruff, William H. Johnson, Malvin Gray Johnson, William E. Scott, Jacob Lawrence, Palmer Hayden, Claude Clark, Ellis Wilson, William Artis, Richmond Barthe, Elizabeth Catlett and Selma Burke. The most celebrated pieces in the Aaron Douglas Collection are Funeral Procession of l940 by Ellis Wilson, which became a familiar image for years in the living room set on The Cosby Show, and the Toussaint L'Ouverture series by Jacob Lawrence. Completed in 1938 when Lawrence was only 21 years old, the 41 paintings depict the role of Toussaint L'Ouverture in the liberation of Haiti from France and are the earliest of Lawrence's famed series. Many scholars consider the Toussaint series to be his most significant.
Amistad's fine arts collection is especially diverse in its holdings of work by living artists, many of whom have focused on African American themes. Doyenne sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, a longtime supporter of the Center, is represented by examples of her work that date back to 1953. The women artists in the collection in particular exemplify the rich array of methods and materials that are the hallmark of postmodern visual culture. Rita Keegan’s work with African textiles and Brookie Maxwell’s exquisite drawing on wallpaper, are sensitive examples of how the African American experience continues to inspire artistic expression in the 21st century.
The number of abstract works has grown since the first few arrived with the original gift from the Board for Homeland Missions of the United Church of Christ. Works by younger artists such as Jeffrey Cook and Ron Bechet later joined important works by Sam Middleton, Keith Morrison, and James Phillips, who are important African American artists who embraced abstraction in the 1960s. New Orleans-born, self-taught painter, Vivian Ellis, who expatriated to Germany over 30 years ago, is represented by several canvases that build on Amistad's folk art holdings, which include works by Clementine Hunter and Jack Baron.
In addition to its visual holdings, the Amistad Research Center is also the repository for the papers of the artists Richmond Barthé, Elizabeth Catlett, Vivan Ellis, William E. Pajaud, John T. Scott, Hale Woodruff and Varnette Honeywood.
From April 10-July 11, 2010, the Amistad Research Center and the New Orleans Museum of Art collaborated on the first major exhibition of the Center's fine arts collection. The exhibition, entitled Beyond the Blues: Reflections of African America in the Fine Arts Collection of the Amistad Research Center presented over 125 years of art by African American artists and about the African American experience. This exhibition of nearly 150 works illuminated the contributions and challenges faced by African American artists from the late 19th century to the present day. The works were been selected from the over 400 paintings, prints, and three-dimensional works of art that comprise the fine arts collection at Amistad. Ranging from the naturalistic vision of the late 19th century through varied 20th century artistic movements to the present day, the works presented in this exhibition reveal narratives of faith, history, society, and culture created by African American artists.
More information abou the exhibition and the educational programming that accompanied it can be found on the Exhibition Website.
African Art Collection
For more information regarding the Center's art collections, please contact the Reference Desk via email at reference @ amistadresearchcenter.org or by calling 504-862-3222.
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