We round out the Amistad Research Center’s “50 Years/50 Collections” blog series with the Bruce Nugent Collection, which was donated to the Center last year through the estate of Thomas H. Wirth. This blog post not only allows the Center to reflect upon the wonderful relationship that we shared with Tom Wirth, but allows us to share exciting news about the Center’s efforts to preserve and provide access to one of our newest collections.
In October 2014, the Amistad Research Center lost a dear friend, supporter, and collaborator with the passing of Tom. At the time of his passing, Tom was serving as the editor of Amistad’s Countee Cullen Correspondence Online Project, a project for which he had provided leadership and financial support for a number of years. In addition, Tom had been a vocal advocate of the Center, and his wit, charm, and knowledge of the Harlem Renaissance were appreciated by staff, past and present.
Tom was an independent scholar of the Harlem Renaissance, a book collector, and a publisher, who served as a faculty member at historically black colleges, including South Carolina State College, Southern University, and Mary Holmes Junior College during his career. He also taught at Richard Stockton State College in New Jersey, where he became an organizer and founding president of Local 2274 of the American Federation of Teachers. He served for 25 years as the senior staff representative for the consortium of locals that negotiates and administers statewide faculty contracts.
Tom met, and became the heir of, Harlem Renaissance writer and artist Richard Bruce Nugent. Tom and Nugent collaborated to found the Fire!! Press, which published a reproduction of FIRE!!, a landmark Harlem Renaissance publication to which Nugent contributed, as well as books by African-American writers. Tom edited a book of Nugent's work, Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance (Duke, 2002) and his novel, Gentlemen Jigger (De Capo, 2008).
Through his association with Nugent, Tom amassed what was likely the largest single collection of artwork produced by Nugent, which was bequeathed to the Amistad Research Center and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The collection of artwork by Nugent received from the estate of Thomas H. Wirth includes examples of his graphic design work for the NAACP and the House of Marr, a printing house owned by his brother-in-law, Warren Marr II, as well as watercolors, pencil and ink sketches, charcoal drawings, and oil paintings. Themes include portraiture, Classical and Biblical scenes, and works of gay eroticism. Of special note to Amistad is a series of drawings of Harlequin figures that appeared on a series of plates designed by Nugent. Three of those plates are also present in Amistad's fine arts collection.
With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Center is beginning to inventory and digitize the Nugent collection as part of a larger project to finalize the digitization of Amistad’s fine arts collection. Ultimately, this will allow the Center to plan a future exhibition of Nugent’s work.
As we’ve looked back over 50 years of collecting this past year as part of the “50 Years/50 Collections” blog series, we look toward the next 50 years to continue to provide un-paralleled access to the depth and breadth of our wonderful collections.
Images from the Bruce Nugent Collection and Thomas H. Wirth Collection. Images from the Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.