CORNING, N.Y. (December 13, 2017) – Visitors to The Rockwell Museum have just a few more weeks to view The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper, scheduled to close December 31, 2017. This exhibition is one of the largest and most comprehensive traveling exhibitions ever organized featuring works on paper by African American artists from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
See nearly 70 watercolors, prints and drawings by leading African-American artists of the 20th century. Curated from one of the nation’s most celebrated private collections of African-American art, this special exhibition features works by such luminaries as Henry Ossawa Tanner, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, and Jacob Lawrence.
“The Rockwell’s goal is to provoke curiosity, engagement and reflection about art and the American experience. The presentation of this special exhibition is part of our overall strategy to reflect the broad range of experiences, diversity of voices and multitude of perspectives in our community. Ultimately, we want our visitors to see themselves and their experience in the art on view, so we’re pleased to feature The Kelley Collection, which shares such an important aspect of American history and culture,” says Brian Lee Whisenhunt, Executive Director of The Rockwell.
The early 20th century saw an exodus of African-Americans from the rural, agricultural South to the urban, industrial North. This great migration impacted every aspect of American culture. In New York City, it led to a revitalization of music, literature, and art that has been referred to as the Harlem Renaissance. The works in this exhibition chronicle African-American life during this period and trace the lasting impact the artistic contributions of Black Americans of the time have had on American culture.
Included in the exhibition are drawings, etchings, lithographs, watercolors, pastels, acrylics, gouaches, linoleum and color screen prints, depicting cultural identity through images of families, community, loneliness, urban workers, rural farmers, poverty, success, cultural pride, dejection, political commentary and celebration.
Noted artists include Ron Adams, Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers, Eldzier Cortor, and Margaret Burroughs; Philadelphia area artists Allen Freelon, Raymond Seth, Paul Keene, Horace Pippin, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Dox Thrash, and Samuel J. Brown; and living artists Thornton Dial, Allyson Saar, Whitfield Lovell, Sam Middleton, Dean Mitchell, and Ike Morgan.
The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art: Works on Paper was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA. The exhibition is made possible by Corning Incorporated – Office of Global Diversity & Inclusion.
About the Collectors: Harmon and Harriet Kelley
Harmon and Harriet Kelley will certainly be listed in the annals of American art as the collectors who accomplished the unprecedented feat of accumulating one of the largest, most impressive, and most comprehensive private collections of African American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The majority of their works were collected during a mere decade, beginning in 1987. It should be noted that by this time works by acclaimed African American artists had become scarce in the art market. They were prohibitively expensive to purchase, were avidly sought by mainstream museums compensating for a century of neglect, were pursued by longtime private collectors seeking to expand their holdings, and by private donors wanting to gift major works to favorite institutions. In spite of those serious obstacles, the Kelleys were able to acquire art by all of the leading artists of the 19th century including Joshua Johnston. Johnston was the earliest documented professional African American artist, active in Baltimore during the early 19th century. Other landmark acquisitions followed including a bust by Edmonia Lewis, the first female sculptor and first African American sculptor to work in Rome during the late 19th century. The two most important African American landscape painters of the 19th century are both represented in the Kelley Collection, Robert S. Duncanson and Edward M. Bannister. Present also is Charles Ethan Porter, the master of fruit and floral still-life paintings whose talents rival those of the Old Masters in Europe. The Kelley Collection also includes the work of Grafton Tyler Brown, who is the earliest documented professional artist working on the West Coast.
The Kelleys were successful in acquiring paintings and works on paper by two of the most celebrated African American artists, Henry 0ssawa Tanner and Horace Pippin. That in itself was a near impossible task. Dr. Harmon Kelley is a San Antonio obstetrician-gynecologist, and his insightful wife Harriet is a college-trained biologist. They were inspired to begin collecting after viewing an exhibition of African American art at the San Antonio Museum of Art where they did not recognize any of the artists' names. Feeling a sense of cultural isolation, they vowed to educate themselves about this unknown-to-them aspect of their heritage. They also wanted to insure that their two young daughters would become aware of the artistic achievements of African Americans. The Kelleys could not have imagined initially that their budding art collection would become the fabric of any museum's dreams, that it would overflow their three-story home, or travel to major venues in the United States and abroad. In spite of their Herculean accomplishments, the Kelleys remain unimposing, unpretentious, and even somewhat shy, as if unaware of and unaffected by their collecting acumen. They are generous with information about their collection and enthusiastic about sharing it with the public. Their younger daughter is a Spelman College-trained art historian who serves as curator of the collection, and she will advance this remarkable legacy to the next generation and beyond.
Regenia A. Perry, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita of African and African American Art
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
The Rockwell Museum is open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed New Years’ Day, Thanksgiving Day, December 24 and December 25. Kids/teens 17 and under are always free.
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