We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s

Page 1







September 26, 2015–January 24, 2016



Foreword 5 Introduction 8


Helen M. Shannon, Ron Tarver, A. M. Weaver, and Jean Woodley 28 James Brantley 50 Moe Brooker and Cheryl McClenney-Brooker 60 Barbara Bullock 78 Donald E. Camp 90 Kimberly Camp and Nashormeh Lindo 100 Allan Edmunds 114 Family of Allan R. Freelon, Sr. 126 Charles Jay 140 Martina Johnson-Allen 146 Time Womb, 1970, by Barbara Chase-Riboud (Collection of Dr. and Mrs. William Wolgin)

Woodmere extends sincere thanks and appreciation to the William Penn Foundation, Dr. Dorothy J. del Bueno, an anonymous donor, and the William M. King Charitable Foundation for their generous support of the catalogue and exhibition. 2


Laura Mitchell Keene and Lewis Tanner Moore 158 Phil Sumpter 166 Richard J. Watson and Gail D. Montgomery-Watson 174 Sande Webster 192

Works in the Exhibition 198 Index 228

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


FOREWORD Whenever I am asked how I became involved in

conversations among black artists in Philadelphia

the arts, I describe my upbringing. I was lucky to

and others who live and work in Pittsburgh, New

be born into a family of artists: my mother is a

York, and elsewhere. We Speak pursues the further

painter, my father is a writer. When they divorced in

opportunity to investigate the internal dynamic of

my teen years, each of my parents pursued other

relationships between Philadelphia’s black artists

long-term relationships with partners who were

and this city’s culture and history.

also artists, and were black. It was thus, coming into adulthood as a member of two multiracial families, that I became aware of the daily gnaws of racism in ways that I hadn’t been aware of before. With my emerging interest in a career in the arts, I also learned about the ubiquity of negative stereotypes of race within the white art establishment.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ The Chemistry of Color: The Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary African-American Art (2011). These two exhibitions celebrated the extraordinary wealth

exhibitions like the Hammer Museum’s Now Dig

collections, and we are honored by generous loans

This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980 (2011–

from both museums.

explorations of race and art focused on specific historic contexts and timeframes. We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s covers a broader timeframe than these exhibitions. It seeks to be a platform for further exploration and an overview of the historical connections between art, community, and cultural institutions in Philadelphia. Woodmere also feels the urgency to contribute to the dialogue on race in our city and across our nation, and to prompt hard questions to be explored and felt.


of African American Art (2014) and by the

of art by black artists in our sister institutions’

Civil Rights in the Sixties (2014). These historical


of Art’s recent exhibition Represent: 200 Years

It has been inspiring, in recent years, to see

12) or the Brooklyn Museum’s Witness: Art and

Cataclysm, Rebirth New World, 1968, by Roland Ayers (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015)

We are also inspired by the Philadelphia Museum

To give an example of how this exhibition evolved, we were unaware of the work of Roland Ayers (1932–2014) until he was brought to our attention by his friend and colleague Allan Edmunds and his one-time neighbor Nancy Goldenberg. His work was a revelation, and we are thrilled not only to include his Cataclysm, Rebirth New World (1968) in the exhibition, but also to have acquired it for Woodmere’s collection. Ayers, who had a background in graphic design, was a great storyteller and an artist who possessed a special finesse with line. Cataclysm, Rebirth New World

Upon arriving as Woodmere’s director in 2010, I

is an epic work and while it seems embedded in

was pleased to learn that one of the best-attended

the historic moment of the late 1960s because

exhibitions in the history of the Museum was the

of a certain stylized look that recalls Yellow

recent In Search of Missing Masters: The Lewis

Submarine, it also represents a historical and visual

Tanner Moore Collection of African American Art

epic that connects past and present. The boatlike

(2008). The show brought to the surface Moore’s

form that carries Ayers’s assembly of figures is a

particular perspective as a collector, as well as

reference to the slave ships that brought Africans WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


to America by force—the cataclysm. The boat is

Woodmere is grateful to Helen M. Shannon,

and Sande Webster. Your words and thoughts were

for Collections and Registrar Sally Larson. We

also a house of sorts, and the figures seem more

Ron Tarver, A. M. Weaver, and Jean Woodley

instrumental in defining every aspect of We Speak.

responded to suggestions and advice, followed

contemporary than historical, for this is a statement

for participating in the roundtable discussion

about the current day. Ayers’s accomplishments

that ties together the thirteen oral histories that

are impressive; for example, he had a one-person

are transcribed in these pages. Allan Edmunds,

exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1973

president of the Brandywine Workshop and

and was an important collaborator and supporter

Archives, also contributed his knowledge to help

of his fellow artists. Moreover, my affinity for his

shape the exhibition. He recorded one of the

work was doubled when I learned from his widow,

catalogue’s oral histories, describing the network

Sheila Whitelaw, that he was not only fond of

of relationships that sustained him as an artist

visiting Woodmere, but also had worked for the

and helped create the Brandywine Workshop

Free Library of Philadelphia and had been among

and Archives. My friend and colleague Cheryl

the staff members who established the Library’s

McClenney-Brooker and her husband, artist Moe

bookstore on North 20th Street. It was clear that

Brooker, were part of many ongoing conversations

Ayers contributed meaningfully to the civic fabric

and provided crucial encouragement throughout

of Philadelphia, and that his work remains relevant

the development of the project. I am also thankful

to the questions we care about today. Our goal

to Kimberly Camp, former president and CEO

with We Speak is to offer a context for Ayers’s work

of the Barnes Foundation, who engaged with

and that of many other artists, with the intent of

me and our curatorial team as both an artist and

numerous exhibitions to follow.

as an institutional leader, giving generously of

Woodmere extends great appreciation to many individuals who contributed to the exhibition and its catalogue. First and foremost, we are grateful to the artists themselves and to the surviving

her thoughts, especially with regard to women artists and to the importance of artists who were not embraced by galleries and the cultural establishment.

spouses, children, and grandchildren who have

As I mentioned above, thirteen oral histories appear

shared their stories and have generously provided

in these pages. These represent the voices of

us with information. In addition, George Beach,

individuals who lived through and were directly

Robert W. Bogle, Gloria Chisum, Evelyn F. Smalls,

touched by the history that we wish to share. In

and Lewis Tanner Moore helped us by giving advice

addition to expressing additional thanks to Moe

in informal meetings, not only about content, but

Brooker, Cheryl McClenney-Brooker, Kimberly Camp,

also about audience building, marketing, and further

and Allan Edmunds for recording these histories,

relationships with individuals whose thoughts would

I offer my deepest thanks to James Brantley,

contribute to the strength of the exhibition. It was

Barbara Bullock, Donald E. Camp, Randall Freelon

also invaluable to me and to other members of

Vega, Phil Freelon, Nnenna Freelon, Maya Freelon

Woodmere’s staff to participate in the programs

Asante, Nashormeh Lindo, Charles Jay, Martina

of Louis Massiah and Scribe Video as we worked

Johnson-Allen, Laura Mitchell Keene, Phil Sumpter,

through the storyline of the exhibition.

Richard J. Watson, Gail D. Montgomery-Watson,



It was heartening to have the support of Woodmere’s sister museums in Philadelphia in the form of intellectual contributions and generous loans, and so we thank the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, the Chester County Historical Society,

leads, and made the exhibition a concrete reality. Hildy Tow, The Robert McNeil, Jr. Curator of Education, and Sarah Mitchell, Associate Curator of Education, have organized an interpretive program, collaborating with an array of artists, writers, and scholars to explore further and deepen our visitors’ experiences.

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the Free

Finally, Woodmere expresses gratitude to our

Library of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of

funders, who demonstrated faith in the Museum’s

Pennsylvania, the La Salle University Art Museum,

ability to organize an exhibition of substantially

the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the

larger scope than most others in the history of the

Philadelphia Museum of Art. We are also grateful for

institution. We thank the William Penn Foundation,

generous loans from the National Portrait Gallery,

Dr. Dorothy J. del Bueno, an anonymous donor,

Danforth Art, the Schomburg Center for Research

and the William M. King Charitable Foundation

in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, and

for their support. Our funding partners share

from many artists, private collectors, and galleries,

our commitments and dreams, and we deeply

including the David David Gallery, the Hill Family,

appreciate their generosity. Thank you all.

Sherry L. Howard, Jim’s of Lambertville, Gail D. Montgomery-Watson, Alice Oh, Matilda Petty, Kevin Pugh, Lewis Tanner Moore, and Dr. William Wolgin.


The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO

The process of organizing the exhibition has been one of great discovery. It was my privilege to work with guest curator Susanna W. Gold, PhD, and members of Woodmere’s curatorial team, including Assistant Curator Rachel McCay, Deputy Director for Exhibitions Rick Ortwein, and Deputy Director

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



We Speak: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s

artists to have a voice, or acted as obstacles to their

emerges from Woodmere Art Museum’s interest

professional growth. What we found was a story of

in making fresh connections among the many

Philadelphia’s art communities that extended much

works in its collection created by artists of African

more deeply and broadly than we had anticipated,

descent. Though Woodmere has exhibited these

woven from network upon network of artists and

works in a number of different contexts in the past,

their colleagues, mentors, protégés, champions,

the Museum had yet to consider them in terms of

and audiences. We discovered that these

the artists’ social and professional experiences in

relationships, both personal and professional,

Philadelphia, and the effects of these experiences

helped to create the conditions necessary for

on the development of their careers. With a history

artists to thrive in the many pockets of the city’s

of institutional commitment to art and artists

art scene regardless of institutional affiliation or

stretching back to the days of Charles Willson

commercial success, and to produce bodies of work

Peale in the late eighteenth century, this city has

that express the diverse experiences and common

long been considered a stronghold for traditional

passions behind their creativity.

art schools and significant museum collections.


We heard over and over again in the course of organizing this exhibition that while Philadelphia’s contemporary academies and exhibiting institutions continue to enjoy stellar reputations, the scope of support for artists who live and work here remains uneven. At the same time, the commercial gallery scene has not enjoyed as robust a presence throughout Philadelphia’s history, limiting opportunities for artists to secure patronage and build lucrative careers at home. Even so, and given the commercial and organizational structures that have existed, compounding this challenge is the glaring imbalance of support for non-white and non-male artists—in the marketplace, academies, and museums—compelling those without access to cultural privilege to seek out or create alternative systems of support for their careers and activities. With this exhibition, Woodmere set out to determine the degree to which these kinds of organizations either provided a platform for black



The exhibition’s title, We Speak, reflects Woodmere’s approach to the art and artists represented. Much of what we learned came

Deer Season, 1940, by Ida Jones (Chester County Historical Society: Gift of Mrs. Roberta Townsend)

directly from the artists themselves, their families, and art professionals in a series of recorded conversations with Woodmere’s curatorial

next generation to do the same. Nor had we fully

better understand the work of women artists who

team. It was this dialogue that determined the

understood the essential professional development

were active in the earlier decades of the twentieth

exhibition’s direction as well as which artists and

opportunities that the National Conference of

century, such as Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Laura

objects are included. As we investigated a broad

Artists (NCA) offered its members. As more

Wheeler Waring, and Selma Burke.

range of academic, professional, commercial,

and more of our exhibition’s participants noted

cultural, and exhibiting organizations, we came

the significance of educational and community

to expand our understanding of how and why

programs to their own development, artists such

art communities were built, and were introduced

as Samuel J. Brown, Charles Pridgen, John T.

to many more artists who were integral to

Harris, Louise Clement-Hoff, Barbara Bullock, and

Philadelphia’s art world. For instance, we had not

many others emerged as extraordinary mentors.

realized the importance of the School District

Acknowledging that Clement-Hoff and Bullock were

of Philadelphia as a collecting and exhibiting

doubly challenged for recognition because of their

institution, a community programming leader, and

gender, we consciously sought to include other

an organization that provided the security and

women artists, becoming acquainted in the process

freedom for administrators and teachers to pursue

with the work of Laura Williams Chassot, Reba

their own professional ambitions and nurture the

Dickerson-Hill, and Ida Jones. We also sought to

Our exhibition opens in the post–World War I era of the 1920s, just following the upheavals of global political and military conflict, and at the dawn of a new modern age in the United States. For black Americans in particular, the 1920s is also a watershed moment identified with the social revolution of the New Negro Movement. An important objective of the New Negro Movement was to reestablish the arts—musical, literary, and visual—as a crucial element of black life that would generate meaningful contributions to American

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


culture. Propelling this flourishing of creativity,

assertively promoted racial pride, self-respect, and

Alain Locke, a native Philadelphian and one of the

a cultural renaissance within black communities.

movement’s major intellectual figures, issued a

Combatting a history of social inequity with a

call to black visual artists to look directly to their

positivist spirit of self-determination, Fuller’s

African heritage to find inspiration for their work.

sculpture describes the liberating force that

In his essay “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,”

propelled the New Negro Movement, and sets

Locke described how, despite a history of social

the stage for Woodmere’s exploration of how art

persecution in the United States, “the Negro is not

communities in Philadelphia provided the milieu in

an abandoned child without his own inheritance,”

which black artists built their careers.

and encouraged artists to recognize that classical African art provided a significant aesthetic and creative wellspring. Locke did not suggest that contemporary artists imitate or emulate traditional African styles and expressions, but, rather, he envisioned the development of “a local and racially representative tradition”—what he described as a “school of Negro art”—unified by the artists’ common artistic legacy and life experiences, but distinct in its contemporary methods.2

There is a dynamic within Locke’s argument that poses black identity in the modern age as an enterprise of active, deliberate construction, looking inward at what it means to be and feel black and interrogating where those meanings and feelings come from, on the one hand, and also looking outward at a vision of progressive social ideals. This dynamic remains deeply resonant throughout the many decades under our investigation. Locke is particularly important in Philadelphia, and not only

Ethiopia Awakening (c. 1914–21) by Meta Vaux

because he was born and raised in this city. Artists

Warrick Fuller, who had attended the Pennsylvania

in Philadelphia such as Allan R. Freelon, Sr. were

Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the

directly engaged with the New Negro Movement

University of the Arts) and whose sculpting career

as artist-illustrators in the 1920s, providing the

was nurtured in accomplished Philadelphia art

imagery that brought Locke’s ideas into the visual

circles, readily embodies the ideas that Locke

realm. Aaron Douglas, whose bold, Africa-inspired

and other figures of the New Negro Movement

illustrations graced the pages of many of the literary

promoted in their writings. In Fuller’s sculpture,

productions, political texts, and cultural magazines

we see a figure identifiable as African, both in

that surged during the New Negro Movement,

the sculpture’s title and in the figure’s traditional

furthered his connection to both African and

Egyptian pharaonic head covering and body

modern masters by studying the collections of the

wrappings evocative of both papyrus plants

Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia from 1928 to 1929.

and mummification practices. She is not to be understood specifically as an African figure, however, because her “awakening” references the contemporary ideas about the New Negro— that generation of educated, politically involved Americans of African descent who actively lobbied not only for social and political rights, but also 10


Dr. Albert C. Barnes, mastermind and architect of the Barnes Foundation’s educational program, not only offered opportunities for artists to study directly from the works, but also contributed his perspective on the strengths of African and African American art in Locke’s 1925 compilation, The New

Maquette for Ethiopia Awakening, c. 1914, by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (Danforth Art: Gift of the Meta V. W. Fuller Trust, 2006) Photograph courtesy of Danforth Art

Ethiopia Awakening, c. 1914–21, by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations) Photograph courtesy of Schomburg Center, New York Public Library/Art Resource, NY

Negro.3 This important text became a point of WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Marian Anderson II, 1940, by Horace Pippin (Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)

Illustration for Georgia Douglas Johnson’s The Black Runner, by Allan R. Freelon, Sr. Published in the Carolina Magazine (University of North Carolina), May 1928, vol. 58, no. 7

Cover illustration for Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker the Berry, c. 1929, by Aaron Douglas, New York: Macaulay Co., 1929

debate among intellectuals, including W.E.B. Du

in particular, is mentioned repeatedly by the

context (c. 1954; ill. p. 14). With her eyes closed

Bois, whose early political advocacy provided some

participants in the conversations transcribed in

and lips shaped to create sound, Anderson is

of the material that engendered Locke’s own ideas,

this catalogue as a pivotal figure in Philadelphia’s

completely immersed in her art.

and whom Laura Wheeler Waring commemorates

art scene. Two paintings of Anderson are on view

in the portrait of Du Bois (before 1948) that

in the exhibition. Horace Pippin made his portrait

Woodmere includes in We Speak. Waring, a 1914

of Anderson (1940) on the heels of the singer’s

graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine

history-making concert at the Lincoln Memorial

Arts (PAFA) who studied with William Merritt Chase

in 1939, which is considered a milestone in the

and Thomas Anshutz, headed the art and music

progress of civil rights. The Daughters of the

departments at the Cheyney Training School for

American Revolution (DAR) denied Anderson the

Teachers (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania),

right to perform at Constitution Hall because of her

and taught there for over thirty years.

race; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from

Philadelphia was also home at different points to two great figures in the performing arts, Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson, who, on both national and international stages, seemed to have embodied everything powerfully progressive (though in different ways) in Locke’s conception. Anderson,



the DAR in protest, and arranged for Anderson to sing instead at an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The portrait’s oval shape suggests the formality of traditional portraiture and Anderson’s honored place in history. Pippin also captures her famous smile. Howard Watson firmly embeds the Philadelphia-born singer in her native urban

Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library

In our consideration of the three decades that followed the eventful 1920s, we found the professional careers of black artists to be linked to a number of other organized programs and institutions. Our exhibition considers, for example, the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Fine Print Workshop, a federally sponsored program developed in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression, which aimed to rebuild the American economy by providing professional opportunities for experimentation and artistic growth in printmaking methods such as lithography, relief prints, and intaglio. The Philadelphia workshop was unique among the WPA’s graphics programs in that it was the only

Above: Eleanor Roosevelt (left) and Marian Anderson (right) at the Pyramid Club, 1940s (detail). Anderson was the first African American singer to perform at the White House and the first African American to sing with New York’s Metropolitan Opera (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley; Below: W.E.B. Du Bois, before 1948, by Laura Wheeler Waring (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution: Gift of Walter Waring in memory of his wife, Laura Wheeler Waring, through the Harmon Foundation) Photograph courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/Art Resource, NY

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


one to focus specifically on fine printmaking, a

Philadelphians to follow in the footsteps of these

distinction that accentuated the illustrious tradition

early leaders with their participation in the WPA

of graphic art that Philadelphia has maintained

program of the 1930s were Raymond Steth, Claude

since the colonial period. Notable black contributors

C. F. Clark, Samuel J. Brown, and Dox Thrash, to

to this tradition include silhouette artist Moses

whom the discovery of the popular carborundum

Williams, “cutter of profiles,” in the early nineteenth

mezzotint technique is attributed.4

century, and painter and fine printmaker Henry Ossawa Tanner in the late nineteenth century. Tanner, a student of Philadelphia’s great realist painter Thomas Eakins, was a broadly inspirational figure to many of the artists in the exhibition. His Study for Christ demonstrates an unflinchingly physical approach to representing the more usually idealized body of Christ. Among those black

Though the WPA was not solely intended to support African American artists, it welcomed black participants in a cultural environment where such welcome was not always generously extended. In the course of our conversations, we often asked about the circumstances that made this openness possible. It was suggested that radically

Manda, date unknown, by Dox Thrash (Historical Society of Pennsylvania: WPA Art Program) Marian Anderson, c. 1954, by Howard Watson (Collection of Lewis Tanner Moore) Photograph by Joe Painter



Study for Christ, 1900, by Henry Ossawa Tanner (Art & Artifacts Division,Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations) Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


progressive, German-born artist and printmaker

of the mainstream art world, the black community

dedicated supporter and anchor figure for black

Julius Bloch, a leading figure and instructor at

in Philadelphia was burdened with creating its

artists. She maintained an informal loan program,

PAFA, was instrumental in opening doors and

own institutions to serve its artists. Among these,

providing support for food and rent, recorded on

confronting the prejudice he encountered in his

we found self-training as a strategy to be present

a single sheet of paper she kept in the top drawer

white peers. Also, black artists were embraced

throughout the period of our investigation, from

of her desk. Both Ashton and Bloch participated

to a degree by Albert Barnes, who, in addition to

Horace Pippin onward, though the forms of

in exhibitions at the Pyramid Club. The positive

Douglas, invited Clark, Freelon, Pippin, and others

nonacademic training chosen by the artists are

momentum at Tyler was slower, but it nevertheless

to study freely the modern and African works in

varied. Septuagenarian Ida Jones’s late-in-life entry

resulted in several appointments over the following

the Barnes Foundation’s collection. As described

into artistic creation, and Charles Jay’s choice to

decade, including John L. Wade, Sr. in 1968 and

in our conversation with Kimberly Camp in these

sever ties with the academy, represent different

John E. Dowell, Jr., whom Allan Edmunds described

pages, Barnes maintained an unprecedented level of

avenues through which to succeed without

as “the most important African American professor”

support for African Americans among Philadelphia’s

depending on traditional modes of instruction.

for him as a Tyler graduate student in 1971.

white cultural leaders, assertively promoting his

For black artists in particular, there is a nuanced

conception that African Americans were endowed

meaning in the act of self-training that emerges

with unique creative inspirations, in full “possession

under circumstances where traditional institutions

of a power to create out of his own soul and our

have for so long been inaccessible.

own America, moving beauty of an individual

Given the late start and slow pace of incorporating black teaching voices into the schools, we see instead a strong presence of community-based art programs designed to engage and instruct

Though Cheyney University of Pennsylvania offered

Philadelphians on all levels. The Model Cities

art direction to black students under the leadership

Program, a national initiative in operation from

But in response to pervasive discrimination that

of Laura Wheeler Waring and then John T. Harris,

1967 to 1976 designed to provide new life to

black Americans otherwise consistently faced,

Philadelphia’s educational institutions—with a few

urban communities, supported area community

there emerged from within the black community

significant exceptions—did not begin to open up

centers that joined Fleisher Art Memorial and

social clubs such as the Pyramid Club, active from

to faculty and students with diverse backgrounds

Philadelphia’s other settlement houses to create a

1937 to 1963, which provided opportunities for

until well after the mid-twentieth century. Once

number of cultural arts initiatives. The Ile Ife Black

professional advancement. With great support from

PAFA, the Philadelphia College of the Arts (now

Humanitarian Center, the Wharton Centre, and

political leader and cultural impresario Samuel L.

the University of the Arts), and Temple University’s

the Green Street Workshop are among the area

Evans, the Pyramid Club was designed to serve

Tyler School of Art began serving black students

the business and political interests of its members,

with greater consistency, episodes of disrespect

but it also supported an annual exhibition program

and mistreatment were commonplace at these

to combat the limited exposure of black artists.

predominantly white institutions. Instances of

Our conversation with Phil Sumpter, the club’s

racism, ranging from searing to subtle, lurk in

second and final art director, helped us understand

the recollections of many of our artists. Some

how alluring an environment this was for so many

endured insults from colleagues and experienced

artists, not only with its splendor, but also as a place

condescension from professors, which created

of convergence that drew together a variety of

a sense of isolation among students. Others lost

artists who might not otherwise have encountered

teaching and exhibition opportunities, which

one another. Most commercial galleries were not

threatened their careers in the academy. Defining

available to black artists during this time, nor did

moments in this shift to a more welcoming culture

many museums exhibit their work. All but shut out

in Philadelphia’s traditional art schools emerge with

character whose existence we never knew.”5



Sugar Ray Robinson, c. 1940s, by John T. Harris (Muriel Feelings Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

community organizations that provided guidance and inspiration to children, teens, and adults. Some of these organizations were supported by outreach programs such as Prints in Progress, managed by

the appointments of the black faculty members who reached out to become significant mentors, among them Paul F. Keene, Jr. at the University of the Arts in 1954, and Louis Sloan at PAFA in 1963. In terms of white “allies” in the academy, in addition to Julius Bloch, who had supported Sloan’s appointment, Ethel Ashton, painter, librarian, and administrator at PAFA from 1943 to 1957, was a

the Philadelphia Print Club, and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, created to support established artists and teachers. In response to the still-limited access to traditional exhibition venues in Philadelphia, many of these programs also selforganized public art shows, as did the NCA and other independent associations of artists. Under the leadership of Allan Edmunds, for example, Philadelphia’s artists made an impressive showing at WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


the Second World Black and African Festival of Art

tension-fraught nation sought to make sense of the

and Culture held at the University of Pennsylvania’s

new definitions of what it meant to be an American,

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in 1975.

the Bicentennial offered an opportunity to reinforce

After this experience, and with the relationships he

a commitment to the nation’s founding ideals.

had developed in the process, Edmunds went on

Though the city of Philadelphia, the birthplace of

to establish the unique and enduring Brandywine

American liberty, was in many ways preoccupied

Workshop and Archives, which provided equipment,

with plans for a national celebration, we learned

workspace, studio assistance, professional exposure,

that the idea of honoring two hundred years of

and camaraderie to printmakers of all ethnicities

freedom and equality rang rather hollow for many

and backgrounds.

black Americans, whose stake and interests were not considered in the planning process. As a result,

Some of the same ideas that initiate our investigation in the 1920s with regard to black identity and the ability of the arts to express the emotions of the present and aspiration for the future resurface in the Bicentennial era the 1970s, a stocktaking moment when the American ideals of liberty and equality were being reconsidered in a contemporary context. After the struggles and gains of the civil rights movement, when the

“Model Cities Summer & Winter Recreation Program” poster, c. 1970, by Roland Ayers (Collection of Sheila Whitelaw Ayers) Fannie Jackson Coppin, date unknown, by Laura Wheeler Waring (Cheyney University of Pennsylvania)



Mayor Frank Rizzo’s administration scrambled to create a place for the black community in the city’s nationally televised Bicentennial festivities, which led ultimately to the founding of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (AAHCM, now the African American Museum in Philadelphia). A controversial decision, the establishment of the AAHCM was thought by some to fill an important

The Ile Ife drill team warms up with a formation prior to the parade in North Philadelphia, August 30, 1976. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Jack Tinney

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


gap, but others saw it as an afterthought that was

by the white world, an avenue explored by Paul F.

created with financial means insufficient to sustain

Keene, Jr., Moe Brooker, Benjamin Britt, Charles Jay,

its mission. In addition, it was an insult to many that

James Dupree, and Laura Williams Chassot, among

plans to build the museum at Sixth and Pine Streets

others. Though Brooker embraces abstraction, Britt

were halted by residents of the affluent Society Hill

glides easily between it and representation, and Jay

neighborhood, who anticipated that the museum’s

at times challenges himself to work in this tradition,

crowd of visitors would be a nuisance, resulting in

all three demonstrate the relevance of abstraction

the autocratic decision to relocate the museum to a

to their practice as black artists.

less desirable location at Seventh and Arch Streets. This and the many other challenges that the 1970s brought to Philadelphia’s black artists were carefully outlined by Kim Sajet in PAFA’s 2005 publication The Chemistry of Color: African-American Artists in Philadelphia, 1970–1990.6 Because We Speak shares this one turbulent decade with PAFA’s project, a number of the issues that Sajet addressed have informed our own consideration of the five decades prior.

Reactions to Driskell’s ideas by those interviewed for We Speak varied widely: some artists eschewed race and heritage as organizing features in their work, while others found comfort and release in intrinsic cross-global and cross-generational connections, and still others dismissed the value of these questions. Ile Ife, led from 1969 to 1988 by choreographer and dancer Arthur Hall, was maintaining links to cultural traditions of Africa. The Ile Ife studios became a beacon for artists such as

and ’70s, Alain Locke might not have been

Nigerian artist Twins Seven Seven, and those who

mentioned by name, but the dynamic questions

found an affinity between his native traditions and

he articulated about identity remained a driving

their own Africa-inspired artistic practice, such

factor in many artists’ work. David Driskell’s essay

as Charles Searles and Barbara Bullock. The very

in the catalogue accompanying the Los Angeles

range of perspectives on the relationship of the

County Museum of Art’s 1976 traveling exhibition

aesthetic and the social suggests that the issues

Two Centuries of Black American Art came up

Driskell raises introduce much bigger, deeper, and

many times in our conversations with artists as in

more historically wrought concerns about the

some ways reframing Locke’s ideas. Describing a

responsibilities of art and artists, and our society’s

“black aesthetic” that prioritizes the exploration of

expectations of them.

African or African American elements, Driskell saw a strategy for black artists to free themselves from the white establishment’s guilt-ridden prejudice that black artists should or must occupy themselves with expressing struggle and the social experience of subjugation in their work.7 Questions emerge from Driskell’s essay about whether or not a black abstractionist could be understood and accepted 20


Untitled (Boxer), 1963, by Charles Searles (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2012)

commercial gallerist beginning in the mid-1960s,

It has been our challenge, as the organizers of this

with her successes reaching new heights in the

exhibition, to merge intellectual articulations and

1980s. It is then that we see the emergence of

social content with the visual language of actual

many new artists in force, and great gains made in

works of art. We propose that a broad, unifying

their careers. We close our investigation just at this

factor across this exhibition is the question of

moment when the doors are beginning to open

identity, and that artists, engaged in the sensual-

wider for black artists in Philadelphia. Reagan-

based vocabularies of form, line, color, and

era politics ushered in a new set of variables that

iconography have located this question of identity

took the concerns addressed in We Speak in a

in the representation of the black body. Perhaps

number of divergent directions, and the entry

because historically the artists who achieved

of postmodernism in the 1980s introduced new

visibility were more often men, we find this most

founded on the ideals of exploring heritage and

When we came to artists working in the 1960s

formal properties that might (or might not) include

Untitled (Male Model, Seated), early 1930s, by Dox Thrash (Free Library of Philadelphia: Print and Picture Collection)

understandings of the integration of art and broader

frequently in the representation of black men,

Artists working in this period were unable to enjoy

social forces, significantly changing the dynamic of

presented in complex and varied attitudes of

the expanded professional opportunities that

the arts. We recognize that the artists who found

strength, beauty, passion, and vulnerability. Donald

accompanied the broadening of area institutional

their voices on the edges of our period of inquiry

E. Camp, in our conversation with him, describes

collections and exhibition programs that began to

deserve their own stage, and Woodmere anticipates

the power of the white media to use the visual

arrive in the late 1970s and ’80s under bold, fresh

telling their rich stories in future exhibitions.

image of the black male body to ascribe a negative

leadership. Sande Webster distinguished herself

social value to a community, a realization that he

for promoting the work of many black artists

first made in childhood. For Camp, the act of self-

over the course of her four-decade career as a

representation—depicting the faces and bodies

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


of the black men he knows and loves— works to

the artist states in our conversation with her, the

combat this kind of dangerous imagery. Just as

representation is that of a female self who, as an

Harris’s Sugar Ray Robinson (c. 1940s; ill. p. 17) is

extension of self-love, cradles and protects her male

the embodiment of physical, mental, and emotional

counterpart. Similarly, the broad feet, energized

strength, the black male body has been a consistent

hands, and heavily muscled legs and arms of Louise

locus of self-definition and personal agency, from

Clement-Hoff’s Josie—Seated Woman (1970s; ill.

the bold, powerful nude in Claude C. F. Clark’s A

p. 29) enact power and monumentality, as does

Dreamer (1938), who cannot be contained by the

the female figure in Reba Dickerson-Hill’s Samburu

board on which it is painted, to Dox Thrash’s silently

(1976; ill. p. 24) and the mother-figure in Martina

tensed seated figure, to Paul F. Keene, Jr.’s clashing

Johnson-Allen’s Together (1976; ill. p. 149). Here,

aggressors of Bar Room Brawl (1939; ill. p. 214), to

it is worth mentioning that as organizers of the

Charles Searles’s exhausted but unbroken Untitled

exhibition, we did not set out to select works of

(Boxer) (1963; ill. p. 21), and to James Brantley’s and

art that would make this point about the centrality

Barkley Hendricks’s coolly self-confident bosses

of the body and its strength and vulnerability.

painted on a monumental scale during the era of

However, in many cases the selections were made

Black Power.8

because the artists themselves guided us to work

Though it is specifically the image of the male body that has been culturally codified into the public image of blackness and continues to be targeted

Our thoughts on this matter of the body are much shaped by the urgently important dialogue

complex and fraught history of objectification and

about race in the United States being defined at

violence. Just as the artists in We Speak reclaim

this moment by the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

the male figure as a potent symbol of self-value,

Honest, personal, raw, and vivid, Coates’s insightful

the female body is similarly treated as a space

appraisal of the conditions of the thoroughly

for asserting strength. Where Fuller illustrates a

racialized contemporary American society locates

self-generated rebirth to a newly created regal

the black body at the center of historical and

identity with Ethiopia Awakening (1914–21; ill. p. 11),

contemporary methods to cement the domination

Barbara Chase-Riboud reinvents the female body

of one group at the assured suffering of the other:

abstraction that recalls hair, head, body adornment, and gestation in Time Womb (1970; ill. p. 2). She retains the implications of power in the work’s monumentality, elegance of materials, and simplicity of form. The explosively dynamic intertwined bodies that surge through space in Barbara Bullock’s Dark Gods (1982; ill. p. 82) are so muscular and warrior-


moment in time.

the black female body hasn’t endured a similarly

and the power of regeneration in the language of


context of an exhibition taking place at this

in today’s society, this in no way suggests that


A Dreamer, 1938, by Claude C. F. Clark (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2013)

that they felt best represented their voice in the

like as to seem like two male figures. However, as

. . . the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body. And should one live in such a body? What should be our aim beyond meager survival of constant, generational, ongoing battery and assault? I have asked this question all my life.10

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


the US dollar, an ironic juxtaposition of a symbol of American economic prosperity, evoking the pairing of greed and ignorance. A powerful overturning of the centuries-old subjugation is represented in vivid, aggressive form in Walter Edmonds’s and Watson’s monumental mural program for the Church of the Advocate (1973–76). This landmark in the our city’s history of art is a contentious program of images that correlates Old Testament biblical prophecy and the story of the Exodus with the urgent, murderous yet righteous necessity to break through and destroy the impact of centuries of slavery and oppression. These murals are magnificent for the clarity with which they speak, and they do so by defiantly reclaiming ownership of the image of the body. The recurring depictions of the body in We Speak Samburu, c. 1976, by Reba Dickerson-Hill (Courtesy of the Hill Family)

carry a critical relevance to the exploration of black identity in a white dominant American culture, recalling the Du Boisian notion of “double-

We propose that artists have understood and

consciousness” first voiced at the beginning of

expressed in a great variety of ways Coates’s

the twentieth century, and upheld by leaders of

concept that the result of centuries of subjugation

the New Negro Movement, returning us to the

has had a devastating impact on the black body.

exhibition’s starting point.11

Bullock’s Trayvon—Most Precious Blood (2013–14), though well beyond the scope of our inquiry for We Speak, visualizes the assaulted body to which Coates refers. Split apart, torn, and frayed, the broken black male body spills out beyond its natural form in alarming disorder, describing the very real effects of the racial violence that is continually justified by American society today.

In the conversations on the pages that follow, the speakers critically and candidly consider their engagement with Philadelphia’s organizations, institutions, and circles of like-minded colleagues and mentors to paint a rich and detailed picture of a network of professional connections. The lives and work of our city’s artists are inseparable from this network of relationships. We Speak is a deeply

Richard J. Watson’s The Hungry Eye (1976; ill. p. 186)

collaborative project that tells many extraordinary

extends that violence globally to victims who have

stories. At the same time, the exhibition does not

suffered from systematic depravation, resulting

outweigh the ongoing injustices that emerge from

in the emaciation of children’s bodies depicted

the racial prejudices that have structured the history

across the composition. Alongside these starved

of the arts in Philadelphia. With this exhibition, as

bodies is the image of George Washington from

in Woodmere’s other programming practices and collection building endeavors, we attempt to bring



Trayvon—Most Precious Blood, 2013–14, by Barbara Bullock (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


recognition and provide a platform that opens the

troubled American racial structure before it can

conversation on art and race so it can be further

hope to participate in the dismantling of it through

engaged and reimagined. It seems fair to say

the pursuit of its mission to tell the stories of the

that this could not be a more urgent undertaking

art and artists of Philadelphia. With We Speak,

since, throughout the process of interviewing and

Woodmere invites the dialogue to continue.

researching to organize the exhibition, we found ourselves intellectually united with every person with whom we worked. There was a consistent


Guest Curator

parallel consciousness in our conversations that


brought together thoughts about art history and

Assistant Curator

the tragedies and injustices in Ferguson, Staten Island, Baltimore, Charleston, and elsewhere. As an institution that has been, and remains, firmly


The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO

situated in the mainstream institutional imagination, Woodmere must acknowledge its own place in the An installation view of Walter Edmonds’s mural cycle at the Church of the Advocate

NOTES 1 For two important studies of Philadelphia’s early exhibiting institutions, artist associations, and academies, see Steven Conn, Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) and Wendy Bellion, “Illusion and Allusion: Charles Willson Peale’s Staircase Group at the Columbianum Exhibition,” American Art 17:2 (summer 2003), 18-39. 2 Alain Locke, “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” in The New Negro, ed. Alain Locke (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925), 254-270. 3 Albert Barnes, “Negro Art and America,” in The New Negro, ed. Alain Locke (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925), 19-25. 4 Cindy Medley-Buckner, “The Fine Print Workshop of the Philadelphia Federal Art Project,” in John Ittmann, Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered (Seattle: University of Washington Press, in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001), 42-51; Leslie King-Hammond, Black Printmakers and the WPA (Bronx: Lehman College Art Gallery of the City University of New York, 1989). 5 Barnes, “Negro Art and America.” 6 The Chemistry of Color: African-American Artists in Philadelphia, 19701990. The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary African-American Art (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2005). Woodmere is grateful for this research, and the opportunity it has offered us to build on it. 7 David C. Driskell, “The Evolution of a Black Aesthetic,” Two Centuries of Black American Art (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York: Knopf, 1976). 8 For explanations of the public image of the black male body, see Michael Hatt, “‘Making a Man of Him’: Masculinity and the Black Body in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Sculpture,” Oxford Art



Journal 15:1 (1992): 21-35; Thelma Golden, “My Brother” in Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994), 18-43; and Herman Gray, “Black Masculinity and Visual Culture,” in Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994), 175-180. 9 For more on the perceived image of the black female body, see Beverly Guy-Sheftall, “The Body Politic: Black Female Sexuality and the Nineteenth Century Euro-American Imagination” in Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 13-35; Michael D. Harris, “Aunt Jemima, the Fantasy Black Mammy/Servant” in Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 83-124; 265-267; Carla Williams, “Naked, Neutered, or Noble: The Black Female Body in America and the Problem of Photographic History” in Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 182-200; bell hooks, “naked without shame: A counterhegemonic body politic,” in Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, ed. Ella Shohat (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art and Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998), 66-73; and Lisa Collins, “Economies of the Flesh: Representing the Black Female Body in Art” in Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 99-127. 10 Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Letter to My Son,” The Atlantic (July 4, 2015). Excerpted from Between the World and Me, (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015). http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/ tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/ 11 W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903).

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Monday, May 11, 2015, University of the Arts Associate Professor and Director of the Museum Education Program’s Museum Studies Department Helen M. Shannon, PhD; artist Ron Tarver; independent curator and art journalist A. M. Weaver; and museum educator Jean Woodley sat down with William Valerio, Susanna W. Gold, and Rachel McCay to discuss the We Speak exhibition. WILLIAM VALERIO: I woke up this morning to read

member. We weren’t aware of the degree to which

the op-ed piece in the New York Times by Charles

the National Conference of Artists provided support

M. Blow, “Of Museums and Racial Relics,” which

to black artists until we spoke with Kimberly Camp,

describes First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks

nor did we know of the work of Louise Clement-

at the opening of the new Whitney Museum of

Hoff until Allan Edmunds identified her as a

American Art in New York City. She approached

significant influence on his own career. We learned

the subject from two sides, complimenting the

how various organizations helped artists seek out

inclusivity of the opening exhibition, but also

exhibition opportunities, meet older members

recognizing museums as places that can seem

of the artistic community, and develop practical

inaccessible to many. In the online comments

skills such as how to build a portfolio. We also

reacting to Blow’s article, one person wrote that

encountered a number of under-recognized artists

in order for institutions to overcome the projected

who contributed significantly to the vibrant art

image of race-based elitism and inaccessibility, they

communities of Philadelphia. Curating this exhibition

have to learn how to tell stories that are relevant

has been a collaborative effort that has involved all

to the audiences that have been excluded. All this

those who were interviewed.

struck me as relevant to Woodmere’s goal with We Speak: to cast a broad net and provide a platform for the stories of black artists in Philadelphia within the timeframe of the 1920s through the 1970s. RACHEL MCCAY: The exhibition has evolved

through a series of interviews that Susanna, Bill, and I conducted with a variety of people. The interviews have served to guide the development of the checklist. If, for example, someone recommended an artist that neither Susanna nor I had been aware of, we sought out either the artist or a living family



A. M. WEAVER: Why did you want to do this show?

How did this idea begin? VALERIO: I arrived at Woodmere five years ago to

find a museum that was dedicated to Philadelphia’s artists and that had in its collection compelling and wonderful works of art by artists who are black. We show them frequently in all kinds of different contexts—for example, we displayed our large Paul Keene painting Variations on a Spanish Theme (c. 1970; ill. p. 159) in Flirting with Abstraction, a 2011–12 exhibition about abstraction in Philadelphia.

Josie–Seated Woman, 1970s, by Louise Clement-Hoff (Courtesy of the artist) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


In the course of our work we became aware of Keene’s importance to his colleagues—both black and white—and to artists of the next generation. This understanding, for me, began in conversations with the artist’s widow, Laura Mitchell Keene, who gave Variations to Woodmere. Laura’s words were reinforced by Doris Staffel, who greatly admired Keene’s work as an artist and was constantly inspired by him, and by Allan Edmunds, who described how Keene’s support helped the Brandywine Workshop become what it is today. Allan was very direct, stating, in effect, “I wouldn’t

I Made Space for a Good Man, 1976/2012, by Deborah Willis (Courtesy of the artist and Material Life NOLA)

be who I am without Paul Keene.” As we believe that it’s Woodmere’s responsibility to tell the stories embedded in its collection, the idea emerged that an exhibition needed to happen where this particular web of stories could be recorded. Who

Cotton Candy, 1952, by Ethel V. Ashton (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Elaine D. and Bruce M. Ashton, 2013)

were the mentors? Who were the inspirations? What are the links? What was the broader social picture for these artists in a city like Philadelphia?

and white artists showing together in the same

What factors supported the progressive movement

museums and exhibitions because their artworks

toward the recognition of black artists? What

are connected though common style or subject

factors worked against it?

matter. Despite this, we keep coming back to the

Visitors to the Museum often ask me whether there are any works on the walls by African American

importance of identifying the work of black artists in order to be affirming and inspiring to our visitors.

Philadelphia’s settlement houses, those community-

and into the 1960s. This was before the civil rights

based institutions created to provide educational

movement and the women’s movement that, in

and recreational opportunities to inner-city youth

part, came out of it. If support didn’t come from

and adults, were much more important than we

your home, your church, or some other community

had first recognized, as was the Philadelphia school

resource—maybe your teachers—you probably

system. So rather than looking only at mainstream

didn’t go into any white institution, and certainly

institutions such as the Pennsylvania Academy of

not an art institution, with a strong sense of

the Fine Arts (PAFA), the University of the Arts,

empowerment. It was up to you to carry your power

and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, which

with you as you faced the world, sometimes alone.

validated the success of certain artists, we also

Not too long ago I was talking with Allan Edmunds,

considered institutions that had been under our

who’s younger than I am, and as he described the

artists. And of course there are—as long as I’m the

HELEN M. SHANNON: What’s the balance in

radar and community-based organizations that

strong unity shared among his African American

director, there always will be. So when a visitor

this exhibition between discussions about artists

nurtured artists we hadn’t known much about before.

classmates, I confessed to him that I was a little

asked me just last week whether black artists are

and institutions, and discussions about influences

represented in our current exhibition Keeping It

among artists?

Real, which is a collection-based show, I was able to say yes. However, the wall labels discuss the strong current of realism in the arts of Philadelphia, since that’s the exhibition’s focus. Charles Jay, Dox Thrash, and Charles Searles’s race is not necessarily mentioned, just as, by the same logic, Ethel Ashton and Julius Bloch, whose paintings in that exhibition portray black figurative subjects, are not identified as white. This is the situation we want: black artists 30


SUSANNA W. GOLD: It has been interesting to

see the different ways institutions can serve artists.

MCCAY: Our goal was to trace the career paths

Many we’ve spoken to had a range of experiences

of artists by speaking with them or their families

within a single institution—some that were elevating,

and by looking at their histories through the

and others that were challenging.

lens of Philadelphia’s institutions. A lot of our conversations began with questions about artists’ experiences at particular institutions and where those experiences led them. Along the way we learned many things we didn’t expect. For example,

JEAN WOODLEY: There’s definitely a difference

between the experiences of older and younger artists. Members of the older generation weren’t offered much empowerment from society. I’m thinking of the 1950s, when I was being molded,

jealous! The times were changing so quickly then. Black enrollment was increasing at art schools, and there was a wave of new, exciting, challenging ideas in the air. WEAVER: I graduated from University of the

Arts in the early 1970s, when it was called the Philadelphia College of Art (PCA), and was one of the few black students in the painting department. It was an interesting experience, and very difficult for artists of color. We had what I would describe as an “intervention” involving faculty and outside WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


consultants about how black students were being

WOODLEY: Yes, the Black Arts Movement had an

WOODLEY: Certainly, we live in a race-conscious,

TARVER: Exactly! Then it gets distilled down to

treated and how their work was being viewed. There

enormous impact. The whole world shifted, really.

gender-conscious, and class-conscious society.

pure race. It seems like they’re saying, “We’re going

were very strong cultural biases against certain

The 1960s, the civil rights movement, the 1970s, and

There might be an ideal that these kinds of issues

to get a bunch of black folks and just stick them in

aesthetic elements that were prevalent in the work

the post–civil rights era made all kinds of waves. It

shouldn’t matter, but whether we like it or not, they

a room to show their work.”

of black artists. Dr. William Meek of the University of

wasn’t easy to ignore the fact that I was the only

do! As long as that’s the case, I think it’s certainly

Pennsylvania guided the series of interventions with

black student in my painting classes semester after

appropriate to have exhibitions that acknowledge

goals of sensitizing the faculty to what constituted

semester. This is thrown into even sharper relief

race, gender, and class. Class plays a huge role in

SHANNON: That’s what I appreciate about this

a black aesthetic and providing a platform for

when you consider that, in one of the foundational

the way museums are perceived. At the same time,

exhibition. Bill and I talked about the importance

allowing the students to air their grievances.

textbooks used at my art school during the 1960s,

museums are trying—and must try—to address

of providing context, because there are historical

John Canaday’s Mainstreams of Modern Art, African

these issues and to undo these understandings—

reasons—along with economic, racial, and aesthetic

art was only mentioned in maybe one or two

and misunderstandings—so that they, as institutions,

reasons—for why these works look the way they

sentences, and then only in relation to Pablo Picasso.

can continue to be relevant into the future.

do. Only an organization like Woodmere would take

GOLD: Was Deborah Willis a student when you

were there? WEAVER: Yes, she was.

Plus, during my four years of art history classes, not one single moment was devoted to any individual

GOLD: Deborah created a work titled I Made Space

artist who wasn’t of European heritage. That was the

for a Good Man (1976/2012) about an experience

climate of the time. Allan Edmunds and his generation

she had when she was a student at PCA. It

responded to this problem when things began

includes a series of photographic self-portraits

heating up politically, creating a new context where

from when she was pregnant with her son, Hank

different kinds of ideas and initiatives could exist.

Willis Thomas. When Deb needed to take time

MCCAY: Class comes into play when you think about

how museums can fail to recognize certain forms of cultural production, such as work that’s labeled as “craft,” because it’s predominately produced by artists from disadvantaged economic groups.

VALERIO: Because this is tokenism?

the time to present this background. It would be very easy to mount just another exhibition of works by African American artists—anybody could do that. But what I like about this show is that you’re attempting to provide some context by discussing the arts institutions of Philadelphia, which I think is

RON TARVER: This applies to work emerging from

a very different approach. I don’t know what other

the vernacular as well.

organization besides Woodmere would have done

off from PCA to give birth, she was criticized by

GOLD: This is all very interesting because these are

her instructors, who said something along the

the same kinds of issues that have emerged in our

WEAVER: Yes. Class issues shape museums. This is

lines of, “When you came to this school, you took

conversations with other artists. Our exhibition pulls

not limited to what’s on the walls; class expectations

the place of a good man who could have come

these threads together to reveal important patterns

infuse the whole museum culture. It’s about who’s

WEAVER: I think there’s still space for what we

here and been taken seriously.” The fact that she

in the experiences of black artists living and working

really welcome and who is made to feel welcome.

call “survey shows” that deal with specific ethnic

was a woman and chose to be a parent was seen

in Philadelphia. Because these are the kinds of

Museums always say that their doors are open to

or cultural groups because the art histories

as a natural conflict with her ambitions to be a

stories that guide our show, it becomes a “culturally

everyone, but everyone doesn’t necessarily feel that

haven’t been inclusive. There’s still a need to

professional artist.

specific exhibition.” We would like to hear what

this is true.

continuously bring new and historical pieces to

you all think about culturally specific exhibitions. WOODLEY: I was at PCA in the 1960s, and it really

What do they accomplish? What is the value

TARVER: I look at culturally specific exhibitions

was an isolating place for African Americans at that

of Woodmere’s goals with this exhibition? As a

from two perspectives. I think it’s necessary

point. I didn’t understand how isolated I was until I

jumping-off point, I’ll read you a quote from one of

to have exhibitions that address particular

looked back and realized that Paul Keene was the

the artists we interviewed, who said, “Some people

cultures through a historical lens. When it’s done

only person of color that I remember having been

will ask, ‘Why do you need separate black, Asian,

from a contemporary point of view, however, it

on the faculty or staff at that time.

or Hispanic museums? The Philadelphia Museum of

can be problematic.

WEAVER: There were a few more black faculty

members when I was there, but that was a little later, at the onset of the Black Arts Movement.



Art and Woodmere are comprehensive institutions; everybody is included.’ But the reality is that black artists are not integrated into what you see on a daily basis when you go to these museums.”

that, because it specifically reflects your mission of telling the stories of the art and artists of this region.

public knowledge. The fact of the matter is, a lot of institutions separate work according to artists’ ethnicities within their collections. I think there’s room for exhibitions that are diverse, but there’s still a need for ethnically specific presentations of both older and more contemporary work. I read an interesting review of a show of Latin American art

GOLD: Because that seems reductive? Because

at the Smithsonian that was part of a vehement

there’s no illustrative goal for bringing the works

debate, entitled Our America, about Latin American

together other than in a racial context?

survey exhibitions. This was an opportunity for the Smithsonian to present significant works by artists WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


who are currently active and viable. One particular artist, Alex Rivera, was fully in support of this kind of exhibition because there haven’t been many like it in the past, but the critic, Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post, insisted that there has been enough categorizing of art according to ethnicity, and that there’s no need for it anymore. WOODLEY: As an educator, which is what I’ve been

for most of my career, I’ve come to realize that it’s important to consider your audience. Who are we talking to? If you take a group of high school students to an exhibition of African American art, it can really bring a new energy to those young

Brothers & Sister, 1949, by Claude C. F. Clark (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2011)

Manayunk Train Bridge, 1997, by Ron Tarver (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of the artist, 2011)

people. This can, in turn, create new meaning for them and affect how they relate to the institution as a whole. We must pause to consider the needs of the audience, just as much as we consider the contributions of scholarship. It’s part of the story too. GOLD: A second question that emerged from our

conversations was about how support for black artists at institutions organized and managed by the white establishment differs from support at institutions that evolved within the black community. This question was on our minds

WEAVER: Aside from Sande Webster, there really

weren’t many notable galleries that consistently carried the work of artists of color in the city.

WEAVER: Yes, I’ve also shown at restaurants and

very gradually. You didn’t see those numbers

coffeehouses. There were even dealers who used

increase until the baby boomer generation.

TARVER: I don’t think anybody else was showing

their houses for exhibitions, like Trudy Rose in the

photography then, either. But Sande did everything.

late 1960s and 1970s. Trudy had a home gallery

She promoted, she showed, she sold. She was

in Philadelphia and showed works by artists like

great. And it wasn’t just me—there are any number

Richard J. Watson, Cranston Walker, and Barbara

of photographers around who owe their artistic

Bullock early in their careers.

careers to Sande.

WOODLEY: On the subject of how institutions are

perceived as “white” or “black,” and by white and black audiences: Julian Francis Abele, who was chief designer with Horace Trumbauer’s firm, is important in the history of the Philadelphia Museum

from the beginning, insofar as we didn’t want the

WOODLEY: One of the early contributions of

of Art, but he could be described as a “shadow”

WEAVER: Most artists in the black community in

exhibition to focus exclusively on artists embraced

various white art institutions is that they prepared

figure, since he isn’t broadly acknowledged as a

Philadelphia have gone through several stages of

by mainstream museums and galleries.

the teachers who went on to become mentors for

significant architect involved in the making of the

presenting their work. Our first shows were often

later generations. Claude Clark, who studied at the

building. Yet African Americans have long claimed

in community centers and auxiliary spaces, which

Barnes Foundation, for example, started the first

the important connection he has to that institution,

have been great supporters of African American

American art history department at Sacramento

and this is in part because his specific contributions

artists. There are many alternative spaces, in both

State College. It’s interesting that the early wave of

remain unknown. In other words, members of the

the white community and the black community, that

artists were also teachers.

black art community feel they “own” the museum in

TARVER: I got my start with the Sande Webster

Gallery. If it hadn’t been for Sande, I don’t know what kind of career I would have had in the art world. She was the only one who carried my early work. I was represented in one of the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial’s Challenge shows, and after she saw that, I was her artist. It stayed that way for fifteen years.

offer opportunities for emerging artists to present their work before they’re taken on by galleries or

WEAVER: Teaching was considered an appropriate

museum-level shows.

profession for an educated black person. The

a special and heartfelt way because they appreciate the “underground knowledge” and truth about Abele.

Sande is white, but she made a commitment to show

principal careers that were wide open for African TARVER: And don’t discount restaurants. I’ve had

VALERIO: Another “founding father” is Henry

black artists’ work at a time when I know I couldn’t

Americans were minister, mortician, and teacher.

Ossawa Tanner. One of the powerful messages

plenty of shows at restaurants, coffeehouses, and

have gotten into any other galleries in town.

Some took up law or medicine, but that happened

in the recent Represent show at the Philadelphia

local art events like the Mount Airy Art Jam.



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


in Philadelphia, particularly as it relates to the

WEAVER: When you set the parameters for the

Fine Print Workshop of the Works Progress

exhibition, it seems you decided to look at artists

Administration (WPA). We’ve included an etching

who resided, created, and established working

and a charcoal drawing by Tanner, The Disciples

relationships in and around Philadelphia, as opposed

See Christ Walking on the Water (1907; ill. p. 90)

to people who happened to have been born here, or

and Study for Christ (1900; ill. p. 15), both from

who just came here for school.

the collection of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

organizations and institutions of this city. Someone

Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s, choosing

who was born and raised here but left to pursue a professional career elsewhere would have a different story of the Philadelphia area than someone

currently using, but we also realized that “African

who was educated here, showed work here, or

American” excludes people whose heritage is of

participated in community organizations here. Some

Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

the Caribbean islands; “black” is more inclusive. For

of the artists in the exhibition have a much stronger

myself, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the

connection to Philadelphia than others, but all of

“hyphenated” categorization “Italian-American”; I’m

them have a claim to the city, or the city has a claim

an American citizen of Italian descent, and I don’t

to them, in one way or another.

nineteenth century. Of course, PAFA also has an

like any suggestion that my Italian heritage modifies my American identity.

WOODLEY: The impact of artists at historically

black colleges and institutions, such as Laura

important connection to Tanner, since that was the

GOLD: In choosing this term we also took a cue

Wheeler Waring at Cheyney University of

school he attended. Unfortunately, the sad narrative

from a leading scholar in the field, Richard J. Powell,

Pennsylvania, is also important. Leslie Pinckney

of Tanner’s career is that he left the United States

who understands “black” to address much more

Hill, who was president of the college at the time,

for Europe in search of a more open, less racist

than just lineage. For Powell, the term refers more

had a very strong influence on the direction of

context in which to pursue his art. In the period in

significantly to the collective social experiences

the institution and the art department. And after

which this exhibition begins, the 1920s, the great

and realities of those who have emerged from

Waring came John T. Harris.

Marian Anderson had to do the same: leave the

generations of systematic political exploitation

United States to build her career in the friendlier-by-

and cultural domination.

degree environment of Europe.


important. We called this exhibition We Speak:

we looked at the language the New York Times is

of art ever purchased by the museum in the late


we included had real connections with the arts

not to use “African American” in the title. In part,

(1898) was among the first contemporary works

courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

focus. We wanted to make sure that the artists

VALERIO: A discussion of terminology is also

The Annunciation, 1898, by Henry Ossawa Tanner (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, W1899-1-1)

Museum of Art was that Tanner’s The Annunciation

Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), after 1802, attributed to Moses Williams (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection, 2009-18-42[167]) Photograph

GOLD: Yes, we wanted to maintain a tight

GOLD: Waring will be represented in Woodmere’s

exhibition by two works, including W.E.B. Du Bois

SHANNON: My take is that you’re going to rock the

(before 1948; ill. p. 13), a portrait from the collection

GOLD: Although Tanner was formed intellectually

boat no matter which way you go, so you need to

of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

in the late nineteenth-century, the Thomas Eakins

be able to defend the reasoning behind whatever

We’ll also be including a few works on paper by

era of the arts in Philadelphia, we felt it necessary

choice you make. The decision should be based on

Harris borrowed from local collections.

to include his work in this exhibition, because

thoughtful discussion so that you can stand up for

it’s so relevant to the discussion of networks

it. It generates interesting perspectives. If people

and relationships among artists. Tanner set an

don’t like it, that’s okay, as long as you’re prepared

important precedent for the printmaking tradition

and able to present your views.

WOODLEY: There was also so much going on in

the School District of Philadelphia’s art program in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Many had their first

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


WOODLEY: Right. But there were opportunities for

GOLD: Another question we wished to pose to

artists to hold teaching jobs in the public schools.

this roundtable is, to what extent do you think the

In addition to Freelon, educators such as Sam

institutions of Philadelphia from the 1920s to the

Brown and, later, Martina Johnson-Allen come to

1970s paved the way for the successes of African

mind. I think the support they provided for the next

American artists from the 1980s to today?

generation of black artists is something this culture isn’t able to offer anymore. The greatest influences across the board during this period were educators, parents, and the African American community at large when they saw that someone young had talent. The support of elders who recognized you when you weren’t getting support anywhere else Untitled (Two Men Playing Checkers), c. 1940s, by John T. Harris (Muriel Feelings Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries Philadelphia, PA)

was so important and sustaining. This is the story of Marian Anderson; the members of her church paid for her training to be a singer because her talent

WEAVER: I think there’s been a gradual upward

swing in the success of black artists that began in the 1980s and is peaking now. I’ve declared this era to be a new “Black Renaissance.” A greater number of African American artworks are generating significant prices in the auction houses today; this trend has no precedence historically. If you consider the top one hundred artists, you have Jean-Michel Basquiat in the mix, and David Hammons, whose

was recognized.

introductions to art in that nurturing environment. The district provided Saturday classes, and there was a scholarship program through which young students could go to schools such as PAFA. There was also Allan Freelon. He had an enormous impact as an African American assistant director in the district’s art department, but we must also remember that during Freelon’s time, the district was still a highly segregated system in many ways. MCCAY: You’re right. Until 1935, African Americans

in the system could only teach in elementary schools, which were still segregated. They weren’t allowed to teach white students, so they couldn’t teach at the secondary level, where schools were integrated. Beatrice Claire Overton was the first black teacher to be employed at a secondary school, starting that year. She was hired as an art John T. Harris teaching at Cheyney University, March 18, 1948. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

teacher at Mayer Sulzberger Junior High School in West Philadelphia.

Samuel J. Brown at the press at Brandywine Workshop and Archives, 1985. Photograph courtesy of the Brandywine Workshop and

Self-Portrait, 1985, by Samuel J. Brown (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015)

Archives. Photograph by Donnie Roberts



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


work commands millions of dollars. There’s a

Art in 1943, Freelon was in the American Magazine

VALERIO: The economics are very important. I

SHANNON: I can give you an example from my

whole litany of checkpoints that have helped

of Art in 1945, and Keene had a review in Art Digest

would answer by describing the specific context of

dissertation research on Barnes and Aaron Douglas.

build the careers of the contemporary artists who

in 1952. All these artists got attention, but they were

Philadelphia that makes it different from New York

Douglas was living in New York when he got a

are meeting with great success. Some of these

dropped out of the histories when those histories

City: the small number of art galleries here was

fellowship to come down for a year to study at the

checkpoints are master of fine arts programs, major

were being written.

a major factor for artists in the time period we’re

Barnes Foundation. At the end of the year, Barnes

investigating. Galleries invest in and build artists’

asked Douglas to come to his office and write

reputations, market their work, create visibility

a letter against Alain Locke. He’d fallen out with

through exhibitions, and nurture relationships

Locke, as he did with everyone else. Barnes was a

with cadres of collectors. With the absence of a

great collector, but he was not a nice person. That’s

robust for-profit gallery culture here, there was no

when Douglas said he realized that loyalty to Barnes

sustained collecting, even when exhibitions received

was the price of his fellowship.

awards, and museum exhibitions, all of which get the attention of collectors and gallerists. Only now, slowly—even though we’ve been talking about multiculturalism in this country since perhaps the 1920s—do many of the major galleries have at least one artist of color in their stables. To be somewhat inclusive, or to represent a “black superstar,” is becoming part of the system of the major New York galleries. Some of these artists have been coming in through residency and leadership programs at

VALERIO: In answer to Susanna’s question, the

achievements of earlier generations of artists generally have a positive impact on the next. Ron, you’ve talked about the importance of Thrash’s ability to render a deep, dark atmosphere to the development of your work. Roland Ayers has also been mentioned as having set another inspiring example. That he had a solo show at the Studio Museum in 1973 became a focus or aspiration.

the Studio Museum in Harlem, which has strong

WOODLEY: But who was collecting the work,

support from a number of very well-heeled people.

and what kinds of prices was it realizing in

It has become a showcase for black artists where

the marketplace?

gallerists and dealers come to see who’s who, and

positive reviews, paintings were purchased by museums, and teaching positions were awarded. The exceptions prove the rule: Robert Carlen’s role in promoting Horace Pippin and Sande Webster’s accomplishments, as we already described.

there, but it’s ambiguous. The Clark works seem to

changing the landscape for how black artists are

have disappeared.

matriculating into the mainstream art world. We’re

African descent being primitive, pure of mind, and was ever able to get beyond that.

black artists. I’ve read that Clark’s work was shown

the global art scene as a whole. All these things are

many people held at that time about people of

work? I’ve found Barnes to be a very interesting

Foundation collection, I couldn’t find any works by

seems to be affecting the national art market and

is complicated because it articulates an idea that

naturally emotional. I don’t know whether Barnes

the catalogue on American paintings in the Barnes

This has been going on for a number of years. It

which was published in Locke’s The New Negro,

SHANNON: Was Dr. Albert C. Barnes buying their

figure. He had students, but when I looked through

select specific artists to bring into their stables.

VALERIO: Barnes’s essay “Negro Art and America,”

WOODLEY: I should put in a word for the

Philadelphia Museum of Art here, because I’m associated with that institution and I have a lot of respect for it. In 1982 they held the exhibition Treasures of Ancient Nigeria. It was a cultural highlight and a huge hit with the public, especially the African

not only talking about African American artists—

VALERIO: Kimberly Camp, former director of the

American community and school groups in the city.

we’re talking about artists of the African diaspora,

Barnes Foundation, has also done research on

I think it was an eye-opener that helped many people

African art, and contemporary art, all in the same

Barnes and his relationships with black artists. It

feel more welcome at the museum, some for the


seems that, unfortunately, Barnes didn’t take the

first time. The events and education programming

steps that would have given Clark real viability—

around the show also contributed to the energy and

that might have made a difference in his career.

atmosphere of inclusion, celebration, and respect. It

But Barnes nonetheless emerges from Kimberly’s

seemed that a new era of inclusion had begun.

SHANNON: One of the things I’ve found interesting

as I’ve worked on the Norman Lewis exhibition that will be held at PAFA this fall is that although Lewis was getting a lot of good reviews in the 1940s and 1950s, he didn’t become a significant figure in the art histories. As I researched further, I saw that this was the case for many of Lewis’s contemporaries— Clark had reviews in Art Digest and Art News in 1945, Raymond Steth had a review in Magazine of 40


Portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, Barnes Foundation, Merion, February 4, 1940, by Carl Van Vechten (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Gift, Carl Van Vechten Estate, 1966)

research as somebody who was visionary and enlightened in a number of ways, and who paid an enormous price for it in terms of the way he was treated by the broader art establishment.

Anne d’Harnoncourt became the director in 1982, that same year, and the museum began to have shows connected to the black experience consistently every two or three years. That was a rather courageous decision on her part. There

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


were multiple African shows under her direction, as

VALERIO: Anne believed in social justice, and

well as a major Tanner show, and exhibitions of the

her work at the museum was an extension of her

work of Beauford Delaney, Dox Thrash, William H.

broader commitment to improving society. She

Johnson, and now most recently, Barbara Chase-

was a true leader who always saw the bigger

Riboud. I was really surprised when I thought

picture. I always felt that Anne took the museum,

about how many exhibitions there have been and

turned those big architectural arms around,

how much of a commitment the museum has

and made it really face the city. In addition to

made, because I think the museum takes some

encouraging the exhibitions that you describe,

heat sometimes. It’s a great example of the growth

Jean, she also made a difference through strategic

we’ve seen in Philadelphia and the tradition that’s

choices like growing and investing in the museum’s

continuing here today.

education department.

GOLD: Was it just Anne’s leadership, or is there

GOLD: We asked a number of artists about the

something else in Philadelphia’s culture that has

idea of a “black aesthetic”—whether or not they

helped sustain the museum’s institutional focus on

think it exists, and whether or not they think it’s

black artists, from Treasures of Ancient Nigeria in

important. The term comes from David Driskell’s

the early 1980s through Represent, today? PAFA

1976 essay “The Evolution of a Black Aesthetic,”

also has a positive exhibition record in this area,

in which he identifies what he considers to be a

got lost in it. I get a shiver just thinking about it. I

intent at all. But Life magazine had done a story

with Kim Sajet’s The Chemistry of Color exhibition

regrettable compulsion among African American

wondered how I could do that with photography,

on Philadelphia’s drug culture that I thought was

as a recent milestone. Was anything developing in

artists to work within a social tradition. The essay

so I tried to get as close to sketches as I could with

really a hatchet job on the city, so I wanted to do a

Philadelphia earlier in the twentieth century that

proposes that black artists are burdened with the

my early black-and-white work. But then I thought,

story that looked at the whole community, from the

might have enabled this?

expectation that their art will, or should, deal with

“Well, I have to do this in some sort of social

police, to the people in the neighborhood, to the

specific social moments relevant to the “black

context,” and I couldn’t figure that out. Ultimately I

drug users—everything. That was my motivation as

experience.” It encourages artists to think beyond

decided that I was just going to do whatever I was

a journalist, but when it came to art, I always really

that restriction and develop a “black aesthetic”:

drawn to. But I’ve always felt burdened with that

felt burdened by the pressure to do something from

an exploration of form—something universal—that

whole idea of having to work within some sort of

a social point of view. It was hard for me to get my

might have connections with black identity, but that

social context.

head around that.

histories of black people in the United States. We

When I worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I did

WOODLEY: It seems similar to the burden of

received such contrasting and conflicting responses

a lot of photo essays in North Philadelphia. From

“double consciousness,” which Du Bois described as

that we wondered if you could speculate about why

the point of view of a journalist, I wanted to do

the struggle black Americans faced, and continue to

this question is so polarizing.

stories that were positive, like articles on double

face, not only to see themselves as standing apart,

Dutch, drill teams, and things like that. I had seen

as African Americans, but also to see themselves

TARVER: I’ve always felt burdened by the sense

these sorts of everyday subjects in Thrash’s images,

from the perspective of the dominant American

of obligation to work within a social tradition,

like his Drawing for 24th and Ridge (c. 1940), in

culture. Having to think about oneself in these

but that’s just not where my aesthetic is. As you

Woodmere’s collection. However, I wound up

two conflicting ways can present a constant and

mentioned, Bill, one of the artists who influenced

spending more time on drug stories than anything

unrelenting tension. On the other hand, maybe it

me early in my career was Thrash. I remember the

else. I spent two years working on them, which is

can be thought of as liberating, because it means

very first time I saw one of his etchings, and I just

kind of ironic, because that hadn’t been my original

you have an understanding of two cultures—you’re

WOODLEY: I think there were many things. Part of

it might have been that the museum had access to material from the WPA, which included the work of major black artists such as Thrash, Steth, Clark, and many others. But more than anything, the times were changing. Anne had a very sophisticated upbringing, and she lived in many different parts of the world. I think she had a great vision and could see beyond just Philadelphia, and even the United States. SHANNON: Also, Anne’s father, René

d’Harnoncourt, was the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He brought in a lot of nonWestern art exhibitions during his tenure, so it was already in her blood to do things like that.



Drawing for 24th and Ridge, c. 1940, by Dox Thrash (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2013)

doesn’t necessarily deal with the social problems or

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Part of the greater discussion should be questions

they’re seen as “black artists,” and it wasn’t a “black

such as, what kinds of artists are there? Is there a

exhibition,” no one thought to involve them.

definitive black artist? Is there a definitive American artist? These debates have been going on forever, and they keep coming back around every couple decades as important issues, but they never really go anywhere. We’re still having the same discussions today.

Charlotte or Charlot, date unknown, by Dox Thrash (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

WEAVER: Yes, but that exclusion just reflects a

broader social context. It doesn’t mean that an artist’s self-identification as a black artist is what’s preventing them from being included. It is the prevailing attitude that “black art” is substandard. However, as we move into a global matrix,

I think there is a “black aesthetic,” and people can

everybody’s highlighting their own style. Chinese

choose to adhere to it or not. Even in the dominant

artists, for example, are saying they’re “Chinese

Western culture, there are elements of modern,

artists.” They’re not saying they’re artists of the

postmodern, and contemporary expression that

world, but they’re still embraced by the international

are African in origin or influence, on one level or

arena. There doesn’t have to be a denunciation of

another. Western abstraction, for example, has been

who are you in order to make that happen. You

informed by African art. But when you get down to

don’t have to give up your claim to your heritage,

the final analysis, some artists are proud to embrace

your blackness, your “authenticity” to fit in, to be

the terms “black” or “African American” when they

accepted, to be international, to be American. It

identify their production, and some don’t want

reminds me of Toni Morrison’s statement that she

to be labeled at all. I think that’s sad, because it’s

would like to reach a point in time when she could

important to embrace who you are. We’re part of

be classified as a writer alphabetically by her name,

American expression. Our experience isn’t separate

and not as an “African American female” writer.1

from the history of this country, or the history of other parts of the world.

GOLD: Was Morrison making the point that even

though she does not shrink from her identity as

WOODLEY: Locke offers a small but important

being black or as a woman, she doesn’t like being

based aesthetic. There seems be a sense of pride

escape clause in his article “The Legacy of the

necessarily qualified, or pigeonholed into categories

societies can have a particular aesthetic, and more

associated with being an African American artist

Ancestral Arts” when he briefly acknowledges that

that cannot be detached from the racial and

power to those who embrace it, I would say. But

that many have felt a responsibility to acknowledge.

individual artists have the right to create whatever

gender-specific aspects of her identity? That her

there should be no requirement that limits African

For Charles Searles and Barbara Bullock, for

they wish. When I think about the concept of

work should be placed in the broader context of

American artists to speaking for their people.

example, the development of an aesthetic that is

universal aesthetics, I think of Barnes and his ideas

great American literature?

recognizably African is a central enterprise. An

about the aesthetics that govern African art.

“bilingual,” in a sense. Of course, I understand that

VALERIO: Artists like Paul Keene, Dox Thrash,

Marian Anderson, Laura Wheeler Waring, and yourself, Ron, “speak” well beyond the boundaries of race.

important moment in the history of modernism in Philadelphia, as recounted in our conversations, was Twins Seven Seven’s arrival in this city. He was

GOLD: Although different from the feeling of

an artist from Africa who used African forms, lines,

obligation to make social art, there is a tension

colors, and narratives.

we’ve seen in some of the comments of the artists we’ve interviewed on the subject of an African44


WEAVER: I think it’s inevitable that one’s life

WEAVER: I understand her point completely, and

SHANNON: I’ve always wanted to write an article

acknowledge that her writing resonates across the

about all the exhibitions that black artists should

boundaries of race and gender, and that she writes

have been in, but weren’t. I remember seeing an ad

with the voice of a black woman. However, I am

in an art magazine for an exhibition on collage at

also saddened that she would describe wishing to

a major commercial gallery in which not one artist

simply be an author in the alphabetical list. It makes

of color was included. How do you do that? Since

me wonder what’s so wrong, difficult, or challenging

experiences emerge on some level in one’s work. WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


TARVER: I think they are valued for their differences. WOODLEY: But some artists are saying they

feel that they’re not valued at all.

GOLD: Laura Williams Chassot’s move into

abstraction involved a departure from the figure, which some of her viewers described as “black art,” since the figures themselves were identifiable

GOLD: Because they feel their difference is

as black. Exploration (1973) was painted at a time

a limitation.

when she was experimenting with the language of abstraction, focusing on color balances, contrasts,

WEAVER: Because they aren’t valued as much.

and gestural brushwork. This gesturalism would lead

That’s simply a reality. If you’re a woman, and if

to her series of abstract paintings that she refers to

you’re African American, you’re not valued as much.

as “strokes.” But she did not leave the figure behind

Once we shift toward a more enlightened world-

entirely, and continues to incorporate figures into

view, maybe it will be a different situation, but right

work today.

now, we are indeed defined by other people. It’s okay for you to define yourself, but it’s when other

SHANNON: What you said, Jean, about the

people define you that labels become limiting.

pressure to “be black” in the 1960s is absolutely true. When I majored in art history, all my black

WOODLEY: But I’m saying you can redefine that

fellow students said, “Why are you studying a white

label of “African American woman” for yourself, and

man’s art?” It was because that was all that was being

not let it define you.

taught. However, I had the goal of changing that

WEAVER: Absolutely. But it’s an additional effort

that you have to make and that other people don’t. It’s one more hurdle you have to clear. TARVER: I can’t think of one celebrated black

photographer who doesn’t do racially oriented work. I can’t think of a single black landscape

Exploration, 1973, by Laura Williams Chassot (Courtesy of the artist)

photographer, for example.

history, or at least writing a history that hadn’t been written before. GOLD: Your comment about significant omissions

in art history leads right into our last questions: What should the next steps for scholars, curators, and artists be in the ongoing effort to better acknowledge under-recognized producers of art? Is it enough to look more deeply and broadly at

WOODLEY: Well, certainly artists don’t stand

the work itself in its cultural context, or is it also

outside of society, so their work is always going to

necessary to consider the flaws of past and current

reflect whatever’s having an impact on their lives.

institutional practices and decisions? Our questions

During the 1960s you couldn’t be black enough,

really boil down to the issue of how the art world

and this pressure extended into the art world. But

should prioritize diversity in its practices. It’s

MCCAY: That same question appears in feminist

you can’t put everybody in the same box or make

important to Woodmere’s mission to know what our

arguments. Why do women have to become more like

blanket statements when it comes to what artists

visitors need, both in terms of what we exhibit and

men to be valued? Why can’t there be a system that

should or shouldn’t do according to their race. Like

how we can make it relevant to their lives.

values those things that make women different from

I said earlier, even Locke allowed black artists an

TARVER: Yes, but you can hold on to your identity

men? Or that make African American artists different

escape from the pressure to be constantly thinking

and still want your work to be seen beyond it.

from white artists, or Chinese artists? Why can’t all

about race in their work, because that could become

these differences be equally valued within a system?

stifling and people might be tempted to just give up.

for her as an African American artist that she would

WEAVER: Why does there have to be a “beyond”?

want that part of her to be invisible, to erase it

That’s my point. Why can’t it be that, and that be

sometimes. This, in essence, is at the crux of the issue.

something good? Being a black artist is just as

TARVER: I don’t think she wants to “erase” it, though. WOODLEY: She’s saying that race and gender

shouldn’t be so very important. But it’s that community that made her who she is.



meaningful as anything else.

WOODLEY: If a museum wanted to take on the

mission of prioritizing diversity, it would first have to build its collection. It would need to develop WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


a strong connection with its community and hire

staff of Woodmere, chose the title We Speak for

people who know the material, have the curatorial

this exhibition for its inclusiveness. “We” represents

talent, and know how to convey it clearly to

the many artists, our voices around this table, the

audiences. This is particularly relevant for African

voices in the many interviews reproduced here, and

American art, because race is such a touchy subject

the voices in the programs that accompany the

in this country. We’re all scared of the topic in one

exhibition when it is on view. Who are we? We’re

way or another—or if we’re not scared of it, maybe

the same as everybody else. Thinking back again

we should be, because it’s powerful. You need to

to the op-ed in today’s New York Times, Blow’s

hear the voices of your targeted community on

conclusion is that the Obama presidency, although

staff, as consultants, on advisory boards, or as

remarkably positive in so many ways for advancing

visitors. These participants are important to guiding

conversations about race, does not mark the end

projects like this. Even something as simple as

of four hundred years of inequality. That injustice

vocabulary and phrasing can be problematic and

can only be ended by the institutions that created

can benefit from nuanced attention and direction.

it. All of us around this table work at and with

VALERIO: Yes, especially insofar as language itself is

coded. The word “black” has a negative connotation in many linguistic formations, from “black sheep”

museums, and it’s fair to say that we share a sense of responsibility to interrogate and change the unfair practices we inherited from our institutional histories.

to “black cloud.” Let’s just say it—not all people,

WOODLEY: Museums have to make room for new

whether in a museum or any other organization or

kinds of material. Work is always vying for wall

business, are sensitive to the way the language they

space, and if you’re going to prioritize diversity,

use can be perceived as hurtful. Let’s just say it—not

then you’ve got to find room for it! And that means

all curators are sensitive to the way the language

something else has to not be on view. Furthermore,

they use can be perceived as hurtful.

the works have to be in places where they’ll be

WOODLEY: Yes, it’s subtle. For example, one thing

I know to be tricky is the use of pronouns, such as “we” and “they” and “them.” It’s our American tradition! You have to be careful what pronouns you’re using when you consider your audience. VALERIO: That’s something everyone who is

part of an institution has to be conscious of. One of the things I learned from Anne d’Harnoncourt was that there is no “us” and “them” in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “voice.” We, on the

properly seen and respected. How a museum structures its gallery space sends serious subliminal messages. In addition to hiring practices, and broad community connections, respect for the work—in collecting habits, in interpretation, in educating your audiences, and in exhibition practices—is what’s needed for continued growth and change. NOTES 1 Aaron Bady, “As an American Writer (Toni Morrison on Colbert,)” The New Inquiry (November 22, 2014), http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/ zunguzungu/as-an-american-writer-toni-morrison-on-colbert/.

Untitled (Abstract), c. 1950s, by Benjamin Britt (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015)



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with artist James Brantley to discuss his work. RACHEL MCCAY: Alain Locke’s 1925 essay “The

It just depends on how you look at it. You should

Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” in his anthology The

do exactly what you feel, what really gives you

New Negro, served as a starting point for the ideas

pleasure. If you want to paint still lifes and flowers

that structure Woodmere’s exhibition. Locke argues

on a Saturday afternoon, that’s perfectly fine. I think

that African American artists should feel a sense of

everything has its place.

pride in their cultural heritage, but that they shouldn’t necessarily directly quote the formalist mode of representation that is characteristic of African art. We’ve spoken to many artists with different perspectives on finding inspiration in African art. JAMES BRANTLEY: I rail against putting artists

in boxes. The nature of being an artist is to be free. Once you start to categorize by saying, “This is the way this artist, or these artists, produce work,” or “This work is ‘African art’ and that work is ‘African American art,’” it becomes a problem. Pablo Picasso used visual elements in his work that derived from Africa. African American artists are inspired by the Western tradition of art in the same way white artists are. My favorite portrait painter is Rembrandt van Rijn; he’s one of the greatest that ever lived. The Dutch were just incredible— Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals—these were great, great portrait painters. They used to call me “Rembrandtley” back in my days at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). [laughs] And I would say, “Well, thank you very

SUSANNA W. GOLD: James, where do you see

yourself in the trajectory of Philadelphia art history that our exhibition investigates—the years between the 1920s and the 1970s? BRANTLEY: Artists are direct beneficiaries of those

who went before them and those who will come after. Established artists have a responsibility to encourage younger artists. I definitely benefited from the societal changes of the 1960s, because soon after the political upheavals of the time, institutions opened their doors for artists that didn’t have a voice before. Before that period, and even in the early 1960s, PAFA didn’t have a diverse student body. The number of enrolled African American students was somewhere around thirty. Then artists began enrolling in art institutions in greater numbers. PAFA was a beneficiary of a great deal of creative effort. There were so many important artists there, including Moe Brooker, James Toatley, Clarence Morgan, Barkley L. Hendricks, Searles—the list goes on and on.

much.” But I don’t think anyone likes to be labeled.

Being at PAFA was very important to my

Charles Searles and I used to talk about the conflict

development. I remember sitting in a critique with

between abstract and representational approaches

my first instructor there, Hobson Pittman. Pittman

all the time. I see no difference between a pure

looked at me and said, “Boy, it looks like you get

abstract painter and a pure representational painter.

high on 7-Up.” He meant that I was inspired by



Clarence Morgan, 1972, by James Brantley (Courtesy of the artist)

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


everything at PAFA, that I was like a sponge. Of

BRANTLEY: Well, I didn’t always know what to

course, his views on the value of social equality

make of rejections from galleries. Was it really

were different than mine. Walter Stuempfig, another

based on merit alone, or was it racial? You didn’t

of my instructors, was also very different from me.

always know, because if you looked at the register

He was a “dandy”—considered one of the best-

of any Philadelphia gallery at that particular time,

dressed people in America. He would come to class

you would be hard-pressed to find more than one

in these tweeds, and his nails were all manicured.

black artist. Even today you would be hard-pressed

When he had his critique class every Friday

to find more than one or two. It’s systemic. If you

afternoon, there would be all these students around

were to ask the galleries about it, they’d probably

him. But they would hesitate to come forward in

respond that black artists don’t apply, or that they

his class because they ran the risk of being publicly

don’t know where the black artists are. But if you’re

humiliated. Stuempfig loved doing it, and people

a gallery director, you owe it to both the public and

loved hearing it. Artists can be very nasty. It’s a very

the artists to go out and find them. They’re there!

competitive field. I remember one time a female student came forward with her paintings, and Stuempfig looked over and grunted, “Mmhmph, why don’t you go home and bake some cookies?” That was a really sexist thing to say. The class went crazy—they started to laugh at her, and she just went away with her head down. I never went back to the critique class after that. I thought those little murders were definitely not necessary, because they were always at the expense of a human being. But rejection is something everybody has to get used to. You learn from all your rejections, and you try to grow from them. It’s hard to turn it around into something that’s really a positive. But you can’t go through life thinking that there will never be a “no”;

GOLD: When you were emerging as an artist in

the 1970s, David Driskell wrote an essay for the exhibition Two Centuries of Black American Art in which he described something he called the “black aesthetic.” He discussed what he considered to be a regrettable compulsion among African American artists to work within a social tradition. He felt they were burdened with the expectation that they would create work addressing specific social moments relevant to the “black experience.” He encouraged them to think beyond that restriction and explore forms that had connections with black identity, but that didn’t necessarily deal with the social histories of black people in the United States.

you’re just wearing rose-colored glasses. Artists get

MCCAY: Your painting Dada seems to have a social

thousands and thousands of rejections during their

dimension to it. It looks like you explore both formal

lives. You have to take each one with a grain of salt

issues and social issues in your work.

and say, “That’s okay.” BRANTLEY: This painting is about good and evil,

Dada, 1977, by James Brantley (Collection of the artist)

MCCAY: I agree. Who’s the figure on the left,

drawings in their collection. He won PAFA’s coveted

wearing the tie?

William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship

GOLD: These “little murders” you describe at PAFA

and how evil influences the innocent. It is also about

were happening in the mid-1960s, which was a very

BRANTLEY: He was a friend of mine, Cranston

how our culture grinds you into a sense of dada, or

contentious time both politically and culturally.

Walker, who is no longer living. We went to PAFA

nothingness. Today social media grips us so tightly

Did you experience any “little murders” yourself,

together, and he was a superstar there. Everyone

that it’s hard for the individual to make sense of it.

because of your race?

expected wonderful things from him because he

We’re controlled by our technology. What would we

was an incredible artist. They still have one of his

do if we had a major meltdown? 52


and was able to go to Europe. When he returned, he became very disillusioned with the art scene in Philadelphia—he couldn’t get a gallery to represent him, and he couldn’t get a show anywhere. He died in his forties, frustrated. Some people’s dreams turn into nightmares. A lot of artists go to New York

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


expecting the world to beat a path to their doors,

Philadelphia’s Departments of Recreation and Juvenile

he never sold a canvas. There are artists today

but they soon find out that no one cares about

Justice. I worked there for twenty-five years. That’s

who are undervalued, but are just incredible. Like

their work. I was invited to bring a big truckload

what affords me to do what I’m doing today. The sales

Charles Pridgen—he’s a painter whose work is in

of paintings to a gallery in New York back in the

of artwork helped, but working with those kids was

the collection of the African American Museum

1970s after they had seen my slides and expressed

probably really valuable to my development.

in Philadelphia (AAMP). The large landscape they

interest. Once I unpacked everything, the gallery director looked at me and said, “Wow, you’re an

GOLD: What kind of kids were these?

have, The Blues (c. 1950; ill. p. 61), is amazingly good, yet not many have ever heard of him. He was an

incredible painter, but you’re not an artist.” What he

BRANTLEY: They were juvenile delinquents from

important mentor for many artists of my generation.

meant was that artists bring a lot more to a gallery

thirteen to seventeen years old, who would live in a

We used to go to parties with Charlie. He was a

than just talent. You have to know how to play the

twenty-four-hour facility until a judge adjudicated

gentleman—he would come to a party with his

game—for instance, they want to know what your

their cases. The average stay was about two weeks.

big heavy moustache and a bowler hat, always

mailing list is like and how many museum shows

I would ask them, “Where do you see yourselves five

immaculate. And he was an incredible, insightful

you’ve had. Prerequisites like that are expected

years from now?” No one could give me a plausible

artist. He’s one of the artists that I often wonder

before you’re even considered for a show. So it’s

answer, because they didn’t think they would live for

about—where is his work and why aren’t we talking

regardless. I value all these friendships that I have

really difficult if you have no experience. Take Jean-

even a year longer. The homicide rate was very high

about him? When you think about African American

across the country, and we still remain close.

at that time.

art, names like Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence,

Michel Basquiat, for instance—where would he be without Andy Warhol? Basquiat was expected to perform at the whim and will of his collectors, to produce at such a high volume, but also to change according to the market. It really consumed him in the end, and he died at twenty-seven years old. His work now is being collected for millions of dollars. Barkley L. Hendricks told me that at his last show at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, his own canvases were being offered for six figures. He was also selling little Polaroid shots that he took in the 1970s

and Basquiat always come up first—they’re the GOLD: Did you work with them as an artist? BRANTLEY: I worked with them as a recreational

cornerstones. They were very important, and remain important, but there are so many others!

collective of thirteen or fourteen African American artists formed with Sande Webster, who is now my wife. Part of the reason we formed the collective

MCCAY: When you left PAFA, did you feel as

was because we believed that a fist is stronger than

artists, musicians, and people from the Franklin

though you had a community of like-minded artists,

a finger, and that collectives and communities are

Institute who would bring exhibits for the kids to

a meaningful network?

much stronger than individuals. Some of the artists

see. For career day I brought in lawyers, doctors, and police officers—the police officers weren’t that

BRANTLEY: Yes, no question about it. I’m still in

popular. [laughs]

touch with many of those artists. Some have passed on, but many still remain. When we’re together, it’s

MCCAY: You mentioned that your colleague

like we never left PAFA. We continue to connect on

But has success spoiled Barkley? No, he’s the same

Cranston Walker felt dissatisfied with the

the things we’ll always have in common.

guy who graduated from Simon Gratz High School

professional opportunities for artists in Philadelphia.

with me. We used to sit next to each other. I think

How did you feel?

in his life, and that I’ve come to this point in my life.

Soon after I left PAFA I joined Recherché, a

leader. I brought in people from the community—

for good amounts—he had a whole wall of them.

it’s absolutely incredible that he’s come to this point

James Brantley, Moe Brooker, and Richard J. Watson at an installation of Brooker’s work. Photograph courtesy of James Brantley

who have been in the group over the years are Syd Carpenter, LeRoy Johnson, Jimmy Mance, Quentin Morris, Martina Johnson-Allen, Moe Brooker, Hubert Taylor, and Charles Searles. Andrew Turner was our local Van Gogh. His work is pretty incredible, but he has since passed. When you think of artists

MCCAY: Did this community network extend

like Andrew, Cranston, and John Muchot, who died

beyond PAFA alumni?

much too soon, it’s sad. It would have been amazing

BRANTLEY: How did I survive it all? I have a

to see what they could have done, where they

dogged determination and an attitude of “You

BRANTLEY: Well, Charlie Pridgen was an important

may like it, you may not like it—I don’t really care.”

part of our community, and he didn’t go to PAFA.

All I care about is whether I like it. Vincent van

I know a number of self-taught artists who never

Recherché has toured the country together and has

Gogh never sold a painting in his life. It’s one of

went to established institutions, but we still have so

also traveled to Europe, Brazil, and Cuba. Our works

the craziest things. The Postman (Joseph-Étienne

much in common in terms of the creative process

were seen all over the world at that time. We’re

But you never know—it’s feast or famine sometimes.

Roulin) (1889) at the Barnes Foundation has to

that it really doesn’t make any difference where

still an active organization, and we still exhibit.

In the early 1980s I began working for the City of

be one of the greatest paintings ever made, but

we’ve been. As artists we speak the same language,

We’re trying to go to Paris right now. We want to

I have no regrets at all; I’m just one of the luckiest people in the world. I pinch myself almost every day. I have my health, which is at the top of the list. If I have my health and my family, I’ll be okay.



would be today, what they could be doing.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


go to France because recherché is a French word

these shows. Later, in the early 1980s, I remember

meaning “rare, much sought after.”

going to Treasures of Ancient Nigeria at the

GOLD: Since you traveled widely with Recherché

and have been to museums all over the world, you must be familiar with all sorts of painting traditions. When you were starting out as a student at PAFA and then as a young artist, were you an avid museum-goer? Did you investigate and seek out art in Philadelphia? BRANTLEY: I started going to the Philadelphia

Museum of Art when I was seven years old, but that was just the beginning of my thirst for learning about art. I have been regularly connected to museums throughout my career. I showed in the exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America, curated by Robert Doty at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1971. It was an incredible exhibition. It was picketed by artists who weren’t included, but you can’t put everybody in

Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was very impressed by it. Before that exhibition, African Americans probably didn’t go to that museum in great numbers. I can’t tell you when I’ve seen that many in the museum. It was astounding. The bronze Nubian sculptures were just jaw-dropping. MCCAY: What do think of the AAMP? Some

of the artists we’ve spoken with consider the circumstances surrounding its creation to be somewhat contentious. Many thought its original goal of representing the entire African American community of Philadelphia was outrageous because the African American community didn’t have a singular identity to be represented at the time. I don’t think any one group of people can be represented by an institution entirely. BRANTLEY: It’s more of a history museum than

a contemporary museum, so I give it a break on certain levels because it’s serving a certain segment of our society. I think there’s room for everything, but I agree with your premise—one museum can’t really serve an entire segment of culture respectfully. The AAMP is an extremely important idea; I don’t think it goes far enough, but I think it’s important. The museum is also architecturally challenging. When you enter, you walk right into a huge ramp in the center of the building, which takes up a lot of exhibition space. It’s a big ramp with nothing on it. Why? I didn’t like it then, and I like it even less now. It looks like a parking lot, and it really needs more light. A group of artists and I are trying A model of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (now the African American Museum in Philadelphia) is presented at a meeting of the Zoning Board of Philadelphia, February 20, 1975. Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

to get some site-specific work in that space. So far we’ve been shot down, but we’re going to continue to try.

Brother James, 1968, by James Brantley (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. John Lambert Fund) Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Photograph by Lou Zacharias



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


GOLD: I know that your work is in the AAMP’s

Haverford every once in a while. The Main Line Art

collection. You’ve become very well represented in

Center is a great resource. Very serious artists go

a number of museum collections over the course of

there. I didn’t know anything about it before I got

your career.

involved with it; there are so many institutions in

BRANTLEY: Yes. My work is in the collections of the

Philadelphia Museum of Art; Hampton University, Virginia; the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; PAFA—the list goes on. My piece at PAFA, a selfportrait called Brother James (1968; ill. p. 57), was

and around Philadelphia that aren’t really taken advantage of by its citizens. You can count on one hand the number of people living right here in Philadelphia who have been to the Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building. It’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

in a competition show there that was judged by

When I think back to when I was a young kid from

Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth gave my work first prize and

North Philadelphia at Simon Gratz High School in

said, “I’d like to meet the artist.” So he took me to

1963, studying at PAFA for a year, getting drafted

his studio in Chadds Ford. That was quite incredible.

into the Army, being in Vietnam for a year, getting

He was a real gentleman and a hard worker. After

discharged honorably from the military, and then

I made this picture, Barkley L. Hendricks painted

starting back at PAFA and graduating in 1971, I

a portrait of me as well. I also judge art shows

realize it’s been quite a ride! [laughs]

and offer critiques at the Main Line Art Center in

J.S.B. III, 1968, by Barkley L. Hendricks (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richardson Dilworth) Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, William Valerio, Susanna W. Gold, and Rachel McCay met with artist Moe Brooker and his wife, Cheryl McClenney-Brooker, to discuss his work. WILLIAM VALERIO: Moe, within the timeframe

said, “Consistency is important. If you work as little

covered by Woodmere’s exhibition, who were your

as twenty minutes a day, you will find that the work

mentors in your development as an artist? What

grows and remains vital to you.” I tried this, and in

paths did they take, and how did they inspire your

one year I tripled the amount of work that I had ever

voice as an artist?

done before. I have done it ever since.

MOE BROOKER: There are really three people who

Morris Blackburn at PAFA was another important

focused my desires in terms of being an artist while

mentor for me. He turned me on to Dox Thrash.

I was in school. One was Raymond Saunders. At

Mr. Blackburn was the one who told me that many

that time, after you were done with your classes

people wouldn’t give Thrash credit for developing

at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

a major innovation in printmaking, that very few

(PAFA), you would get a studio and just paint. Ray

people recognize him for his contribution. He

asked me, “How serious are you about painting?” I

explained how Thrash couldn’t afford new plates,

said, “That’s what I want to do.” Then he said, “Art

but would grind down images with carborundum

is a habit. What means do you have to support

and then burnish them up. So I started looking at

that habit?” When I said I was going to go to my

Thrash, which led me to many other artists.

studio and just work, he said I wouldn’t survive. He said he went to graduate school as a means to an end. I had never thought about going to graduate school, frankly, and wondered what the purpose was. Ray explained that there were two benefits of graduate study: firstly, it offers you an opportunity to concentrate and focus on your work that you will never have again. You have access to all kinds of resources—especially teachers to help you find your direction. Secondly, it gives you a way of making a living. If you teach at the college level, you teach anywhere from fifteen to eighteen hours a week, which allows you plenty of time to work. Ray said something that I have never forgotten and that I have used and passed on to my own students. He



Finally, the person who just made sense about the making of art for me was Charles Pridgen. Charlie came out of the Navy and went to the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. He had great difficulty when he finished his degree at Tyler. He became a professional lithographer at a commercial company because no gallery would show his work and very few would consider him in New York. He created a painting that all my fellow students at PAFA saw, called The Blues. It’s a semiabstract work that has a great deal to do with Cubism. It’s quite a painting, and one that influenced all of us. You can see its influence on my work. RACHEL MCCAY: How did you meet Pridgen?

The Blues, c. 1950, by Charles Pridgen (The African American Museum in Philadelphia: Gift of Kay and Doris Pridgen in honor of Doris Power) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


who I had never heard of. He told me about the many African Americans who worked at the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and I had thought that no one of color worked at the WPA! VALERIO: One of the remarkable things about

the WPA in Philadelphia is that it was so open to African American artists, whereas it wasn’t elsewhere. Why was that? BROOKER: Perhaps because of people like Julius

Bloch—he had a major influence in connecting people with the WPA. He also showed his work at Study, c. 1950, by Charles Pridgen (Collection of Lewis Tanner Moore)

the Pyramid Club. A lot of people didn’t like the fact that he showed there. He wouldn’t show at other places like the Philadelphia Sketch Club because they didn’t allow people of color. There were all Harmonica Blues, date unknown, by Dox Thrash (Historical Society of Pennsylvania: WPA Art Program)

these things going on at the time, but Bloch had a major influence.

BROOKER: Through a man by the name of Howard

VALERIO: Bloch was an influential teacher at PAFA.

Smith, whom I met PAFA. Howard was older than

BROOKER: When this was going on, PAFA was the

most of the students. He was in World War II, stayed

center of the world. New York had not arrived yet.

in Japan for a number of years, and then came

Artists were only just beginning to move to New

back. I met Howard in 1960, when he came to PAFA.

York and things were only just beginning to happen

He rented this house on Tenth Street—

there. The place you wanted to come to see and

VALERIO: You couldn’t have been a student at

PAFA in 1960. BROOKER: I started at PAFA in 1959. I’m seventy-

four. I’m old! [laughs] The point is, he rented this house and he would invite all the students from

study at was PAFA. You had artists teaching there like Franklin Watkins, who won major awards at major institutions. VALERIO: And he had a one-person show at the

Museum of Modern Art in New York.

PAFA over. White, black—it didn’t matter, you could

BROOKER: My point is, many of these men had

come to his house. One day he said that there was

insight and knew a number of African American

someone we all needed to meet, Charlie Pridgen.

artists who were struggling.

So we went to Charlie’s apartment and met his wife, Doris, and his little daughter. We would go over and he would tell us about people like Raymond Steth,

VALERIO: Was Watkins supportive of your work as

a student?

La Chambre, 1961, by Raymond Saunders (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: John Lambert Fund) Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Evolution of Swing, date unknown, by Raymond Steth (Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration New Deal Art Project. On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Untitled (Queenie), date unknown, by Ellen Powell Tiberino (Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

BROOKER: Yes. He came in dressed in a suit

launched Tommy’s career, and the careers of many

smash you to pieces. I went to class ready with


with a vest and a tie every day to teach. So did

other students. Frankly, I thought I was as good as

some increased knowledge of words, and I would

gorgeous. She was also very talented.

Hobson Pittman.

they were. But he never invited or introduced any

argue with him to death. He didn’t like that. I made

black students to the collectors. None of them.

him mad most of the time. After a certain point I

VALERIO: I’ve heard different stories about Pittman. BROOKER: Hobson was a racist. I’ll tell you that

straight up. Period. But he was a good teacher. He had techniques of teaching that I even use myself, as a teacher. He and Ray Saunders and Lou Sloan did not get along at all. Ray couldn’t stand him. Hobson also had the inside track on collectors in Philadelphia. He introduced people like Tommy Palmore and James Havard to collectors. He would have events at his house in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and invite select students. This 64


Franklin Watkins, though, did things quietly. He’d never let you know what he was doing, but he introduced and helped a number of African American students. He, Julius Bloch, Morris Blackburn, and

didn’t go to him anymore because he continued to be more and more inebriated. When he came in like that, he would really get going, beyond belief. He was useless to me in that condition.

BROOKER: She was. She was the first student of

color I remember when I was at PAFA because I was a couple of years behind her. And she won a Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship when she was there. She traveled all through Europe, and when she came back, she had these paintings and

Francis Speight were all very protective and very

A lot of things happened at PAFA that shaped

drawings that were just wonderful. I asked what

strongly in support of African American students at

me. The teachers I mentioned were the people

she found out. She said she saw paintings in the

the school. Walter Stuempfig was a good painter,

who were the most important for me. There were

great European collections, and that it made all the

but he was from a very different class. You would

students who were important for me, too. I was

difference in the world. When I went, I wanted to

have to go to class really knowing what you were

dazzled by Ellen Powell Tiberino, who was a painter.

look at Frans Hals. Hals is still one of my favorite

going to say, because if you didn’t, he’d absolutely

When she walked down the hall, everyone stopped!

painters. I’m dazzled by him. I’ve never seen a

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


photograph that copies the surface of his work

VALERIO: You described starting your career as

accurately. You can’t do it! Rembrandt van Rijn

a realist painter coming out of PAFA, but you are

became important to me. Peter Paul Rubens also

known now as an abstract painter. Most viewers

became important to me because I saw him paint

would not recognize you as a child of the academy.

people of color, unlike some of the other greats who

How did you find your voice as an abstract painter?

just painted white people and put brown faces on them. When black models came to the studio at PAFA, many of the students didn’t see their colors. What they saw was brown. In Rembrandt’s work, I saw colors that I never knew existed. I saw greens, blues, purples, and browns. That experience helped me.

BROOKER: When I was working figuratively, I

painted things I knew about—church services, for example, looking from the choir stand into the congregation during a service. I found characters that I knew. The men in the congregation who often went to sleep. The young couples. The

MCCAY: What inspired you to stay in Philadelphia

grandmothers who were taking care of their

to pursue your graduate degree at the Tyler

grandchildren. Hats. There were these wonderful

School of Art?

hats that had lots of color. Then, in the back, there

BROOKER: I was drafted into the army when I

was finished with PAFA, and I went to a number of places. I spent a year in Korea and got to meet Korean writers, dancers, and painters. That initiated a major change in my work. If you see my early paintings, they’re somber, tonal pieces. VALERIO: Are they representational?

was always a woman who was shouting. One of these paintings is called See the Woman with the Red Dress On. That was based on a line in a song by Ray Charles. So the characters that I knew and the issues I wanted to talk about were important to me in these early works. Then when I was at Tyler, two of my teachers— David Pease, who was an active painter showing

BROOKER: Absolutely. But when I went to Korea,

in New York, and Stephen Greene—inspired me to

I saw something that struck me. I saw a Korean

begin moving toward abstraction. By the time I

funeral. You had the mourners who were in gray—

was teaching at the University of North Carolina,

colorless. Then you had the cart that was carrying

my work had become semiabstract. Then one time

the person to be buried—highly colored. Color all

I drove to Philadelphia to visit my parents. At the

over the place! Colors I had never seen before in my

time, Philadelphia was known as one of the early

life. When I came back and went to graduate school

graffiti capitals of the country. There were three

at Tyler, I started using color. I wanted to find out

different styles of graffiti then—on the West Coast,

what color could do. My whole study in graduate

graffiti was protest-oriented; in Chicago, it was

school was about color.

figurative; and in Philadelphia, it was abstract. I drove all around the city and stopped at a place

SUSANNA W. GOLD: That’s interesting because

that had been vacated in West Philly where I saw

Tyler is a very different school from PAFA. Tyler is

this wall. It had tin on all the windows and doors,

more experimental.

and the handbills that people had posted had begun to peel off from the weather. There were



Just That, 1977, by Moe Brooker (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


shapes, colors, letters, and words, and I was struck

realizing music’s ability to emphasize, I starting

GOLD: He advocates for contemporary black artists

by the pulse, rhythm, and emphasis of all I saw. One

developing relationships with things that I

to develop what he calls a “black aesthetic,” with

of the interesting things about graffiti is the use of

understood. I understood perspective pretty well.

a focus on form, a focus on something universal,

line as a way to unify all parts of the marks on the

What is perspective, really? If you wash it down,

tending away from political or social experience.

wall. What I learned from that is I could put shapes

it’s not about the lines, it’s about comparison. So

I’m wondering if you see your work from the 1970s,

and images that in the process of the development

defining vision became very important to me.

when you were emerging as a young artist, as having

of the work seemed unrelated, but the use of lines as an overlay could unify the image. So I did a drawing inspired by this graffiti. I looked at it for a long time to try to understand it. Vasily Kandinsky’s ideas about transforming known symbols into a highly personal language so that those symbols hold new meaning for you were particularly helpful. So I started using elements of music that I understood. These became symbols that I could use, information that I could begin to relate to. That began, finally, my move to complete abstraction. VALERIO: What time period are we talking

about, now?

a “black aesthetic.” What does that mean to you? Do

A sense of narrative was another important concern

you see that as being relevant to your work?

for me. When you write a story, there’s a narrative— you set up situations, you develop characters, and

BROOKER: I think a “black aesthetic” is the same

there are conflicts and resolutions. The same thing

as a “French aesthetic.” It’s merely a point of view.

happens in abstraction. Developing a sense of

What is a French aesthetic in terms of painting?

narrative was the final thing that happened for me

In terms of writing? It’s not some unique situation;

when I began working abstractly. I think abstraction

it’s very much the same for anyone—an Italian

becomes narrative at its center and there is a sense

painter, a French painter, a Spanish painter, and

of narrative that becomes touching. You see, you

even somebody like Pablo Picasso who skips over

realize, you understand. And it was the language of music that allowed all this to come together for me.

I Can’t Keep from Singing II, 2002, by Moe Brooker (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, The Barra Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, 2003)

everything and takes on a French point of view. The art world wants to put artists into neat categories, and then when a black artist does something

I’m interested in the element of surprise in my

unusual, it’s not quite up to snuff. All artists emerge

work. I don’t want you to be able to say that you

are about. No one can take that from you.” I have

BROOKER: We’re talking about two different

know what’s going to happen when you see it. I

in a particular time, and they respond to that time. I

always held on to that. So what I want my paintings

periods in the 1970s. In the early ’70s, I was still fresh

want you to be surprised, and I want to make you

cannot be—nor can I work like—Jacob Lawrence, for

to do is to offer that opportunity. Find that sense of

out of graduate school, and was trying to make a

smile way down inside. Why do I want to make you

example. I’m responding to my own point in time.

joy inside yourself when you look at my paintings.

transition from semi-abstraction to non-objective

smile? Because life is tough. What is it that lets you

My work is “me.” It’s taking what has been given

imagery. I think that the work I produced during that

survive? Well, my grandmother used to tell stories

GOLD: When you describe your transition and

time was strained, and not very strong. But in the late

about this. She was born in 1866—the year after the

development from realism to abstraction in the

’70s, I began to find my own voice, and established

Civil War ended—and died in 1968.

1970s, your comments remind me of an essay that

some visual elements and color usage that has continued to feed my work up to now. I went from

David Driskell wrote in the exhibition catalogue for VALERIO: So she lived to be 102?

working with oil to working with pastel. At a certain

BROOKER: Yes. And she smoked a pipe. Anyway,

point, when I finally got comfortable, I was doing

we were talking one day, and I said I felt really

very large pastels—huge pieces that were eight to

happy. She said, “Happiness is fleeting.” I said I want

ten feet wide. Then I went from pastel to oil pastel,

to be happy all my life. She said, “No, you won’t. But

and from oil pastel back to painting. Then I started

there is something that you need to understand.

using oil pastel and paint.

There is something deep down inside of you—that’s

At a particular point, a number of things came together. Having seen color in Korea, having seen color in the African American community, and 68


a joy that you have. Nobody can take it away from you. It has nothing to do with happiness—it has to do with knowing who you are and what you

Two Centuries of Black American Art called “The Evolution of a Black Aesthetic.” He discusses work produced between the 1920s and the 1950s, but he’s writing for a 1970s audience. He laments that black artists in America have felt compelled to work in a realist tradition, and that they have been expected to address social issues that they might have encountered in their own lives. BROOKER: That’s true.

to me, and then taking it a step further. It’s a stepby-step process, and you can’t jump over it. I had to develop an understanding of what working as an artist is really about. I had to define some of the things that I was starting to look at, and to consider and reconsider those things in terms of a new language. The point is, my work is not inherently “different”; I merely use a different language. It’s a growing process. You take responsibility for your time and for your period. You begin to address some of the same issues that others have, but you might do so with a different language. For example, I like jazz, and my son and daughter like rap. Is there a connection? Of course there is. These two forms of music talk about some of the same things, but WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


in different ways. A lot of good rap has the same

BROOKER: I do. It’s a little drawing that I did on

a small drawing of mine and that it was because

aspects of syncopation that jazz has. I don’t see it

paper towels because I couldn’t afford any

of Anne. She did things like this that I think began

as a different aesthetic. There is a human aesthetic

drawing paper.

to make a difference in terms of the collection.

that exists, and within that human aesthetic there are different points of view about the experience of any particular group. MCCLENNEY-BROOKER: What if you were called

a “black artist”? BROOKER: I don’t know what that means. I know

what it means out in the art world. As I said before, if your work is not up to snuff, they’re going to call

VALERIO: And it’s also your first piece to be

in a museum.

because I don’t think there were a good number of paintings by black artists that were acquired during

BROOKER: Yes. It hung right next to the work

her tenure at the museum. Still, there were works

of one of my favorite artists at the time—

on paper that were acquired. Very few museums up

Raphael Soyer.

until the 1980s began to acquire works by African American artists. They just didn’t do it.


One of the people who got into the Philadelphia BROOKER: That’s what I said, too!

you a “black artist” and give you a title of some sort, but limit your work. I am a black person and I make

MCCAY: Did you feel that museums in Philadelphia

art, but I will not be called a “black artist” because I

represented black artists in their collecting habits

know what it means in the commercial world—I know

and exhibitions?

what it means to a lot of museums. It means less than

Though it might not have been her particular point,

Museum of Art’s collection earlier was Barkley Hendricks, with his painting Miss T. The difference that made—just the fact that you were showing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—was major. There were hardly any galleries in Philadelphia that would

BROOKER: No. I’ll tell you that straight up. And

show work by African American artists. They just

when they did, they usually bought works on

didn’t. The one gallery that did was a gallery on

GOLD: Can you elaborate on your experience with

paper—second-level works, not large paintings. The

Eighteenth Street; Barkley showed there. It’s no

museums in Philadelphia? I understand you see

first museum that bought a large piece of mine was

longer a gallery. Gallery 72 allowed black artists

limitations. PAFA, of course, is also a museum. Did

the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was a painting on

to show.

you have exhibition opportunities as a student and

panel—it wasn’t on paper.

good, less than other art that is in those museums.

a young artist in Philadelphia?

VALERIO: I’ve been told that one of the major

VALERIO: I’ve never heard of Gallery 72. Did you

have one of those shows?

BROOKER: I had an unusual experience. I don’t

turning points in the culture of the art world

know if it’s because my work was perceived as

of Philadelphia in general—and as it relates

work from a black person or not. A number of us

to African American artists in particular—was

black students talked about submitting work to

Anne d’Harnoncourt becoming the director of

the annual exhibition at PAFA, so we did it. My

the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It started with

But later, in 2006 I had a show at the June Kelly

work was accepted in 1962 or 1963. I was delighted

exhibitions focusing on African art, for example, and

Gallery and Michael Taylor, then the curator of

that I got in. But I expect that my acceptance

hiring you, Cheryl. I wonder if you would agree with

modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,

wasn’t predicated on whether I was black or not

that. Did Anne make a difference?

bought one of my paintings from that show. I was

black, because it was a really quirky drawing that I submitted. It was wonderful, I thought, at the time. But I didn’t expect to get into the show, frankly. I applied and expected to be rejected. VALERIO: Do you still have the drawing?



BROOKER: It made a difference, somewhat. Anne

would come to exhibitions of work by African American artists. I had a show at a gallery on South Street, called Gallery Charve, and she came. I was

Miss T, 1969, by Barkley L. Hendricks (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with the Philadelphia Foundation Fund, 1970-134-1) Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York © Barkley L. Hendricks. Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

BROOKER: I did not, because I was gone. I was in

North Carolina. I was in Virginia. I was in Cleveland. I wasn’t in Philadelphia then. That made a difference.

amazed. I was surprised. I was shocked, as a matter of fact, because he came to me and said that he

MCCLENNEY-BROOKER: What seems to be

important, among other things, is to have an ally on the museum staff who says, “I want this one. I think we should get this one.” Now, that might have been Anne. Sometimes it was. But I have to say, Michael deserves the credit for that one. VALERIO: I also think, historically, an important

exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

liked my work. But I never expected the museum to

was John Ittmann’s Form and Figure: Fourteen

buy anything, frankly.

Philadelphia Printmakers, 1910–1950 in 1991.

informed by the owner that the museum purchased

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Southern Barbecue, 1935, Raymond Steth (Historical Society of Pennsylvania: WPA Art Program)

Men and Magnets, 1942, by Claude C. F. Clark (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2008)

MCCLENNEY-BROOKER: Absolutely. John gets a

BROOKER: Frank Rizzo, during his eight years as

an incredibly powerful, explosive artist. I think of

BROOKER: Ray used to come to every show that I

lot of credit.

mayor, established that museum. It was given a

Thrash as another extraordinary artist who broke

had. It didn’t matter where it was—Ray would show

very limited—insufficient—budget by Rizzo, and

boundaries and created a body of work that

up. I asked him why, and he said I needed support.

the budget has remained the same for forty years.

shatters every stereotype and touches a deep

Ray never got that kind of support. He said to me at

So the museum finds itself constrained. It can’t do

place. Steth is an extraordinary printmaker who

one point, “You went further than I was able to go.”

a number of things because it doesn’t have the

may not get as much attention because his figures

He had limitations on the kind of work that he could


kind of budget that it should have. Also the space,

can seem like stereotypes. Southern Barbecue is

produce for the WPA’s Fine Print Workshop.

has had exhibitions of work by black artists since

which is so vital in a museum, is obstructed by a

interesting to me because the roasting pig seems so

then too.

large ramp, so the exhibition space has become

human, animated. The human figures are perhaps

secondary. They hired the wrong architect for

caricatures of country people, but they each seem

GOLD: Before these major shows, do you think

that building. He should be made to sit in that

immersed in different kinds of thought about the

the establishment of the Afro-American Historical

BROOKER: If his work wasn’t to the liking of

museum every day.

slaughtered animal that is the focus of the barbecue

some of the people in charge, he would have been

scene. Are they thinking about Christ? Are they

dismissed. Even though he worked in the WPA, he

thinking about lynchings? The dual light sources—

was bitter about the organization. He was really

moon and fire—makes for a technical tour-de-force

restricted in terms of what he was able to do. But

and a contemplative serious mood.

he did other work that was not like the work that

VALERIO: Then, of course, there was also Darrel

Sewell and Dewey Mosby’s Henry Ossawa Tanner show in 1991.

and Cultural Museum (now the African American Museum in Philadelphia) in the mid-1970s filled a

VALERIO: We’ve had conversations in the past

gap? Did that museum serve an important function?

about an earlier generation of artists, including Claude Clark, Dox Thrash, and Raymond Steth. Clark came out of the WPA and evolved to become



VALERIO: Meaning what? That he had to please a

mass audience?

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


VALERIO: Is that because stereotypes come

artists in Ohio called the May Show. If you won

into play?

a prize, all of a sudden you became someone

BROOKER: Absolutely. Women are understood

as painting in a particular way. African Americans are understood as painting in a particular way. White men are not understood as painting in any particular way. They can paint any damn way that they want! That’s the art world. That’s what you have to fight against all the time.

in the show my second year, I won the first prize in painting. I couldn’t make enough work to sell! People were coming out of the woodwork. GOLD: Were the collectors mostly in Ohio, or national? BROOKER: They were mostly in Ohio. Then a guy

by the name of Ray Frost Fleming who had the

VALERIO: Artists such as Charles Searles or

Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan, came

Barbara Bullock or Martina Johnson-Allen have

down and saw my work at the museum. He offered

made art that they intend for people to read as

me a show at his gallery, and it completely sold out.

emerging from an African American tradition.

All of a sudden, prices for my work went up.

That’s a very different strategy from what we are discussing. Left: Trilogy; above: Zawditu, both 2014, by Martina JohnsonAllen (Collection of the artist)

whose work people began to notice. After being

Corporations like the Ford Motor Company bought things. Hotels bought things. It was amazing. Kent

BROOKER: “African American” and “African” are

State University was calling me to give talks and

very different. Charles and Barbara and Martina are

lectures. American Greetings called me and wanted

all feeding off an African history that’s part of their

me to show their artists how to do abstraction!

own heritage, but that also remains at a distance.

I was also asked to show at Ruth Siegel Gallery

They are using history as a way to convey images

in New York in 1982, which went very well, so I

came out of the WPA—at all. Those works were in

BROOKER: I think people want to perceive

and issues that they want to talk about. But they’re

continued to show in New York for several years. All

his personal collection and were never shown. Right

immediately that a work is by an African American

not making African works.

of this happened based on that one exposure at the

before he died, he came to one of my shows and

artist. I ask, why? Is it important that it’s a work

told me that he still had a whole collection of work.

of art first, or is it important that it’s an African

GOLD: You taught in Cleveland for ten years,

American work of art first? There seems to be a

but your family was still in Philadelphia and you

I had arrived at a point where I was very happy and

need for identification that then determines what

essentially commuted. That’s a long commute.

satisfied with life. My work just exploded. There

the viewer’s response to the work is going to be. It

What is it about Philadelphia that made you want

were two times in my life when that happened. First,

alters the thought. I think that’s a dilemma that has

to retain the city as your home? Why not just move

when I won the prize in Cleveland, and then again

to be faced.

to Cleveland? Was it the circle of colleagues you’ve

when I came back here to Philadelphia. The day I

been describing?

came back to Philadelphia and met Cheryl, my life

VALERIO: I wish we could see this work. Do you

know Charles Jay, the painter who lives in Morton, Pennsylvania? BROOKER: I think he’s a very fine painter. I’m

touched by some of his work.

MCCAY: I think the same thing occurs when you try

VALERIO: The reason I ask is because, as a

to subsume the work of women artists into a falsely

BROOKER: I had a residence in Cleveland, but my

museum, Woodmere always makes a point of having

established category. People will often say, “Look

family was here. My son was here. Cleveland was

works by African American artists on view. We don’t

at her decorative sense,” as if being decorative is an

important because being there opened doors.

necessarily write on the label that it’s by an African

innate quality that women possess.

But I didn’t expect to be in Cleveland for a long

American artist. Sometimes you can perceive it, and sometimes you can’t, as with Jay’s work.



time; that’s why I maintained a residence here. The BROOKER: Yes, I think the same can sometimes be

said for the perception of female artists.

Cleveland Museum of Art used to have a show for

Cleveland Museum of Art.

changed. My work changed at that point, too. It became very different and exciting for me, and a lot of it had to do with her. She made a difference. It makes a difference when someone you love believes in what you’re doing. It opens doors to the imagination. I tell her that all the time. She doesn’t quite believe me, but it’s true. Even now, I’ll work

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


on a piece and I’ll say, “You got a minute?” I’ll ask

to teach. I said no. I didn’t think I would ever teach

what she thinks. Sometimes it’s what I want to hear,

again. She kept calling, so I agreed to teach one

and sometimes it isn’t what I want to hear. But it’s

course. I taught that one course, and then became

always right on point.

permanent. Then I went on to become chairman of

So after I met Cheryl, I went back to Cleveland and said I was leaving. My colleagues said I was

the Foundation Department. I ended up being there for seventeen years before I retired.

crazy. They told me I was probably the most

VALERIO: I think of the Brandywine Workshop as a

famous artist in Ohio, and I was. When I came back

real anchoring institution in Philadelphia’s art world.

to Philadelphia, I didn’t have a job. I drove down

Could you talk about your experiences there and

Thirteenth Street, and right there at Race Street a guy

your friendship with its founder, Allan Edmunds?

named Joe Amarotico stepped out in front of my car. Joe was a good friend of mine. He asked if I wanted a job, and that fall I found myself teaching at PAFA. VALERIO: This is what year? MCCLENNEY-BROOKER: We got married in 1985.

BROOKER: I met Allan when I was in graduate

school and he was an undergraduate at Tyler. I had been to Rome and Allan asked me what it was like. I said, “If you can go, go.” So he went and had a really good time. When he came back, he had this idea to do the Brandywine Workshop. That had a great

BROOKER: Shortly after I had come back to PAFA,

deal to do with Allan’s having met Richard Callner

I was called by Parsons [The New School for Design,

who was the director of the Tyler’s School of Art in

New York] and became chairman of the Foundation

Rome. Interestingly we all worked at Marion “Kippy”

Department. I was there for three years.

Boulton Stroud’s workshop on Green Street.

VALERIO: Were you commuting back and forth?

VALERIO: The Fabric Workshop and Museum?

BROOKER: I was. I would get up in the morning,

BROOKER: Yes, the Fabric Workshop. But it wasn’t

catch the six o’clock train from Germantown to

the Fabric Workshop then. It was just a workshop

Thirtieth Street Station, and catch the seven thirty

where Allan, James Gadson, a few other people,

train to New York. I’d be there until five or six o’clock

and I worked with kids, teaching them to silk-

in the evening, sometimes later, and then jump on

screen. Allan had the idea to open his own space

the train and come back. They told me when I took

around the corner, and that became the Brandywine

the job that I’d only be there one day a week. But

Workshop. Allan had relationships with a number

I was there five days a week because I had a lot to

of artists throughout Philadelphia. Everybody who

do. They had very few women. I hired women. They

was around at the time was asked to come in and

had no blacks. I hired blacks and Hispanics. They

make some prints at the Brandywine. I did it two or

went crazy. I remember people went nuts. I lost

three times. I made one print for my son, This One’s

fifteen pounds and made only one painting in those

for You Musa, and I made Making Visible for Moore.

three years. When I got back here to Philadelphia,

Allan also asked me to do one for the Workshop,

Barbara Gillette Price, who was the president of

which I did. It was a four-part piece, and the last

Moore College of Art and Design, asked if I wanted

print that I made there.



Making Visible, 2004, by Moe Brooker (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, The Barra Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, 2009)

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Monday, January 12, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with artist Barbara Bullock to discuss her work.

Celebration, 1975, by Charles Searles (Smithsonian American Art Museum) Photograph courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC/Art Resource, NY

Beacons of Defense, c. 1942, by Raymond Steth (Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration New Deal Art Project On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

SUSANNA W. GOLD: How do you see yourself

artist. It was during that time that I met Charles,

the country. In Philadelphia we had many exhibitions

because you had artists who were associated with

fitting into the history and range of artists working

Richard, and John Simpson. John and Joe Bailey

of work by African Americans. We would find

PAFA and other institutions, and others who were

had a studio at Thirteenth and Arch Streets; Walter

venues in local community centers, for example, and

self-taught. There was a strong community of artists

Edmonds had a studio on Eleventh and Market

create amazing exhibitions there. When the Afro-

because there was a need for it.

Streets, where we often met to discuss our careers.

American Historical and Cultural Museum (AAHCM,

I worked on my drawings and paintings every day,

now the African American Museum in Philadelphia)

and these artists’ critiques sent me back to my

opened, we began to have exhibitions there, too.

BULLOCK: The earlier meetings were in artists’

studio. They loved PAFA, but after they left they

The NCA probably had about five shows at the

studios. Later we met as the Philadelphia Chapter

felt they had to find themselves in their work. Their

AAHCM. But remember, this was Philadelphia in the

of the NCA. About thirty artists would attend these

art had to speak about who they were as African

1970s—there were really very few venues available

meetings. Charles Searles and Raymond Steth were

American men and women. I found myself in this

to black artists.

both very outspoken about many issues. There were

in Philadelphia from the 1920s to the 1970s? BARBARA BULLOCK: Many of the artists who

inspired me in the 1970s came out the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), including Charles Searles, Moe Brooker, Deryl Mackie, Richard J. Watson, Cranston Walker, and Ellen Powell Tiberino. Ellen has made very powerful, moving drawings of her family. RACHEL MCCAY: Did you study with Searles?

group. Being with artists who were really strong and dedicated to their craft influenced me greatly,

GOLD: Were these exhibitions self-organized?

Would the artists themselves go out and find venues?

MCCAY: Who spearheaded these artist meetings?

also many artists whose names you don’t hear much anymore because most of them are gone now—like

BULLOCK: When they were attending PAFA, I

but we were all having a hard time finding venues

was attending the Hussian School of Art, also in

where we could exhibit our work. At that time we

BULLOCK: Yes. We would get together at

and nurturing individual, as well as Cranston Walker

Philadelphia. Hussian was a commercial arts school,

belonged to the National Conference of Artists

Walter Edmonds’s studio and have tremendous

and Joe Bailey. They were both excellent artists.

and I realized I wanted to make a living as a fine

(NCA), an organization that has chapters all over

conversations about our work. It was enriching



Charles Pridgen, who was an extraordinary artist

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


GOLD: Was the art typically available for purchase

BULLOCK: Ile Ife was part of the Model Cities

at NCA exhibitions, or was it for viewing only?

Cultural Arts Program in North Philadelphia. Arthur

BULLOCK: All the work was for sale. We even did

a few shows in New York and Washington, DC, but only until many of the artists began to move away from Philadelphia so that they could pursue their careers on the national level. But in the 1970s there was a lot of wonderful work being done right here. Most of my art from this period was sold long ago, thank goodness! MCCAY: Who have been your most

supportive patrons? BULLOCK: In the 1970s it was mostly private

collectors, who would buy one or two pieces. About five of my works from that period are in the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) collection.

Hall, the extraordinary choreographer, dancer, and teacher, founded Ile Ife and an African American dance ensemble. He led Model Cities from 1968 until 1974. There were departments for dance, music, drama, and art. Arthur asked me to direct the art department. Charles Searles and many other artists were on staff. They were great; they made my job easy. It was a strong program, and for four and half years it answered a great need for the children of North Philadelphia. GOLD: Did it only serve young children, or people

of all ages? BULLOCK: It served all ages. It operated all day and

provided all the materials the departments needed. Everybody who worked there was really dedicated. They had Odean Pope, Max Roach, and other great

GOLD: You were also involved with the Ile Ife Black

musicians in the music department. H. German

Humanitarian Center. Can you tell us what that was

Wilson was the director of the drama department.

and what you did there?

The art department included ceramics, painting,

The Ile Ife Afro American Junior Dance Ensemble performing as part of the Citizens for Progress tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. (detail), January 15, 1975. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Maicher

Ulysses Young, of the Department of Education’s Inner-City Division, prepares to cut the ribbon at the opening of the Ile Ife Cultural Center (detail), August 12, 1969. Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Joseph T. Martin



The Arthur Hall Junior Dance Ensemble performing at the ribbon cutting ceremonies for the opening of the Ile Ife Mobile Museum at Broad and Jefferson Streets, June 25, 1976. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Dean Nathans

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


sculpture, photography, and printmaking. Arthur’s

the children—they were real children. Their voices

whole philosophy was that all the programs had to

were like bells, and they were so innocent. What

benefit and nourish the community. He wouldn’t

a difference from children today, who seem to

accept anything less, and we really worked hard. It

grow up so fast. But Haiti is also a gorgeous place,

was a great challenge.

so beautiful. I wanted to paint the great statue in

GOLD: Was the program interdisciplinary?

Did the different branches of the arts interact with one another?

front of the palace while I was there, so I brought my paints and set up my easel, and when I turned around there was a rifle pointed at the back of my head! I was apparently not supposed to be in that

BULLOCK: The departments only worked together

area. I didn’t say anything; I just packed up my art

when we did presentations. Otherwise each

supplies and left. It’s a different world. I wish the

functioned independently. The music department

people had better lives there. It’s really hard.

was on Broad Street, and we always joked that the musicians were totally different from the

MCCAY: Did you also visit Africa?

painters, and the actors were totally different from

BULLOCK: After I had visited Haiti, Jamaica, and

the musicians. But it was very rich, with so many

Mexico, I really wanted to travel all over Africa.

different forms of art. Just being around all that

Whenever I got a grant, I tried to go. I’ve been

music and drama—and the dance! The dance was

there about ten or eleven times now. The first time

so strong! I loved it, and so did Charles—you can

I went to Morocco, and then I went to Egypt. The

see its influence in both our bodies of work. Charles

artist Joe Maiden did a residency in Senegal for

was always there, sketching, and I was always there,

three years, so he set up a trip for ten of us to visit.

trying to dance—I almost got fired for it a few times!

When I was there, I felt like I was home. On the first

GOLD: Why was it called “Ile Ife”?

day of the trip I met this one person, a beautiful man, and he said he would show me Africa. I have

BULLOCK: That was Arthur’s idea. Ile Ife is taken

a very free nature, so I left the group and he took

from the Yoruba, meaning “house of love.”

me, every day, to see places that are not often seen by tourists. The others in my group stayed more

GOLD: Was it chosen because African heritage was

or less in and around the hotel, but I was able to

so important to the arts at Ile Ife?

see all the things in Senegal that I had read about.

BULLOCK: Oh yes, without a doubt. It was our

whole background. We did a lot of research on African culture, and often met with writers, historians, and priestesses. Arthur also arranged for some of us to visit Haiti. Religion is very strong there, and we went to all the sacred places. The country has a remarkable history. Poverty has always been pervasive there, and there were no schools for children when we visited. I’ll never forget 82


I’ve also been to Ethiopia, Mali, Timbuktu, South Africa, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana. The first time I went to Africa, I arrived with only thirty-five dollars in my pocket. Once I got there I just had to live inexpensively, cooking on the beaches and such. On my most recent trip I went camping all over the continent. It was hard, but it was wonderful. I wanted to go to Rwanda, but at that time tourists weren’t able to travel there. I’ve always wanted to

Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters (My Mother Bearing Agony), 1968–69, by Twins Seven Seven (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds contributed by John H. McFadden and with the gift of Material Culture, 2006-78-1) © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


as an “African American palette.” There was a lot of

Martha Jackson Jarvis, Betye Saar, and others

communication and a lot to contend with at that time.

inspire me. They produce strong visual narrative

GOLD: That reminds me of an essay David Driskell

wrote in 1976 for the catalogue Two Centuries of Black American Art, in which he describes something he calls the “black aesthetic.” Driskell laments the burden black artists seem to have felt, historically, to deal with social issues in their work. He advocates for black artists to free themselves from this obligation and to explore formal properties and universal themes, which may or may not have a basis in their African heritage. Do you think your work has a “black aesthetic”? Is that term meaningful to you?

Two Dresses Friday Night, 1979, by Donald E. Camp (Collection of Alice Oh)

go to the lowlands, where the gorillas are. I would

work, and Charles and I felt an immediate affinity

also love to travel to Mali and Timbuktu again.

for it. It was so powerful and filled with color and

GOLD: It seems like Africa and African heritage

have long been on your mind and in your work.

life. Beautiful work. It evoked a great sense of the connections between animals, humans, and spirits. Twins had a strong influence on us; we felt we had

BULLOCK: Yes, I’m constantly doing research.

seen something in his work that we wanted to see

I’ve always loved the idea of finding out what it’s

in our own. Twins had become very successful as

like for myself, of understanding the landscape and

an artist in his native Nigeria, and eventually moved

the people.

to Philadelphia. It took some time for his art to be recognized here, even though he exhibited widely and

GOLD: Did you ever meet Twins Seven Seven when

his work is in important museum collections.

he was living and working in Philadelphia?

works that speak of who they are. They are also artists who have experienced strong criticism because their work is controversial. It creates dialogue, provokes questions, and opens new possibilities. The creative choice—the right to create and say what you feel, whether other people agree with it or not—is important. In the 1970s I created an erotic series, Jasmine Gardens, for which I was criticized. I was inspired by both Japanese and erotic art, and I did a lot of research for the series. Eroticism was a strong part of Japanese culture. The ninja warrior had to learn the art of love making before he could become a true warrior. The Jasmine

BULLOCK: Alain Locke and many artists of

Gardens series was about the nature of love. This

the twentieth century have stated that African

was my inspiration to create an African cultural

Americans should paint who they are, acknowledge

series where warriors, male and female, were open

where they come from, and address issues directly

and expressive of their love. I lived it, researched

related to their lives. I feel a connection with these

it, and visualized it. The fact that blackness opens

ideas, but I also feel a connection with broader

and closes many doors challenged me to create

issues. I’ve never felt pushed to produce work

paintings and drawings about how love empowers

that deals with culture and identity, but culture

the struggle.

and identity give me the energy and strength to create my art. Social issues and the ways people are treated—those are important realities for me. When devastating events like Hurricane Katrina occur, I question why they would happen to my people, why these circumstances exist. But I also think about tsunamis and other crises that happen on a global level. Things that affect all of us. I listen

I really loved what I discovered and thought, “This is what the world needs—love.” But all my figures were warriors, because this was during the civil rights era, and people didn’t seem to like seeing the warriors in an erotic context. I was really criticized badly, and even lost a lot of friends. But I gained them back about a year later when other artists started exhibiting their erotic art!

As Ile Ife grew, our interest in Africa became even

to what other people say when they question me

BULLOCK: Oh, I loved Twins Seven Seven! Charles

stronger. I think there was a need for it in the 1970s.

about painting what I feel. I have to answer my own

GOLD: You were a trailblazer! Can you tell us about

and I met him in the 1980s at Ile Ife. He was there

Black artists were really coming out and proclaiming

questions. When it comes to my work, I want to see

the painting Dark Gods (1982; ill. p. 86), from the

with us for a while. He was just a wonderful person,

who they were and where they came from by

what I’m really made of.

Jasmine Gardens series?

artist, and musician. When he first arrived and

exploring their connections with Africa. There were

told us he was a prince from Nigeria, we weren’t

even discussions about the colors of paint we chose

There are a number of artists who are important to

BULLOCK: One of the dark gods was the artist

sure we believed him. But then he showed us his

to work with, about whether there is such a thing

me. Ellen Powell Tiberino, Romare Bearden, Jean-

Deryl Mackie, whom I really loved. I had made a lot

Michel Basquiat, Radcliffe Bailey, Donald Camp,

of portraits of him, but at that point I was focused



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


on embraces. Dark Gods was my embrace of Deryl. Deryl was a wonderful artist, a great friend, and an inspirational, beautiful black man. We were not physical, but my imagination was—I wanted to create strong male and female forms. There is a deep beauty in our blue/black/brown/yellow bodies, and in the embrace of who we are, finding ourselves in each other. Creativity can be a powerful force to deal with. Painting Dark Gods was like being under a spell, that energy, the muse Orisha, a Yoruba spirit deity, would not leave me alone until I completed the painting. GOLD: Who is the other dark god? BULLOCK: When I look at it, it’s a male and a

female, but some people look at it and think it’s two males. That got me into some trouble; back then, we had a long way to go still with regard to gay rights. But I say, an embrace is an embrace. GOLD: When you first showed that work, were

people enthusiastic about it? BULLOCK: There were several paintings in that

An exhibition at the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia, including a painting by Charles Searles, August 27, 1976. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Sonnee Gottlieb

series, and over three hundred drawings. I sold maybe two hundred of the drawings, so people

BULLOCK: Oh, yes, I often had work included

were enthusiastic about some of it. Dark Gods took

in AAMP exhibitions. It was almost a constant.

a long time to complete, and I was thinking about

I started showing there in group shows soon

Deryl all the while—I think that’s part of what made

after it opened.

it so strong. I was going to give it to him, but he said, “Barbara, I don’t think you want to do that.

GOLD: You mentioned earlier that the Ile Ife Black

That’s one of your strongest paintings, so hold on

Humanitarian Center and the NCA both fulfilled a

to it.” Jasmine Gardens was included in the AAMP’s

need in Philadelphia. Do you feel the AAMP fulfilled

retrospective of my work in the early 1980s. All my

a need as well?

pieces were out in the open in the galleries, but they put a velvet rope around the erotic series!

Dark Gods, 1982, by Barbara Bullock (Collection of the artist)



BULLOCK: Yes, I do. I feel very close to the AAMP.

In addition to participating in its exhibitions in the

GOLD: Had you shown your work at the

1970s and 1980s, I was also teaching there and

AAMP before?

leading workshops. Historians were there and the staff was much larger then, but I knew everybody. WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


It felt like a different museum from what it is now. Today the AAMP seems to be more focused on history; there were many more art exhibitions in the past. It felt like we were constantly doing shows there.

GOLD: What is Prints in Progress?

Philadelphia prison system. I said, “Wherever you

teachers could do it every day, and for so long.

want me to go, I’ll go and I’ll teach.”

They’re really just extraordinary people.

printmaking workshop for children that ran for

GOLD: Did the councils choose the places where

I still have some students who come to me for

about thirty years. It was the brainchild of Marion

you worked?

one-on-one sessions. They might want to work

BULLOCK: Prints in Progress was a wonderful

MCCAY: What kinds of work did you and other

“Kippy” Boulton Stroud and had workshops in many

artists in Philadelphia do for the Comprehensive

areas of the city: in Germantown, at Greene and

Employment and Training Act (CETA)?

Coulter Streets; in Kensington; at the Lighthouse

BULLOCK: I started working in the CETA program

right after I worked with Model Cities at Ile Ife. It was a community outreach program hosted by the Brandywine Workshop. It was slightly different from Model Cities because we worked at a few community centers—the R. W. Brown Community Center in North Philadelphia, John Gloucester House in South Philadelphia, and the Boys and Girls Club in Germantown. The CETA program was always about more than just teaching students. They talked to you, and you became involved in their lives. So

community center in North Philadelphia; in

BULLOCK: Yes. The PCA sent me to Shippensburg

for my first sixty-day public school residency.

Center in West Philadelphia; and at the Samuel

BULLOCK: It was a strange situation. I was the only

MCCAY: Were you involved in art as a child? Did

S. Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia.

African American person in town. I met people I

you grow up in an artistic household?

We worked with children ages six to eleven years

thought were the salt of the earth, just wonderful

old. When Diane Pieri hired me, we decided that

people. And then I met people who were slightly

along with printmaking we would do some other

dangerous. There was some bigotry there, but I

adventurous projects with painting, drawing,

really didn’t pay it any mind. I counted down my

sewing, sculpture, and banners. We worked in

time working there on a calendar like I was in prison!

different mediums, even found objects. It was great,

Thirty more days and then I’m going home! [laughs]

and I was there for thirteen years.

But I did meet some really wonderful people. One time I got off at the wrong bus stop in the middle of the night. I was on a dirt road, and it was so dark

good, some not so good. Their lives can be hard.

Philadelphia public school system?

I couldn’t see in front of me. Someone came and

BULLOCK: I probably started teaching in the 1960s

MCCAY: How did you become aware of these kinds

as an artist in residence—not only in schools, but

of programs?

also in black institutions throughout Philadelphia.

in Philadelphia. But I also sat on a committee for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, which funded cultural organizations throughout the city. We

art during school and there were after-school art workshops, too. Now we have to advocate to get art back into classrooms. I did about two hundred residencies in schools

funding to see the kinds of work they were

once I started working for the Pennsylvania Council

doing. Anne Edmunds had asked me to sit on

on the Arts (PCA), the New Jersey State Council

the committee three times, and when she knew

on the Arts, and the Delaware State Arts Council.

my work at Model Cities had ended, I was asked

We created projects to take into school systems.

to participate in the CETA program. Anne was

Sometimes the teachers already knew the projects.

very supportive. Later, when I worked at Prints in

They wanted you to do the residencies in order

Progress, I found out that she had helped secure the

to better integrate the arts into the classroom

grants for that program.

and inspire student learning. I also worked in the


asked if I was lost, and then took me to their house across the street so I could call for a ride home. MCCAY: When did you stop teaching?

Years ago we had the School Art League; there was

would interview the institutions that had requested


them tools and some instructions, but I encourage them to work out their ideas themselves.

MCCAY: When did you start teaching art in the

BULLOCK: Mostly from networking with artists

project. I talk to them about their projects and give

GOLD: What was that like?

Powelton Village; at the Community Education

many things go on in the lives of children—some You just worried about them.

on collage, or painted furniture, or an installation

BULLOCK: Creative energy was welcomed in

my family. My sister Delores is a singer. She has a beautiful voice, and we grew up with a lot of jazz and blues music in our house. We also had family friends who were artists. My mother taught in Catholic schools in the South before she came North. I was fortunate that my family let me be who I wanted to be. They supported me by not doubting that I was an artist. I know my creative energy comes from some relative or relatives, however distant; I feel it was inherited. GOLD: And when you went to school, was there a

good arts program, or did you take advantage of

BULLOCK: Three and a half years ago.

community after-school programs?

GOLD: Do you miss it?

BULLOCK: I participated in many programs at

community centers. In elementary and junior BULLOCK: I miss being an instructor at Rutgers

high school I was in the School Art League, an

University, New Jersey. I was teaching teachers

after-school program. There was a duck pond in

there for ten years. I would give them projects that

Fairmount Park near Walnut Lane. The art teacher

they would then take into the school system. And

took us there to sketch and paint many times. I’ve

I miss working with little ones, because they were

always been creative. When I was growing up, I

so great. Children keep you aware of your work.

needed a language. I realized early on that art was

They’re spontaneous and have a lot of creative

going to be that language.

energy. But whenever I left a school in the middle of the day or in the morning, I wondered how those

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Friday, March 27, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with artist Donald E. Camp to discuss his work. SUSANNA W. GOLD: Donald, we’re interested

calendars, on postcards, and in other formats like

in your work, in part because it is so hard to

that. So I knew that there was some representation

categorize. You are a photographer who works like

of black artists in print form, even though I didn’t

a printmaker. Of course, photography is a form of

really consider my work as a photographer as

printmaking, which has a rich history among black

relating specifically to those materials. My mother

artists in Philadelphia. It goes back to the nineteenth

was very interested in the arts, and promoted them

century, when Henry Ossawa Tanner was working

in our home. She was a vocal artist, an incredible

in the medium, and was strengthened later in the

singer. She gave concerts in the area and had offers

1930s with the Works Progress Administration’s

to sing and travel with national groups. But because

(WPA) Fine Print Workshop. Were you aware of or

she had a very hard childhood, her obligation was

inspired by this long history of printmaking when

to stay with her family and raise the children. But

you first began photographing?

she always encouraged us to do creative things.

DONALD E. CAMP: No. I didn’t think specifically

about that. But when I was a kid, I did see the work of Jacob Lawrence and other black artists in

One of my brothers, Herbert, was the first in our family to graduate from college. He went to Columbia University and got his degree in fine art. I was the youngest, about eight years old at the time, when I got to see all the things he brought home. I remember getting into his art history books, and when he caught me, I thought I was going to get in trouble for bothering his stuff. But instead, he took the time to explain to me all the schematics I didn’t understand—how to balance a print or other pieces of art according to its color mass and the weight of color. So I learned that very early, and it became a very strong part of my visual vocabulary. RACHEL MCCAY: What kind of work was

Herbert doing? CAMP: Herbert was a very strong painter, but he

ended up in Trinidad doing ceramics. He always The Disciples See Christ Walking on Water, 1907, by Henry Ossawa Tanner (Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations) Photography courtesy of the New York Public Library



loved the earth and always loved ceramics, but continued to make paintings as well. He came back from Trinidad because he was very sick, and

Brother Who Taught Me to See/Herbert Camp (from the Dust Shaped Hearts series), 2006, by Donald E. Camp (Collection of Lewis Tanner Moore) Photograph by Joe Painter WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


once he was here, he found out that he had cancer

like he just threw the traditional understanding

and had only a couple more weeks to live. But I

of composition out the window and reinvented it

wanted him to see one of my works because he

for himself. So when I saw Frank’s and DeCarava’s

had never seen any of my art. I had done a body

work together, it entranced me. I had never thought

of work called Voids and Barriers in which I had

about photography as a career before that.

appropriated images from historical newspapers

GOLD: So you really taught yourself about the

and mounted them on glass mirrors. If the lighting

history of photography?

was correct, it would reflect onto the floor so you could stand in the image and see the image at

CAMP: Oh, yes. I am strictly self-taught when

the same time. Herbert looked at my work and

it comes to the history. But I didn’t only study

said, “Beautiful composition. Where did you learn

photographers; I also looked at printmakers and

composition?” And I said, “You taught me, when

painters—Francisco de Goya, Pieter Brueghel, and

I was eight years old.” And he said, “You’re damn

so on. And Beauford Delaney! When I saw Delaney’s

right!” He died in 1988.

work, I said, “That’s a portrait. That’s how you do a portrait!” I studied the history of art when I was

MCCAY: How did you become interested in

in the Air Force and stationed in France by going


to the Louvre and walking around Paris. I was on a

CAMP: I don’t know when I first realized that there

military base north of Paris for about a year or so,

were photographs and that they were important.

and I probably went to Paris at least thirty times.

Maybe it was when I was four or five years old and my mother would send me out to play. I would take newspapers with me and hide under the porch to look at all the photographs. I was looking for myself in the newspaper, but the only images they ever had

Georgetown, South Carolina, 1955 (negative), 1960s (print), by Robert Frank (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds contributed by Dorothy Norman, 1969-195-44) © Robert Frank, The Americans. Photograph

Portrait of James Baldwin, 1945, by Beauford Delaney (Philadelphia Museum of Art: 125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with funds contributed by The Daniel W. Dietrich Foundation in memory of Joseph C. Bailey and with a grant from The Judith Rothschild Foundation, 1998, 1998-3-1) Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The news stories would be, “Negro does this. Negro does that.” Or there would be sort of ridiculous photographs of African Americans. I remember one particularly strange one. It was of an African American man in a jail cell, taking a bath in a tin bathtub. You could not really read anything in the image. Nothing was identifiable, except the caption.

young age. So I’ve been striving ever since I was very young to change that image. I realized even then the power of the photographic image. It’s real. People perceive photographs as real. The photographs that existed were really negative about what and who African American men were. You also have “photographs by omission.” If there is no published photograph of a group then the

GOLD: Which identified the photograph as a black

man in prison.

to the culture as a whole. Those photographs that are published define the group. The images of

CAMP: Yes. Absolutely. That was the public image

African Americans, Asian Americans, American

of African American men. I noticed that at a very

Indians, and women presented in non-stereotyped


around. I hadn’t known about Auguste Rodin at the time, and I remember walking in and it just floored museums with a slide holder that I had punched

group does not exist or is not a contributing group


And I discovered the Rodin Museum by just walking

me because it was so bold! I’d walk around the

of African Americans, particularly African American men, were headshots when a crime was committed.

I literally walked the Louvre for four or five weeks!

manner have been nonexistent. That situation still

the film out of, and that was my camera. That way

has not changed much. Later, when I was fourteen

I could compose and recompose great images

or fifteen, I went to the library to see what they

without wasting film, because nothing that I was

had on photography. They had Edward Steichen’s

shooting would really turn out the way I wanted

The Family of Man. I was the only one who checked

it to. I would tilt the slide holder to change the

that book out, and I checked it out many times. I

perspective a little and do other little things like

later saw books with the work of Roy DeCarava and

that, just to learn composition.

Robert Frank. DeCarava’s work is just beautiful. He was African American, and I guess I was looking for

MCCAY: When did you decide to start practicing

some kind of reinforcement that photography was

photography in earnest?

something that I, as an African American, could do. Frank, on the other hand, said that a photograph could look the way you wanted it to look. It seemed

CAMP: Well, that’s an interesting question, because

I don’t know. Maybe it was when I was about eight or nine years old and found an old box camera with

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


When they came to my print, they all laughed and threw it away. That was hurtful. GOLD: Why do you think they rejected it? CAMP: Because it looks like my work does now.

It didn’t follow the rules. I was still learning when I was stationed in Vietnam and started working on a project, Vietnam Medic, which was kind of an imitation of W. Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor. This guy came in with a bunch of aluminum cases with Life magazine stickers all over them, and I just knew he was a photographer—it was Philip Jones Students at the Opportunities Industrialization Center receive awards, November 24, 1966. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Jack T. Franklin

Griffiths. I had just printed this body of work and I had it with me, so I asked if he would look at it. After he looked carefully at my work, he invited me to go to Saigon so we could talk more. He spent three days with me there, giving me a lot of the ins

no film in it, and started running around pretending

and outs of the photography business. Now that

to take pictures with it. I still remember how it went

I look back on it, that experience was really quite

click! [laughs] I would click the camera and try to

a gift. That’s when he told me, “Go to work for a

remember what I saw in my viewfinder when I heard

newspaper for three or four years, and then leave.

that click. Or maybe it was when I finally put film

They’ll spoil you.”

in the camera and started taking pictures. But it was probably when I was in the Air Force in Illinois, where they had a photo lab. GOLD: Did you have instruction on how to use the Air

Force photo lab, or did you just experiment with it? CAMP: I just experimented. The lab had instructors

who would show us the basics of what to do, but they allowed us to experiment, too. That was the purpose of it—it was a fun lab, like a hobby shop. I

GOLD: When you first started working for

Philadelphia’s Evening Bulletin in February 1972, did you consider yourself a photojournalist or a creative artist who found an outlet in your camera? CAMP: I was an artist. I have never known anything

else in my life. GOLD: When you were working in photojournalism,

did you ever meet Jack T. Franklin or John Mosley?

had never made a print before then. It wasn’t easy.

CAMP: I never saw Mosley but I know his work. I

Nothing turned out the way I thought it was going

see his work as racialized, rather than stereotyped.

to turn out. One time I printed a photograph of my

Charles L. Blockson wrote of Mosley’s photographs,

brother’s face, and I thought it was really nice. It

“They are a testimony to the existence of an African-

was just the way I wanted it, so I entered a military

American humanity that warms the heart and soul

base photo contest, and I watched them judge it.

as it stimulates the eye.”1 Mosley was and remained



Civil rights demonstration, August 2, 1975, 1975. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Winter Grass, 1979–81, by Donald E. Camp (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2013) On the Hill, 1979, by Donald E. Camp (Courtesy of the artist)

a photojournalist and his subject was the African

I rejected what Jack was doing because I thought

that the newspaper had a moral responsibility,

CAMP: Yes, William Larson started it. Martha

American community of Philadelphia. The four

that accepting it meant that I was accepting being a

but I eventually discovered that it was really

Madigan and Michael Becotte were also

photographs by Mosley in your show distinctly

reporter. I rejected the work of most photographers,

not interested in any kind of social change or

instrumental in the program at Tyler.

represent four different qualities that exist in the

simply because their work seemed to be pictures “of

improvement. It wasn’t even mirroring the society

African American culture and all other cultural

something.” To me, photography is much more than a

or the culture. It was solely interested in monetary

groups. He photographed people and events

picture of some thing—no matter how finely it’s done.

survival. When I realized the newspaper had its

that were absent from the dominant media. His photographs made a culture that was invisible to the mass media, the American culture and global cultures, visible. I used to see Jack Franklin quite often when I would go to the African American Museum in Philadelphia. He was a really dedicated reporter. But I was interested in a different kind of photography.



GOLD: How did you reconcile that conflict when

policies and that no one was going to change them,

MCCAY: When you got out of Tyler, how did you

start your career as a fine art photographer rather than someone working for a newspaper?

I found I could no longer stay. I had worked at the

CAMP: It was a challenge because I was an artist of

paper for nine years when I just got fed up. One day

color. Sande Webster was a tremendous help when

CAMP: The newspaper only accepted the images

I went to Temple University and discovered that it

she started selling my work. In addition to being

I made for it if I followed the newspaper’s idea

had a visual anthropology program. From there I

an artist of color, I was also a photographer, and

of what those images should be. Otherwise,

transferred to the Tyler School of Art.

photographers were not fully respected as artists at

you were working at the newspaper?

the photographs were ignored. I became more and more frustrated working within these constraints. I had been naïve enough to believe

GOLD: Did Tyler have a specific photography

department when you were there?

that time. Photography didn’t really start to come into being as a fine art until the 1970s. I remember

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


seeing a show at the Print Club that included Ansel

Middle class workers and business owners lived

connected to my particular emotions—anger or

Now I’m ready to go back again and just do black

Adams’s Moonrise print. It was a large print that

in the middle of the hill. The top of the hill was

happiness—during a particular period. I started

men. I’m ready to do black men because I’m finding

you could buy for less than a thousand dollars.

reserved for whites only. We all lived “On the Hill.”

out doing just African American men because

that people are not looking at my work seriously.

It wasn’t considered valuable art. The idea that a

All of the photographs are places of childhood

people were talking about the extinction of African

And black men are being targeted very negatively in

photographer was a fine artist just hadn’t gained

memory and were printed with a process that was

American men, which I thought was really stupid.

today’s society. They’re looking at my photographs

much ground by then. I couldn’t hang out with

not subject-dominant but was visually emotional.

I thought that if we were going to be extinct, then

as portraits. They have been dismissively described

painters and sculptors because I was a “sub-artist.”

They are meant to be nostalgic and beautiful.

people four or five hundred years from now might

in the past as “brothers who do things.” Some

I really cringe when I think about these divisions in

Winter Grass (1979–81), which has been acquired by

want to know who we were and all that we had

people just don’t get it—this is the brother who

art. It makes you have to wrestle with the question,

Woodmere, shows a field where I used to play as a

contributed to this culture! It was also political. I

taught me to ride a bicycle! Do you realize how

“Am I a photographer, or am I an artist?” But to me,

boy. I went back and shot the photograph looking

found that when I went to a museum there was

important that is? This is the brother who taught

art is about sharing. It’s not about whether you can

up at the homes on the hill, from the perspective I

almost no visual representation of black men in a

me to dance! Do you realize how important it is to

master a paintbrush or not—it’s about one heart

would have seen it from as a boy.

positive light. So I just said, “Well, I’m going to do

learn to dance and sing, and other human practices

black men. I’m going to throw it in your face.” When

like that? It seems that as a black man, I’m just not

I started doing lectures, some women asked, “Why

considered relevant unless I shout that I’m a black

aren’t you doing women?” Well, because I’m not a

man. I can’t just be a good human being. So I’m

CAMP: Yes, because in a way, what I’m doing now

woman, I’m a black man. And that’s what I thought

ready to do a body of work about black men again,

is nothing more than headshots—headshots like

I could share. But then I did start doing women,

just because it has to be screamed again that this

CAMP: Exactly. I couldn’t have the newspaper

the ones I was doing at the newspaper! I love it

because I don’t believe the human race flies very

is what we are, this is who we are—we’re black men

between me and the heart anymore.

when I start working and I’m at the first stage of

well without them! [laughs] We need both men

who do things. Important things. Even if it’s being a

photographing a face, because I love that moment

and women because that’s what we are as human

museum guard or a congressman, you know?

of interaction. I love it because it relates to the idea

beings. I also started doing white men, because

of the heart again—it’s that first stage of capturing

I know white men who are really good people. I

CAMP: I made these photographs as a transition

a heart, and that’s a really “real” moment to me. But

do good people; I do people that I consider to be

from being a photojournalist to being a fine artist.

it doesn’t last long. It’s only a five- or ten-minute

angels that walk the earth. So I include all races,

Wanting to make a body of work that was finely

session. I do that because that’s how long we were

because I am a human being. We’re really one

photographed and printed I decided to create a

allowed at the newspaper. If you wanted to do a

human race. That’s what I work for.

classic portfolio. Doing so would free me to explore

newspaper job, you couldn’t stand there all day,

materials that are light sensitive and therefore

but you would always come away with a headshot.

able to be photographic. My subject matter,

The headshot is a thing that really establishes what

Farrell, Pennsylvania, was chosen because, like

we are, particularly in the press. So the headshot

photography, its most powerful component was

is a very, very important idea. That’s why I do

memory. I was raised in this town, and my best

the headshot. They’re not portraits—they’re not

and worst childhood memories are here. The town

portraits at all.

informing another heart. Am I sharing my heart with you? That’s what makes an artist. GOLD: And that was something you didn’t really

feel like you were able to do as a journalist.

GOLD: Can you tell us about the work included in

We Speak?

was on the side of a hill, and the town’s economic and racial status was determined by your position

GOLD: Were you able to bring anything from your

photojournalism experience to your art?

CAMP: Everyone I photograph I know to some

European immigrants who worked in the steel mill

degree. I found that doing these over a period

lived near the bottom of the hill, near the mills.

of about twenty years, my choices are really


ride a bike. NOTE 1 Charles L. Blockson, The Journey of John W. Mosley (Philadelphia: Quantum Leap Publisher, 1992).

MCCAY: How do you select your subjects?

on the hill. Poorer African Americans and poorer


GOLD: Yes, or teaching your brother how to

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Friday, March 27, 2015, William Valerio, Susanna W. Gold, and Rachel McCay met with artists Kimberly Camp and Nashormeh Lindo to discuss their work, the National Conference of Artists, and the Barnes Foundation.

interested in the younger artists as well. In 1980

Sam was studio mates with Dox Thrash. They didn’t

President Carter recognized NCA and honored

simply attend our meetings, they were actively

several of our elder artists at the White House.

involved and actively interested in educating us

We had at least two international meetings, one

on the history of the activities of African American

in Brazil, and one in Senegal. So, we had a global

artists in Philadelphia from the early 1940s, and

reach and perspective, in addition to working on the

even earlier. They were very much interested in the

national and local levels.

unpacking and sharing of information. Humbert

RACHEL MCCAY: Was the NCA in Philadelphia in

spoke of the Pyramid Club exhibits he had been involved in. These meetings were gatherings that

SUSANNA W. GOLD: Kimberly and Nashormeh,

NASHORMEH LINDO: The NCA met yearly, in

we’re particularly interested in hearing about

different locations all over the country: Chicago,

art institutions that were created in the black

Detroit, Los Angeles, and Richmond, Virginia. The

community in Philadelphia with the purpose of

first national meeting I attended was in Detroit.

CAMP: The chapters were all unique in many ways

met at each others’ studios so we could familiarize

serving black artists. Could you tell us about the

I saw and met Richmond Barthé, Ernie Crichlow,

because although they shared the same format,

ourselves with the work that everyone was doing.

Philadelphia Chapter of the National Conference

Lois Mailou Jones, and Margaret Burroughs there.

each one had a different focus and dynamic. In

We met at the Afro-American Historical and Cultural

of Artists (NCA), and your involvement with that

It was thrilling, for these were some of the artists

each place there were different opportunities

Museum (AAHCM) on several occasions, courtesy


I’d only learned of in books. They were excited and

to shape what the organization did. The NCA in

of Deirdre Bibby or Deryl Mackie. This was also an

Detroit, for example, actually had a physical space

important opportunity for some of the younger

KIMBERLY CAMP: The NCA was very important

some ways unique or different from chapters in other cities?

so they did tours and trips and all kinds of things.

ourselves. It was started in 1959, and when I joined,

That chapter also had access to other institutions

Nashormeh was president of the Philadelphia

where it could curate exhibitions. Most of the

Chapter. It was through the NCA that I met Jacob

chapters actually sprung out of black colleges and

Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Raymond Steth, Sam

universities, because there was a black intellectual

Brown, Selma Burke, and Humbert Howard—all

presence already organized there. In Philadelphia

those folks. They came to the meetings, the events

there was not much collaboration with black

that we organized, and the exhibitions that we

universities, specifically Lincoln University or

curated. For the meetings, we met in people’s

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, so we worked

homes more often than not, and we talked about

with other places in the city.

art. We talked about grant opportunities and fellowships, and we brought information from the

LINDO: Many of the artists involved in the NCA

National Endowment for the Arts in Washington,

weren’t getting any attention from the media or

DC, back to Philadelphia to share it. There was

from the institutions that were in Philadelphia. That’s

a lot of formality to the NCA—formal minutes

not to say that no one did, though. For example,

were taken at meetings, conferences were held in

Humbert Howard, Sam Brown, Reba Dickerson-

different locations around the country, and regular

Hill and Raymond Steth had exhibition histories,

newsletters were published. I was managing editor

and were very active in the Philadelphia art world Jim, 1935, by Selma Burke (Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations) Photograph courtesy of the New York Public Library



Yes, we met at each others’ homes, but we also

to hold events. The New York Chapter was huge,

among the art institutions we were creating for

for the newsletter.

were learning experiences, inspiration sessions.

and had been for a long time. Humbert had gallery representation and Sam was in major museum collections. They all had participated in the WPA.

Checker Player at Marian Anderson Playground, 1950, by John T. Harris (Collection of La Salle University Art Museum) Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


it a point to meet a lot of folks and learn from them what I hadn’t learned at Penn State. Another artist I met around this time was Joe Bailey. I thought of him as an example of a successful artist because

VALERIO: And Karen Warrington, who was one of

the dancers.

he had won a commission with the city and had a

LINDO: Yes they were, but I met Charles and

piece prominently displayed at Fifth and Market. I

Barbara under different circumstances. Barbara

was really impressed by that.

and Cranston Walker were both in the CETA

WILLIAM VALERIO: It was at this point that

you also became involved in the Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center. Can you describe, in your own words, what Ile Ife was all about?

Rock and Roll, 1978, by Humbert L. Howard (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Joan P. Kahn, 2012)

GOLD: Barbara Bullock was very involved as well.

program and came to R. W. Brown as a part of the art program there. The interesting thing to me was the fact that Ile Ife was interdisciplinary. That there were poets, there were dancers, there were painters, there were photographers and sculptors.

LINDO: When I first got out of college, I was

We would come together to talk about our common

working as an Arts and Crafts Specialist at R. W.

African heritage, which was the primary focus of

Brown Boys and Girls Club in North Philly. I heard

the group. I had experienced Ile Ife when I was a

about Ile Ife’s Visual Artists group from one of

young girl in the 1960s. My aunt and uncle, Walter

my students. I went to one of their meetings and

and Beverly Lomax used to hold their own meetings

eventually became a member of the Ile Ife Artists’

at their home where they would talk about the

Consortium. That’s when I met a lot of other artists

civil rights and Black Arts movements. They had

who were working, both formally and informally,

introduced me to African dance and the Arthur Hall

in the community. Nerissa Keren Williams was an

dancers. So when I first joined the Ile Ife group, I

artists to learn how develop a portfolio, put their

for them and sit at their feet. So, I actively sought

artist at Ile Ife, and in fact, Keren was the one who

had been exposed to and was able to relate to the

slide collections together, and articulate what and

them out. I visited their studios, and I would talk to

actually invited me to the Ile Ife group. She was very

African culture that we discussed at our meetings. I

who we were as artists. None of this was offered

them. At this time, the AAHCM had just opened.

active as a painter and she also explored sculpture.

remember meeting in that old PNB bank building in

in art school at the time, so even those of us who

John T. Harris would come every day and sit down

She lived in Germantown with her husband, who

North Philly. The African aesthetic was definitely the

had actually gotten degrees in art had not really

and work on his archive. He’d show me how to

was a photographer, and both of her children were

foundation of our discussions at Ile Ife, but we also

been formally taught any of this. This organization

draw faces, and about his time teaching at Cheney

also artists. She was serious about her art, and

talked how we could expand and grow as artists,

was so important to young black artists just getting

University. He did a beautiful drawing in one of my

during this time returned to school at Philadelphia

and how we could support ourselves as artists, and

started, as well as the older artists who wished to

sketchbooks. I also hung out with Humbert Howard

College of Art (now the University of the Arts) to

how we could create our own exhibition space and

share and preserve their legacies. The Philly chapter

a lot. Humbert and I used to go to lunch, and

get her degree. There was a whole group of artists

film space and performance space. We were very

had some strong artists in it including Walter

would walk to his studio from downtown—he was

of all kinds working together at Ile Ife. There was the

ambitious. Arthur definitely had a very specific

Edmonds, Jerry Robinson, Aschak, Shirley Johnson,

a walker. We’d walk from downtown Philadelphia

sculptor John Queen, who had a son, Clarence, who

vision about where the whole thing could go. There

and Hannah Buie.

up to Powelton Village, to his home. I also became

was also a sculptor. They were very much involved.

were a lot of artists at Ile Ife who had worked all

friends with Ellen Powell Tiberino, who was an

Joe Maidin was involved with Ile Ife and eventually

their lives, and never had a gallery exhibition or

amazing painter and human being. I adored her and

received a Fulbright fellowship and traveled to

a museum show, or any real support from the art

her work. I remember going out to Fairmount Park

Senegal. Abiodun was there, as was Curtis Brown.

world in Philadelphia. But Ile Ife prepared exhibitions

I remember that when I first returned to Philadelphia in 1976 after graduating from Penn State, I realized that I’d never met any artists who were African American, nobody who looked like me. When I got out of school, my first quest was to look 102


with her and Laura Williams Chassot and painting the azalea bushes around the Art Museum. I made

VALERIO: Charles Searles was also one of the

artists associated with Ile Ife.

that were held in the museum in the old bank building. I also recall a show at the Academy of Music, probably around 1977–78. WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


There was always a bit of tension between those

that we would buy the buildings around Ile Ife that

LINDO: So much nail polish! They used a lot of it,

part in the building up of the activity

who had formal training and gotten a degree in art

were abandoned and boarded up, and turn the

and they wore a lot of it too. They reminded me of

which has culminated in this beautiful and

and those who were self-taught or hadn’t, but we

area into a sort of an African-inspired, creative,

very flamboyant hairdressers or something—they

significant enterprise. I know of no more

were able to resolve that to a certain extent within

cultural community of painters, dancers, musicians,

would dress up and wear a lot of makeup and

significant symbolic contribution than that

the context of these meetings. I think, in some

poets and other artists. I understand that some

jewelry. Their nails were always done, and their hair

which the work of the members of this

ways, the Ile Ife group was very much like the 309

aspects of that actually came to fruition through

was always coiffed. At first they didn’t look like

institution have made to the solution of

group or the Spiral group, when artists would get

Lily Yeh’s efforts running the Village of the Arts and

artists to me. They would pull out these fabulous,

what sometimes seems to not merely be

together and discuss their philosophies about art. I

Humanities. That was partly Arthur’s vision.

colorful, beautiful little paintings that reminded

perplexing but a hopeless problem, that

think Arthur had seen what AfriCOBRA was doing in Chicago, and it was his sort of Philly version of AfriCOBRA. Looking back to Alain Locke, the notion of embracing our cultural heritage via the ancestral arts and having that be the foundation for what we were creating. Arthur’s vision was

me of the color palette of Haiti or of European

Of course, not everybody agreed with Arthur’s

of race relations. The demonstration that

Fauvist art. Their work was fanciful, but depicted

vision. I am reminded of these two women, a

two races may work together successfully

mundane, everyday subject matter, like their

mother and daughter, who did these beautiful

and cooperatively, that the work has the

bedroom furniture, the vanity or their dinner table.

paintings using fingernail polish. Their paintings

capacity to draw out of our Negro friends

I don’t remember their names, but I do still have an

reminded me of vanity, glamour, and beauty, and

something of that artist interest and taste

impression of the vivid color in their artworks.

in making the contribution which their

not so much about African heritage, but perhaps something uniquely black American.

VALERIO: Kimberly, can we ask you about the

Barnes Foundation, in Merion, Pennsylvania? Can VALERIO: They must have needed a lot of nail

you offer some insight into Dr. Albert C. Barnes’s

polish—I think of it as coming in teeny tiny bottles.

thoughts about African American culture?

They must have had to buy out the store! CAMP: There are many reasons people hate Barnes,

but they are all the wrong reasons. Here is just a taste of what Barnes’s real ideas were: This is the Foundation’s opening keynote address, from May 1925, which John Dewey was to invited deliver as its first director of education. Dewey sent it to Barnes for approval, and Barnes sent it right back. He wanted to make sure that Dewey mentioned African Americans. He said he wanted people to know that

of any race which has in any way been repressed or looked upon as inferior. These ideas are why people really hate Barnes, why people today think it’s cool to say horrible things about him. This is why he’s talked about as being quirky and crazy—even demented. There were some racial epithets hurled at him as early as 1925, when he wrote this. Here’s my favorite passage from Barnes’s 1925 article “Negro Art and America”:

vagrant has proved his possession of a

aesthetic activities of individuals whose names are not known, probably have not


every demonstration of the artistic capacity

This mystic whom we have treated as a

world of African art, which records the


a celebration like this. May we rejoice that

the things that he said:

gallery one of the finest collections in the

The African-American Museum of the Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center in the Philadelphia National Bank Branch at Seventh and Dauphin Streets (detail), February 21, 1972. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

to make. Something to be dwelt upon in

he was serious about this business. This is one of

It is I think significant that you’ll find in this

Frederick Heldring (right), vice-chairman of the Philadelphia National Bank, and Arthur Hall (left), director of the Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center, February 1972. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

own native temperament so well fits them

been known for centuries, for a suggested number of the Negro race, of people of African culture, have also taken a large

power to create out of his own soul and our own America, moving beauty of an individual character whose existence we never knew. We are beginning to recognize that what the Negro singers and sages have said is only what the ordinary Negro feels and thinks, in his own measure, every day of his life. We have paid more attention to that everyday Negro and have been surprised WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


to learn that nearly all of his activities are

my favorite Barnes quotes! And there were two

this from Barnes. Barnes hated intellectual theft. He

shot through and through with music and

things that Barnes absolutely hated—segregation

was very careful to give people credit for the work

poetry. When we take to heart the obvious

and discrimination. Barnes didn’t write just one

they did.

fact that what our prosaic civilization needs

article about African Americans, he wrote many

most is precisely the poetry which the

articles. He would send them to the papers over

average Negro actually lives, it is incredible

and over and over again. But they earned him some

that we should not offer the consideration

incredible ire because at the time, the institutions in

which we have consistently denied to him.

Philadelphia were segregated.

If at that time, he is the simple, ingenuous, forgiving, good-natured, wise and obliging person that he has been in the past, he may consent to form a working alliance with us for the development of a richer American civilization to which he will contribute his full share. VALERIO: That’s an amazing statement.

So when Barnes discovered Locke, Barnes had already been at this for some time. He once wrote to Dewey, “Dear Jack, I was invited to this event in Harlem, and there were all these educated people there including Negroes—poets and musicians and

GOLD: “Negro Art and America” is included in

artists—and they were interested in what I was

Locke’s book The New Negro, but the two of them

talking about.” Barnes was so excited that he had

had a contentious relationship. Barnes became

found an audience!

angry at Locke for what he regarded as intellectual theft. Do you have some insight into why or how their relationship developed, and the problems that they had? CAMP: At the time Barnes was trying to get a

VALERIO: What kinds of relationships did Barnes

have with African American artists, such as Claude Clark, for example? CAMP: Clark studied at the Foundation, and so did

his wife, Effie. Effie was a student there first, actually.

CAMP: Barnes was an early advocate for African

dialogue about African art going, nobody was

Americans. From the time he was eight years old,

talking about it, and nobody was collecting it.

he said he was “an addict to Negro[es]”—one of

Barnes was the first to collect African art in the

VALERIO: Did she continue to paint? Are there any

United States for aesthetic—not anthropological—

works by her that are known?

She was there in 1928, and he was there in 1930.

reasons. Discussing it with people and trying to get them to see it was part of the Foundation’s

CAMP: I don’t know. I’ve never seen any work of

charge. He was the one who hired Barbara Morgan,

hers, and I’ve been to their house many times.

for example, to do a series of photographs of the

It’s possible that she was a poet, a dancer, or a

Congo, c. 1928, by Aaron Douglas (North Carolina Museum of Art: Gift of Susie R. Powell and Franklin R. Anderson, 2000.11.2)

African art at the Foundation. Those black-and-

musician, because people who went there were

Photograph courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

white images were the beginnings of Morgan’s

artists in multiple disciplines—including Aaron

career as a modernist photographer. That well-

Douglas, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn

known picture she took of dancer Martha Graham

Bennett. Classes at the Foundation weren’t just

with her hand up on her forehead—that was

limited to visual artists.

post-Barnes. Many of the glass plates are at the



went to visit Clark, the first thing he asked me was whether I’d seen his work, and I said yes. Thank

VALERIO: What about Horace Pippin?

goodness he didn’t ask me where.

postcards and posters, and were sent to colleges,

CAMP: Pippin was there for a while. Barnes has only

VALERIO: How did Clark describe his life and

universities, and other schools around the country.

two pieces of his in his personal collection that I

career, and his relationship to Philadelphia?

But Barnes claimed that he was the one who

know of. I don’t know if he bought others. I do know

exposed Locke to the aesthetics of African art. He

that he bought some of Clark’s works that are not

was distressed that Locke took up the mantle and

at the Foundation.

Foundation. The photos were put together as

(Left to right) Humbert Howard, Julius Bloch, Horace Pippin, Orrin Evans, and Albert Barnes at the Pyramid Club Art Exhibition, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

CAMP: He definitely had at least three. When I

didn’t acknowledge that he actually learned all of

VALERIO: Where are they?

CAMP: I was going through the card file of Barnes

Foundation students and saw his name and thought, “Oh, I think I’ll call him and see if he’s still around.” So I called him and arranged to go out to WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


dinner, Mrs. Williams mentioned Barnes in passing, and I said, “Wait a minute, what?!” “Oh,” she said. “We used to sing on the lawn on Sundays.” I asked her if Barnes lectured about race at these events. She said, “No, they would just put people next to one another who ordinarily wouldn’t be sitting together—business people, Negro preachers, actors. We’d have a meal and everybody would just start talking.” VALERIO: Did Barnes have any interest in printmaking

or the graphic arts, like the work of Dox Thrash? Horace Pippin (right) and Albert Barnes, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

CAMP: Barnes didn’t collect prints. One of the

Photograph by John W. Mosley

Barnes created the Foundation, he set aside $6

things that’s really important to know is that when million for the purchase of art. The work at the

nursing home. He was blind by then, but he said, “I still remember the Barnes Foundation in detail, with everything in the rooms.”

Foundation was not a bequest from Barnes’s personal holdings—it was not his art; it was the Foundation’s art. Barnes had a separate private collection. His wife had a separate private collection.

Effie’s sister was hired by Barnes to go and collect

Things that Barnes bought for the school were for

Negro spirituals. She and Frederick Work from the

the school, from the school’s money. You have to

Giving Thanks, 1942, by Horace Pippin (Collection of the Barnes Foundation) © 2015 The Barnes Foundation. Photograph courtesy of the

Manual Training and Institute for Colored Youth at

take the idea of connoisseurship out of your mind—

Barnes Foundation

Bordentown, New Jersey, were sent down South to

that’s not what he was doing there. He was building

collect this music.

an aesthetic vocabulary for the purpose of teaching. Barnes thought that artists should be perceived at

see him. He had a very interesting career. When he

thing for the next three speakers. The result was

VALERIO: And where is this collection? Is it in

a higher level than other people, and if you could

was teaching art at Talladega College, Alabama, his

that the festival was desegregated. As I said, Barnes

Barnes’s library?

teach people how to see how an artist sees, that

students wanted to enter the spring arts festival

really hated discrimination and was a staunch

competition, but they found they were excluded

advocate against it.

CAMP: It’s gone.

Clark has my respect as an elder artist who nurtured

GOLD: In what form did they collect the music?

because it was segregated. So Clark wrote to Barnes about his disappointment and asked whether there was something Barnes could do. Thomas Munro, the assistant education director at the Foundation, was planning to be the keynote speaker for the festival, so Barnes wrote Munro a letter saying that if he gave the speech, he could never mention the Foundation again in any context related to him. He did the same

me as a younger artist. He was important to me in some of the same ways Nashormeh described NCA artists. One time I was at his home in Oakland, California, and he was showing me how he was cataloging his work on racks in the basement. When I did an oral history with him later, he was in a

CAMP: We believe it was written sheet music, and

that it was quite a substantial collection. One of the students who sang Negro spirituals on Barnes’s lawn with the Manual Training Institute lived up the street until she just recently passed. She was 100 years old, and in a nursing home. Her daughter is a good friend of mine. Once when I had them over for



would enhance their ability to perceive, and that this process would build critical problem-solving skills. VALERIO: And he was right. CAMP: Yes. He thought that by comparing and

contrasting the formal elements of art—light, line, color, and space—and moving between aesthetic traditions and contemporary interpretations of aesthetic traditions, students would find Meaning, with a capital M. It was a philosophy course. So the

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


pieces that he chose for the Foundation were part

Foundation’s collection. When the administration

of that aesthetic vocabulary. For example, Barnes

building was sold in 1998, right before I came to the

loved the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, but none of it

Foundation, all of its contents were moved into the

is in the Foundation’s collection. There are letters

residence and the arboretum house on the main

in the archives between Barnes and O’Keeffe in

campus. So if there were any clues as to what might

which he asked her to send him some of her urban

have been in which collection, they were probably

landscapes. She sent them, but he sent them back,

lost at that time. Barton Church and Harry Sefarbi

explaining, “Not quite what I’m trying to do here—

did point to some of the pieces that were in the

Anyway, the word went out about the Foundation

let’s try the desert ones.” She would send more

house as pieces that would periodically be put in

and its programs. Artists were encouraged to

pieces and he would send them back again, saying,

the gallery. It has not been possible to get more

participate. Barnes had art students coming from all

“I really love your work, but it just doesn’t fit with

clarity on this. Sometimes Barnes would buy a lot of

over. There were students coming from New York

what I’m trying to do.” So it wasn’t connoisseurship

work and just give it away.

University and Columbia University and the colleges

that drove the collection. It was about buying pieces to support the school, to demonstrate a

GOLD: Give it to whom?

GOLD: Anybody? CAMP: Yes. At one point the archives indicated that

the Foundation had sixty-three Chaïm Soutines, but it didn’t. I asked Church where they were, and he just said they “went the way.” Barnes gave away the Pierre-Auguste Renoir ceramics as hospitality gifts.

and universities in the Philadelphia area. In fact, he wrote to Dewey saying that he had launched a ship

pedagogical position. He never varied from that.

CAMP: Church said he would give it to students and

much bigger than he intended to sail. He wasn’t

It was one of the reasons a lot of the educational

friends. Sometimes he’d put things out by the gate

quite sure what he was going to do with it.

institutions here really didn’t want to have anything

for people to take.

to do with him. He kept insisting that his collection

VALERIO: That’s a great metaphor.

a bad arm.” (Pippin was injured in the war.) But he said no, Pippin was better than most stand-up comics you’ve ever seen. He said Pippin would start telling jokes and then he and Barnes—one white, one colored—would be rolling around on the floor slapping their knees! Barnes was like a cross between Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein. He had a wicked, very wry sense of humor. He would throw out a red herring in a heartbeat, and then watch and see if people could find it. He did it so often—it’s amazing how some people came to the bizarre conclusions that they did. Art and Painting, for example, says Barnes was written to encourage people to form their own ideas about the art—that they were not to assume his were the only ones. The point was to teach people to see—he gave examples in the front of the book and encouraged people to come to their

was about education, and they kept saying, “We

CAMP: Yes, it’s really wonderful. And he didn’t

own conclusions. This is deep in the book, which is

discriminate! Charles S. Johnson, who was then at

obscure and horrible to read because of the way

Opportunity magazine, would write to Barnes about

they used language back then. His writing and

GOLD: Did his private collection and his wife’s

artists who could benefit from his tutelage. Barnes

Dewey’s writing were really difficult to get through.

private collection merge with the Foundation at

stayed informed, so when, say, Fisk University, in

some point?

Nashville, would get a new president, Barnes would

don’t care about your ideas on education, we just want your collection!”

send a letter congratulating him, explaining what he CAMP: Mrs. Barnes’s collection went to the

did at the Foundation, and offering his own help if

Brooklyn Museum. Its inventory was over 130

it were needed. He was also involved with Howard

pages long, with multiple entries per page. The

University, in Washington, DC, to a degree. So artists

museum sold a lot of that work immediately. When

found the Foundation—Effie and Claude Clark took

it comes to Barnes’s own personal collection,

classes, and Pippin attended some of the classes too.

that’s a big question that’s still out there because we were never able to find an inventory of the

GOLD: What was the relationship between Barnes

pieces that he considered to be “permanent.” He

and Pippin like?

stated in his will—not in the charter, in his will—

CAMP: I remember asking Clark about this, and he

that his private collection was to be sold, with the

told me that Pippin often went to Barnes’s house

proceeds benefitting the Foundation. But we were

for dinner. He said when they were together, Barnes

never able to discern which pieces were in his personal collection and which pieces were in the



Horace Pippin, date unknown, (Collection of Peter Paone and Alma Alabilikian)

VALERIO: I agree—I’ve tried. CAMP: So about 120 or 130 pages in, he says these

are just his ideas. The idea is for you to come up with your own interpretation. He puts a red herring in there. MCCAY: Did the classes at the Barnes Foundation

ever contain the practical education artists were receiving through the NCA? CAMP: No, absolutely not. It was the study of

aesthetics. The first professors who taught at the Foundation had PhDs in philosophy.

would laugh his head off! And I very gingerly said,

VALERIO: It was about understanding something

“Well, was he laughing at Pippin because he had

about the world. WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


CAMP: It was about understanding what makes

CAMP: He was one photographer, but I talked to

also an advocate for women in the workplace.

of making great beauty. How, then, could one man

beauty: How do we discern what is beautiful? Are

John Condax, in New Jersey. Barnes wanted to do a

Nobody was doing that back then. He said that

look at another as inferior? So it was much more

there forms of beauty that transcend cultures,

color catalogue, and at that time color photography

the two groups that had the strongest work ethic

than just being “an addict to Negro[es]”—which is

times, gender? What then creates beauty? How do

was in its early stages. Condax felt that he wasn’t

in America were white women and black men.

still the funniest line I’ve ever heard. It was the idea

we define that? These were the kinds of questions,

skilled enough in color photography and just didn’t

And he had two young white women running his

that we should all be participating in something

melded with American pragmatism from Dewey,

understand the technology, so he didn’t want to do

international pharmaceutical company. So it wasn’t

broader. Those were very unpopular ideas. But

that you really got at the Foundation. It says that in

it. But Barnes said, “No, we’ll train you in what you

just that he loved African American art; he felt

he still published them, he did radio addresses,

the charter—and that you can’t set up an easel in

need to do. It’s going to be two volumes, and it’ll be

everyone was capable of making great beauty, and

he wrote letters and sent them out over and over

the gallery, which is so unlike the academies. Barnes

the whole collection.” Condax thought that was too

therefore everyone was equal. One of my favorite

and over again if he felt he wasn’t getting his point

drew a very clear line and said, “You can’t come in

big of a project and still didn’t want to do it. When I

speeches that Barnes made was when he was asked

across. There is a story that Barnes was down at the

here, set up an easel, and learn how to paint.” No

talked to Condax, he was ninety-six. He was amazing.

to talk about the Foundation, but for two hours all

Philadelphia Museum of Art when there was a group

he talked about was firefighting. He explained how

of black students who were trying to get in and

a passerby who sees a building on fire might only

couldn’t, because institutions in Philadelphia were

notice whether or not the fire is in his or her way. In

segregated. Barnes said, “You can come out to my

that same instant a fireman would notice the smell

place, I have better stuff anyway.” He really did look at people very equally.

works in the collection could be copied by artists trying to learn to paint. People later misinterpreted this and thought that none of the collection is supposed to be reproduced—that’s not true. We

MCCAY: So it’s your belief that all these erroneous

ideas about Barnes were perpetuated because he was a supporter of African American artists?

actually have letters in the archives describing how

CAMP: The mythology behind the Barnes

of the smoke, the color, the time of day, whether

Barnes was reproducing works in the collection. He

Foundation was in large part created because

someone might be trapped inside, whether there’s

would send images to people who requested them,

of Barnes’s ideas about desegregation and

a fire engine coming from a distance. He said the

and he was even working on a full-color catalogue

discrimination. But Barnes was as much an

goal of the Foundation was to make people into

of the collection before he was killed. I talked to the

advocate for new Italian immigrants as he was for

firefighters in the broader society: because of their

photographer who Barnes had asked to do that.

African Americans. They were treated at some

ability to see and understand in different ways,

points as badly as black people were. Barnes was

they would understand that everyone was capable

VALERIO: Was that Angelo Pinto?



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Monday, February 9, 2015 William Valerio and Susanna W. Gold met with Allan Edmunds, director of the Brandywine Workshop and Archives, to discuss his work and experiences. WILLIAM VALERIO: Allan, thank you for meeting

For several years Wade sponsored a Saturday

with us today. When I arrived at Woodmere a

seminar where younger students could bring

few years ago, I found a museum that had some

their class assignments, receive input from other

strength in its representation of African American

students, and become comfortable discussing their

artists, but also had some gaps to fill and a great

ideas in a group setting. He was often supported by

deal to learn about the accomplishments and

older students such as Moe Brooker, James Gadson,

milestones of those artists. Many of these artists

Phyllis Thompson, and David Stevens. They would

are connected with one another as colleagues and

attend and share their experiences as practicing

mentors, and are also more broadly engaged in

artists who had returned to get master’s degrees

the arts of Philadelphia. I’m hoping you can help us

and prepare for teaching at the college level. For me

illuminate these relationships and conversations.

and many others, their mentoring and presence on

ALLAN EDMUNDS: I agree that art advances

campus was empowering.

through support, mentoring, and conversations

Young went on to earn master’s and doctorate

among artists. At least, that’s been my experience

degrees at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York,

since the time of my undergraduate and graduate

and he is now Coordinator of Graduate Studies in

years at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art,

Art Education at Arizona State University, Tempe.

in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But still, when

He has consistently been a strong advocate for

I reflect on that experience and my perspective

students and a powerful voice for multiculturalism.

as a student and young artist, what I remember

When I started at Tyler, there were just four

most was what wasn’t part of the conversation.

students of African descent—James Pounds,

It wasn’t until about 1970 that African American

Deryl Mackie, Syd Carpenter, and me. By the time

students were starting to be admitted to Tyler

I graduated, in 1971, there were fifty-four students

in large enough numbers to make a difference in

combined in the undergraduate and graduate

the studio classes, and to press for more diversity

programs. It was a period of great transformation.

and inclusion in art history courses. Those who led

Young would take us undergraduates under his

this effort included John L. Wade Sr., a passionate

wing, identifying with us enough to ask, “How are

professor who was among the very first African

you doing? Do you need advice about anything? Do

American faculty members at Tyler, and Bernard

you need supplies? Do you have any problems with

Young, a remarkable third-year student who was

your academics? Do you need help?”

Untitled, 1967, by John E. Dowell, Jr. (Courtesy of the artist)

actively recruiting local high school students to apply.



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Dox Thrash (far left), and others at the Pyramid Club (detail), 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

Self-Portrait, c. 1938, by Dox Thrash (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Paris Haldeman Fund) Photograph courtesy of the

The most important African American professor

about art. He helped me in the early years of the

for me was John E. Dowell Jr., an internationally

Brandywine Workshop to set high standards, and he

renowned printmaker and painter who went on to

provided an example for how professionals prepare

teach at universities in Illinois and Indiana.

and engage with dealers and patrons. That was

I had heard about John’s accomplishments as an undergraduate printmaker at Tyler, his tenure at the Tamarind Institute in Los Angeles, and his

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

great mentoring! Eventually John joined the board of the Brandywine Workshop, and our partnership in many creative projects continues today.

successes with museum exhibitions. I finally met

Artists of the older generation could be somewhat

him on the occasion of his solo exhibition at the

protective of their knowledge and didn’t always

Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I believe

mentor that way, but Sam Brown was another great

that was in 1973, and the following year he returned

exception. Brown taught across several decades

to Philadelphia as a faculty member at Tyler. I was

at Murrell Dobbins CTE High School in North

in my second year of graduate school, and while I

Philadelphia. I’ve met his former students, and he

don’t think I had a course with him, I didn’t need to.

was like a god to them. He inspired. He shared a

John showed me things, took an interest in me as

studio with the innovative printmaker Dox Thrash.

a person, and often invited me to his studio to talk

Eleanor Roosevelt was a patron of his, and his work



Urlene, Age Nine, 1956, by Samuel J. Brown (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2004) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


has been collected by many institutions. Brown

printmakers in Philadelphia, which includes artists

of the Works Progress Administration. However, his

important to the history of Philadelphia artists and

contributed a lot to Philadelphia’s artist community

we have talked about, like Brown and Thrash?

narrative style ran counter to the post–World War

the rise of printmaking in the city.

during the period explored in this exhibition as a creator, educator, mentor, and institutional supporter, and he served from his retirement from teaching until his death as a member of the board of directors of the Brandywine Workshop.

EDMUNDS: I don’t consider myself engaged in

a discipline-specific legacy. What we have done collectively at Brandywine is about more than just printmaking, and I leave it to others to evaluate and articulate whether or not we deserve to be

VALERIO: Thrash showed his work often at the

credited with building a legacy. When I was in my

Pyramid Club in Philadelphia in the 1940s.

sophomore year of college, I was frustrated that

EDMUNDS: There was really no other place you

could go on a regular basis to see the work of African American artists at that time. You might go to a recital at a church or somebody’s house— Marian Anderson’s home was like a salon. But it was amazing to have the Pyramid Club, where you could see art exhibitions and attend lectures and other cultural programs. As a curator of exhibitions and a leading artist, Thrash was a strong presence. All the women loved him, and he commanded a loyal audience for the center.

African American artists were not included in the art history that was being taught. I wrote to prominent black artists across the country like Benny Andrews and Eugene Grigsby, Jr. to ask if they would send me slides and information about their work. I felt I needed to put together some material to know what my history was, because I wasn’t getting it

II trend toward abstraction, and to the art that was coming out of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Ray stopped working, as many artists

VALERIO: Over and over, we hear about the

importance of the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial.

of his generation did, for a lack of opportunities. I

EDMUNDS: It is so important! When I was young

thought he was very bitter about that and about

the school district sponsored the Saturday School

feeling generally under-recognized by the current

Art League at Fleisher. I took two buses and a train

generation. Yet he co-founded the Philographic

from West Philadelphia just to get there every

School of Art and Print Workshop, the first of its kind

Saturday morning; lots of people crossed the city to

in Philadelphia, which ran for a few years in the early 1950s. He also served as an assistant teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), and from 1942 to 1943 he was a guest curator at the Print Club (now the Print Center). He’s very

from the books assigned in classes. In the version of Janson’s History of Art that was current at the time, and in other survey books, Jacob Lawrence was the only African American artist mentioned. So I was being told that in the history of American art,

VALERIO: Was this social connectedness central to

there was only one. I don’t even think Henry Ossawa

the founding of the Brandywine Workshop?

Tanner was included. The sense that we must connect to history and to the wider world—not just

EDMUNDS: Yes. It was important for me that

Philadelphia—became important to me. When I first

people were willing to put their egos and careers

read something about Sam Brown, I sought him out.

behind the goal of helping others. I saw any

I was at an opening somewhere and an artist walked

progress and accomplishments as not mine alone.

in. I didn’t know what he looked like, but I thought

It was about working alongside other artists and

to myself, “You know, something just tells me that’s

educators such as John E. Dowell, Jr., Paul Keene,

Sam Brown.” I walked up to him and asked, and he

John L. Wade, Sr., Joseph C. Bailey, James Pounds,

said, “Yes, I am.” And that’s how we met. He started

Bill Peronneau, Clarence Wood, Leon Hicks, and

talking about Thrash and how I should look at his

dozens more supporters to build something based

work. I also met another important Philadelphia

on quality and service to others. We came together

printmaker, Raymond Steth, around that same time.

to do something for the arts and for the community. VALERIO: What was Steth’s personality like? SUSANNA W. GOLD: Do you see yourself

as engaged in the legacy or history of black

EDMUNDS: Bitter. Ray was a terrific printmaker,

having learned his craft in the Graphic Arts Division 118


Patton St. Derelict, date unknown, by Raymond Steth (Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Abstract, c. 1942, by Samuel J. Brown (Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


get to Fleisher’s South Philadelphia location. Louise

EDMUNDS: Ile Ife was important to me as a symbol

VALERIO: Was Ile Ife based on a Marcus Garvey’s

Clement-Hoff taught me there in the eleventh and

of cultural pride and as a link to our African history

idea of looking to Africa for inspiration? Garvey was

twelfth grades. That was in 1966 and 1967. She was

and heritage that was not taught or given exposure

a Jamaican-born black nationalist and proponent of

already there when I got there, and she still teaches

anywhere else in the city. It was an Afro-centric,

the Back to Africa Movement in the United States.

painting at Fleisher. She’s been there for more

community-based program in North Philadelphia

than fifty years! She’s fabulous. When she got me

that ran from the late 1960s to the late 1980s.

involved in painting, she also got me onto the track

The artist Barbara Bullock and the photographer

for art school. I had thought before meeting her

Bob Thompson taught there. The Brandywine

that I was going to be a math teacher.

Workshop’s longtime master printer Bob Franklin

VALERIO: Can you tell us about the Ile Ife Black

Humanitarian Center in Philadelphia?

was a member of the drum corps, playing for the dance group that later became Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble.

EDMUNDS: I believe it was, in some respects.

When its founder, Arthur Hall, received a Model Cities Cultural Arts Program grant, he began hiring artists to work full-time—the first such opportunity outside the school district. Bullock became the key person in the visual arts program there. She’s truly exceptional. Of all the Afro-centric artists associated with Ile Ife, Charles Searles was the first to be

End Game, 1964, by Paul F. Keene, Jr. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2003)

seriously recognized and noticed nationally. VALERIO: Can we discuss Paul Keene for a moment? EDMUNDS: Paul had the benefit of travel both in

the United States (as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen) and in Haiti and France after WWII, as an artist. In his home there were always artifacts and personal reminders from his and his wife Laura’s time in Port-au-Prince and Paris. So he had a broader experience than most African Americans at a very early point in his professional life. These experiences, both social and cultural, had a profound effect on him and his worldview. His aesthetic interests and subject matter suggest that he was inspired by current events, religion, history, and music (jazz and blues), but he also created entirely abstract pieces, as well as beautiful landscapes. Because of Paul’s quiet assertiveness, his generous demeanor, and the quality of his work, he was considered a patriarch of Philadelphia’s African American artists. He wasn’t always

Louise Clement-Hoff, director of art classes at Fleisher Art Memorial, instructs Alfonso Mason, 13, in drawings class, July 24, 1968. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Charles T. Higgins



Musicians use the traditional drums of Africa to provide the rhythm and music for the Arthur Hall Junior Dance Ensemble performing at the ribbon cutting ceremonies for the opening of the Ile Ife Mobile Museum at Broad and Jefferson Streets, June 25, 1976. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Dean Nathans

outspoken in public, but he was always on the right side of things. He was always there to help and was just a very decent human being.

GOLD: Many have said that Samuel L. Evans paved

the way for many African Americans to succeed in the city’s arts and culture. EDMUNDS: Yes, I would agree. Sam was a true

impresario. In addition to being the founder and chairman of the American Foundation for Negro Affairs, he supported the arts since before World War II. He could get things done through his social and political connections and his ability to secure resources and venues for cultural events. He often arranged opera concerts for the great stars of the postwar era. Sam was also the regional general chairman for the Second World Black and African Festival of Art and Culture (FESTAC), 1973–75. I had the great privilege of being the youngest member of the FESTAC art committee. As such, I helped organize an exhibition of work by artists from the region, which included Delaware, South Jersey, and Pennsylvania. John L. Wade Sr., Paul Keene, Leon Hicks, Humbert Howard, and Joe Bailey were also on the FESTAC committee, which planned a very large exhibit, important for its time, at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in 1975.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Samuel L. Evans in his office, August 20, 1959. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

VALERIO: The Brandywine Workshop must have

been founded in this context. EDMUNDS: Yes. While on the FESTAC art

committee, I began working with mature artists. I respected them greatly for their years of teaching and achievements. When we sat around a table together and I realized that they listened to me Playtime: Inner City, 1976, by Allan Edmunds (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015)

and respected me in return—despite my youth—I began to think about how we could maintain that momentum and energy. Nothing like the exhibition or its catalogue had ever been done before. Once we finished planning the FESTAC show, I said, “Look, folks, we’ve been meeting every week for a whole year to plan and implement this exhibition. Why don’t we continue to meet, because I want to start the Brandywine Workshop? Will you join the board?” That’s how a workshop collective became a

reflect my interest in depicting children at play in

many important artists of the time: Edward L. Loper,

the neighborhoods around Philadelphia, usually

Sr., Simmie Knox, Ellen Powell Tiberino, Barkley L.

without parks, playgrounds, and play apparatuses.

Hendricks, James Brantley, Raymond Saunders, and

You were lucky if you had a bike. Back then, inner-

almost all the artists previously cited in this interview.

city kids were more likely use chalk to make games

EDMUNDS: That was a screenprint. I was working

documents a great deal of impressive art including


floor of the Penn Museum, and it included works by

exhibition, Playtime: Inner City (1976).

VALERIO: The catalogue of the FESTAC exhibition


different images to build the composition. They

VALERIO: Tell us about your own work in the

nonprofit organization.

Sam Brown’s The Odd Sister.

EDMUNDS: Oh, there was! It took up the entire first

with photography at the time and combined The Odd Sister, 1973, by Samuel J. Brown (Collection of Sherry L. Howard)

in the street like hopscotch and deadblock, or to play wire-ball, halfball, and wall ball. The print is part of a series, Early Years, Playtime: Inner City. VALERIO: In terms of the 1970s: Allan, you

mentioned to me in previous conversations that WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Anne d’Harnoncourt made an impact on the city by

EDMUNDS: I was accepted at PAFA, but its

helping to introduce diaspora art and artists to the

traditional training program was less appealing

program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

to me than the more contemporary program at

EDMUNDS: I’m not saying Anne was a social

activist, but she allowed certain things to happen. When you’re a director, things don’t necessarily happen unless you want them to. I found that Anne was very accessible and paid attention to the contributions of key artists such as Romare Bearden. Eventually I learned that she had spent time living in South Africa and appreciated the connections between African heritage and contemporary culture and society. In the early 1980s the landmark exhibition Treasures of Ancient Nigeria was mounted at the museum, and almost three thousand African Americans attended the opening. By this time the Brandywine Workshop had held several James Van Der Zee Award galas at the museum, with Anne helping to host Bearden in 1976, Richard Hunt in 1980, and Selma Burke and Elizabeth Catlett in 1983. She later attended several award programs at other venues for John T. Scott, Deborah Willis, and Emma Amos, among others.

Tyler. However, PAFA was very important; people like Brooker, Brantley, and Hendricks attended directly from Philadelphia public high schools in the 1950s and 1960s. A School District of Philadelphia scholarship program at PAFA enabled many African Americans to attend, and most made their mark professionally. That’s why I say to you, Bill, that your decisions and priorities— the programs and exhibitions you choose to present—are so important. Museums and schools have to bring people together, provide access, and expose people to culturally diverse arts. All these things have interested me and the many board members and supporters who have backed the Brandywine Workshop. My own art is fueled by a social imperative, and so are the activities of Brandywine. What we’ve been able to create at the workshop, and the way we’ve continued to bring people of different races, ethnicities, generations, and backgrounds together, has a social impact that must be considered.

GOLD: We talked about your experience at Tyler,

but did you consider going to PAFA?

American Bicentennial, 2008, by Allan Edmunds (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015)



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Thursday, February 5, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with members of the family of Allan R. Freelon, Sr. to discuss the artist’s work.

Nine Coming Up (c. 1953) reflects a Social Realist

or white. While he did have a very political side and

approach, while the vibrant Untitled (Boat in Harbor)

strongly expressed his feelings about the “American

of 1928 radiates an Expressionist joy through color.

Negro,” he also had a side that celebrated the

RANDALL FREELON VEGA: Freelon appreciated

Locke’s writings, but I think he also felt that African American artists shouldn’t be bound to one type of artistic expression. So in that way he sort of

beauty of the landscape. In the summers, he spent a lot of time painting in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and he associated himself with like-minded artists. Even though he embraced his African heritage and considered that to be a significant part of his

SUSANNA W. GOLD : In Alain Locke’s essay “The

out of the New Negro Movement, I have thought

disagreed with Locke’s philosophy. Freelon certainly

Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” Locke argues that

about Allan Freelon’s work as something that doesn’t

didn’t turn his back on the plight of black people in

black artists should recognize their African heritage

always coincide with these ideas. How do you think

America, but he was freer in his artistic approach.

and take that heritage as inspiration. Even though

Freelon felt about Locke’s writings? Do you think he

He tended to follow the American Impressionism

MAYA FREELON ASANTE: I’ve found through my

Freelon has demonstrated this with his illustrations

sometimes felt at odds with Locke, or were there a

movement, and he didn’t see it as a conflict—didn’t

reading and research about my great-grandfather’s

lot of parallels between the two of them? Freelon’s

feel that it should be a conflict for any artist, black

life and work that Freelon likely chose to address

that have accompanied critical publications coming

Nine Coming Up, c. 1953, by Allan R. Freelon, Sr. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2006)



identity, he felt that there was more to the African American artist than just heritage.

Untitled (Boat in Harbor), 1928, by Allan R. Freelon, Sr. (Collection of Lewis Tanner Moore) Photograph by Joe Painter WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


the subject of lynching when he felt ready. He

GOLD: Anderson also can be credited for elevating

you be black and do something other than African

ASANTE: When you think about Freelon having

was comfortable moving between the two realms

spirituals—often, the songs of the enslaved—to the

American art?”—are still being asked today. Artists in

a vacation home like that in the country, you

of Impressionism and realism; he was able to see

standard operatic repertoire.

every generation seem to encounter these kinds of

realize that he was able to get away from the daily

questions and have to resolve them for themselves.

oppression I expect he would have experienced as

the beauty in the world as well as the ugly side of the world. He was obviously very familiar with segregation and oppression, but as I learn more about his values, I consider him to have been an artist in a more global sense. When I consider how strong his antiwar sentiment was even though he was drafted into World War I, as well as the deep questions he considered in his master’s thesis, such as “Can art be taught by someone who’s not a practicing artist?,” I understand Freelon to have been thinking beyond his immediate experience as

P. FREELON: She brought her own experience to

that music culture, just as others, like R. Nathaniel

GOLD: Phil and Randi, could you share some

Dett, who practiced classical music, did. So in that

personal memories of your grandfather?

regard, I look at Freelon’s art as African American art. Why? Because he was African American, and he brought a sensibility of who he was—unique and vibrant and special—to his painting and his work.

P. FREELON: Even though I was a very small child

when I knew my grandfather, I still remember him. But I was never able to have conversations with

a black man in Philadelphia at the time. By going to Windy Crest, Freelon was able to totally remove himself from that, to just look at barns and fields. It was probably very peaceful. VEGA: It was very peaceful, and beautiful.

him about his work, so my understanding of his

MCCAY: He also participated in the thriving artists’

VEGA: I find it really interesting that the same

experiences as an artist—like Maya’s—comes mostly

colony in Gloucester.

questions that were being asked in my grandfather’s

from reading and talking with family members

time—“What is African American art?” and “Can

and colleagues.

a black man.

VEGA: Yes! Oh yes, he was very involved in the

artists’ colony. Hugh Henry Breckenridge and Emile

VEGA: Phil is younger than me and my brother

Gruppe were part of that group. When we visited

VEGA: Yes, Freelon’s work that speaks to the

Gregory. Greg and I used to go out and visit our

Gloucester to see an exhibition of Freelon’s work

African American experience could also have been

grandfather at Windy Crest, his farm in Telford,

in 2004, Allan Freelon: Pioneer African American

responses to things he heard in the news or other

Pennsylvania, for the weekend or in the summer.

Impressionist, it was just so exciting to be in a place

stimuli—reports of lynchings in North Carolina, for

It was beautiful. Windy Crest was at one time

where he had spent so much time and had done

instance, which certainly happened all through the

a working farm, so there was a barn that my

some beautiful work. We also met the ladies who

1930s and 1940s, and even into the 1950s.

grandfather had converted into a studio where he

ran the boarding house where he would stay, and

could paint and teach classes. He made quite a

other people in Gloucester who still remembered

few paintings of the house and barn from a distant

him. To see the resurgence of interest in him as

vantage point, and some just from the house. Greg

an artist is a wonderful thing. This exhibition also

and I took “lessons” from him where we learned

traveled to Woodmere.

PHIL FREELON: I agree with everything that’s been

said, one hundred percent. I find that this question of where identity and professionalism intersect also comes up for me today, as an architect. The

how to handle oil paint and linseed oil. Those were

questions of “What is black architecture?” and

great experiences for us, ones that we always enjoyed.

“What should I be doing?” resonate with me. In his own way, Freelon was able to do what he felt

RACHEL MCCAY: Unique experiences.

compelled to do, but he also responded to the

MCCAY: Maya, you mentioned that Freelon

was the first African American to do many things in Philadelphia, and that he paved the way for others. Could you give a brief outline of some of

times by expressing his political views through his

P. FREELON: I remember some of those visits as

art. One could draw an analogy to those working

well, looking at the palettes that had oil paint on

in other arts as well—particularly in performing

them. And if you touched them—uh-oh, that was

VEGA: He was the Philadelphia school system’s

arts such as music, where someone like Marian

a mistake!

first black assistant director in charge of the

Anderson, for example, could be successful in a

VEGA: And I also remember the smell of the studio.

genre that wasn’t sourced in African American expression, like opera.



P. FREELON: Yes, I remember being in the Allan R. Freelon, Sr. with R. Nathanial Dett, date unknown

barn, and the smell, and just enjoying that

Photograph courtesy of the Freelon Family Archive

whole environment.

his accomplishments?

arts program. P. FREELON: He earned a degree from the

University of Pennsylvania in the 1920s.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


ASANTE: He also received his master’s degree from

because they are women. But that doesn’t mean

should be not looking at Africa! That beautiful

this kind of art or that kind of art, and was still able

the Tyler School of Art, at Temple University. I’m not

that they don’t wake up every day and recognize

kind of interaction was probably very lively and

to recognize his history and culture. Even today

sure if he was the first African American to do so,

that they are women and that their lives are filtered

really interesting.

we don’t see a great deal of diversity in graduate

but he was probably up there.

through the lens of their sex.

VEGA: When we were growing up, Philadelphia

ASANTE: Right! That’s definitely true. Freelon

conversations, the sparks that flew among the

prided itself on being a Northern city that didn’t

didn’t have a problem recognizing his blackness. As

various artists in different disciplines! Dancers,

have segregation—but of course it did. My

a black man he got rejected, he was treated with

musicians, writers, visual artists—they all sort of, as

grandfather was told flat out by the school district

disrespect, he could not get into certain social and

we would say today, “hung” together. They sparked

that he would never be the director of the arts in

professional clubs—that was not good. But there

off one another, learned from one another, and

the Philadelphia school system because he was

was an attitude about these conditions that was

supported one another in their artistic practices.

black. There wasn’t any room at the top for a

necessary to have. “So, okay, we can’t get into that

Some of them were able to break through and be

GOLD: Randi, you described the energy among

black man, and that was that. This was a very big

club? Fine, then we’ll start our own.” That’s how

recognized. The New Negro Arts Movement was

artists, writers, and creators of all sorts within black

disappointment for Freelon. He took it very hard

the Pyramid Club got started. People responded to

just an explosion of black creativity. It’s not that

communities during Freelon’s time, which can be

that his experience and his talent and his years of

their rejection and decided, “We’re just going to do

this wasn’t happening before—it just hadn’t been

associated with the New Negro Arts Movement.

service were just completely disregarded because

this instead.”

recognized by the larger community. Now these

Freelon was active in Philadelphia during the

black artists were pushing through the ceiling that

movement as a visual artist, but he was also

was set for them and were being recognized by the

working with literary figures. Can you describe his

white power structure that had worked so hard to

relationship with the literary journal Black Opals,

keep them from expressing themselves. The 1930s,

and with Mae Virginia Cowdery’s 1936 book We Lift

’40s, ’50s, and ’60s were all alive with these political

Our Voices and Other Poems, for which he made

and artistic tensions that everyone talked about. I

the frontispiece? What kinds of interactions and

of his racial identity. ASANTE: That didn’t seem to stop his vision, though. VEGA: No. It didn’t destroy him or his talent, but it

was just another reminder of the difficult system in

VEGA: Before integration, black communities in

almost every American city had their own areas. And those areas were alive—with commerce, with entertainment—

VEGA: Yes, I can imagine the tension, the

which he had to operate.

ASANTE: With culture!

ASANTE: That’s an important point. Freelon has

VEGA: Yes, all kinds of activities. There were

sometimes been criticized for rejecting Africa as an

black-owned hotels and black-owned insurance

inspiration or for painting as if he didn’t even think

companies—there was a whole separate cultural

ASANTE: But there was still sexism in the arts.

he was black, but he was absolutely reminded of his

and economic system that African Americans

A lot of those early social clubs were male-

black identity every day. With his art, he was trying

established for themselves because they weren’t

centered. Women were understood to belong in

to move beyond just—

invited—or allowed, rather—into the white system.

domestic roles and were not considered able to be

So they had their own galleries; they had their own

professional artists. I’ve spoken with artists such as

dress shops; they had their own shoe stores. Just

Emma Amos and Faith Ringgold, who both thought,

everything. It was like a “shadow economy” that was

“Well, I’m going be a part of this club too.” But that

supported by the black community.

attitude was challenged by those who responded,

schools. I know it was difficult for me not too long ago, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Freelon. I’m sure it was a daily struggle. But you’re right, the question “So, are you a black artist?” keeps getting asked, both of him then and of us today. But the real question is how we get beyond it and move ahead.

don’t want to call it an exciting time, but it certainly

VEGA: The pigeonhole that people felt he needed

to be in. ASANTE: Right. The simple fact that he made

art and accomplished these things put him in a different realm.

“Can you even make art?” ASANTE: Freelon lived during a time where you

could be a part of that vibrant culture and flourish

MCCAY: I often see a connection with women

in those circles. But within those circles, there were

artists who don’t want to be told what they should

all sorts of different opinions: You should be doing

do and what qualities their work should have just

all-black art! You should be looking at Africa! You



was a politically active time.

VEGA: Yes! They thought, “Oh, that’s just women’s art.” ASANTE: We don’t want any of that! I appreciate

having a great-grandfather who was able to move beyond the constraints that said he had to make

Pyramid Club Garden Party with Allan R. Freelon, Sr. (third from right) and Humbert Howard (far right), July 1, 1951. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


relationships did he have with others during the New Negro Arts Movement? VEGA: Freelon was a very social person and

enjoyed interaction with other black intellectuals. He appreciated all their work—including their writing and their poetry—which is how he became involved with Black Opals. He was an editor for the magazine, so he edited both the writing and the artwork that was featured in it. I call it a “magazine,” but it was more like a little pamphlet that looked handmade in the best sense. He

Cover illustration for Black Opals, 1927, by Allan R. Freelon, Sr. (Courtesy of the Freelon Family Archive)

enjoyed the opportunity to work with distinguished writers—people whose names we don’t recognize

Letter from W.E.B. Du Bois to Allan R. Freelon, Sr. telling him that the artist’s illustration, The Jungle Nymph, will be published on the cover of June 1928 issue of The Crisis. (Courtesy of the Freelon Family Archive)

anymore, but who held a place as black intellectuals who were setting the pace. W.E.B. Du Bois, for instance, had this theory of the “talented tenth”— the educated among the black community. He described how it was their job to pave the way and create greater opportunities for the rest of the black population, young and old, coming up behind them. I would consider Freelon to be a member of the “talented tenth.” He certainly knew Du Bois and other black intellectuals of the time. He

Frontispiece for Mae V. Cowdery’s We Lift Our Voices and Other Poems, 1936, by Allan R. Freelon, Sr. (Philadelphia: Alpress)

was definitely among that group and valued their interactions and associations very much.

teacher, so they were able to spend their summers outside of Philadelphia.

ASANTE: Yes, the idea of the “talented tenth” is

interesting. I can see why there would have been

MCCAY: What did Freelon’s role as assistant

an immediate divide between working-class artists

superintendent in charge of the art department

and those who had privilege in that segregated

allow him to do? Did he choose the curriculum or

community—those who had the leisure to take

hire the faculty members?

summers off and go paint whenever they felt like it, as Freelon did. I can understand how someone who didn’t have that privilege might have made a different kind of art and might also have had a very different perspective.

VEGA: He chose the curricula for the different

grades, determining what was going to be taught at each level from first grade up through high school. He wouldn’t have been responsible for hiring individual art teachers; that would have been done on the school

VEGA: Because Freelon worked in the public school

level. But he probably had a hand in hiring others in

system, he had his summers free. His wife was a

the art department at the administrative level.



MCCAY: So his influence has trickled down to

that in Philadelphia. He was a very good teacher,

so many.

committed to nurturing promising young artists.

VEGA: Right. Actually, the Philadelphia school

MCCAY: I know that Freelon was a printmaker, too—

system has a wonderful collection of art, including

in addition to being a teacher and a painter. Where

works by our grandfather. When I was in school in

did he learn to make prints? Where did he have

Philadelphia, his work was hanging on the walls.

access to a press?

MCCAY: So Freelon devoted his life to education.

VEGA: He was a member of the Print Club (now the

I’m not surprised that he would consider himself

Print Center) in Philadelphia.

to be one of the guiding figures of the generations coming behind him. That seems like a natural perspective for him. VEGA: Absolutely. In addition to his work in the

GOLD: The first black member? VEGA: Yes, and he took great advantage of the

opportunity that offered him.

public school system and his own art practice,

ASANTE: I saw one of his sketchbooks in which

he taught art to adults and children. Sometimes

he wrote that his favorite printing technique was

he taught in the barn in Telford; other times he

aquatint—that’s a shading technique.

taught young people in classroom settings at the YMCA or other community organizations like

VEGA: We’ve also seen some beautiful block

prints that he’s done, and some etchings. So he WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


was involved in several different types of printing,

GOLD: Can you elaborate on how this work reflects

and to my eye he mastered them all very well!

Freelon’s political views?

If you look at his body of work and consider his themes, his topics, his choices of what to depict, you realize how varied it is. From beautiful, bucolic scenes to nighttime scenes, from industrial urban environments to men in coal mines working grueling, difficult jobs—it really runs the gamut.

ASANTE: This work was part of a controversial

exhibition on lynching titled An Art Commentary on Lynching, organized by the NAACP in 1935 at the Arthur U. Newton Galleries in New York. If you allow yourself to be included in an exhibition on lynching that was rejected from other galleries,

GOLD: Barbecue—American Style (1934), a

you’re stating an opinion and adopting a political

graphically violent lynching scene, is an entirely

stance. Just because everything you make doesn’t

different direction for Freelon.

focus on those issues does not take away from

ASANTE: Exactly. Social Realism is there, too.

Barbecue—American Style is probably the most violent he got. There are layers of figures heaped up in the composition—it’s just so powerful. VEGA: Of course, it’s a commentary on life in America,

and it speaks to his political views. Freelon was very concerned about the condition of African Americans.

your commitment to them. Freelon did make a few other lynching paintings, such as This Is Her First Lynching. The titles are so gut-wrenching. It would be hard to do an exhibition on this topic even now. GOLD: What kind of exhibition opportunities did

Freelon have during his career? I know that the Pyramid Club was one place where he could exhibit his work. Did he also exhibit at the Print Club or the Tra Club, for instance? VEGA: He certainly exhibited in what we would call

alternative spaces—non-museum spaces where his work would be accessible to the black community— but he exhibited in places where the broader community could see what he was doing as well. He was part of a show in the 1940s at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and he exhibited his work at the Maryland Institute College of Art as well. ASANTE: He also exhibited at Morgan State

University in Baltimore. MCCAY: He must have grown up going to museums

and not seeing work by African Americans Allan R. Freelon, Sr. (second from left), Samuel J. Brown (second from right), John T. Harris (right), and an unidentified woman (left) during a dedication of paintings to school district, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley



represented in their collections, because this work wasn’t collected on a significant scale until recently, and even today the imbalance remains a problem. Barbecue—American Style, 1934, by Allan R. Freelon, Sr. Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


GOLD: Yes, it seems unusual that Freelon had

photographer was possible. I later became

ASANTE: And there is art hanging on the walls, and

such sophisticated, mainstream exhibition venues

interested in photography because of that.

everybody’s in three-piece suits and dresses.

GOLD: You have a number of family photographs

VEGA: Yes, everybody’s all dressed up. So they

available to him. VEGA: It was unusual. Most of those shows were

in your archive, taken by Freelon and many others.

were definitely a family of some means, and leaders

about African American artists, but nonetheless, his

There are a lot of images of the kids growing up,

in their community.

work was shown in major museums.

the aunts and uncles together with everybody, and whole large family groups. One picture that

GOLD: What was the market for Freelon’s work

particularly interested me shows an extended family

like? Were there particular patrons who collected

group with one of Freelon’s paintings of a nude

his work during his career?

featured prominently on the wall. Do you know how

VEGA: He probably had some supporters in the

Freelon’s parents and family responded to his desire

African American community. We know Tanner

to become an artist? Was he supported by them,

Moore was a big collector, and that his family

or were they worried about him being the first to

members were collectors. We also know that Freelon

embark on such a career?

gifted his work to friends and family members.

VEGA: I’m certain that he felt supported by

P. FREELON: The Philadelphia public school system

his parents. He and his brother, Lester, went to

was the benefactor of a lot of his work.

college. Lester became a doctor in Philadelphia.

NNENNA FREELON: We have to recognize what

“leader” meant then. People took being the “first” at anything very seriously. They wanted to make sure that being the first reflected well on them personally and on their families, but also on their race. They felt the responsibility that failing would reflect badly not only on them, but on anybody who looked like them that may come later. VEGA: Being the first also means that you’ve

opened the door for other people, so they can follow behind you.

His sister, Hilda, went to teacher’s college and ASANTE: But Freelon’s art career wasn’t his

ASANTE: I imagine that the roads that Freelon

became a teacher in Philadelphia as well. Hilda was an

moneymaker. The illustration A Jungle Nymph

paved allowed me to pursue my career as a visual

interesting person who always felt that her brothers

(1928) was sold for ten dollars, maybe five.

artist. But he wasn’t someone we sat down and

got the lion’s share of what their parents had to offer

talked about at every family function. I didn’t even

in terms of support. She aspired to be an artist and

know there was an amazing Harlem Renaissance

wanted to go to art school like her brother, but her

artist in my family until I first started painting. My

parents told her that because she was a girl, she had

dad saw one of my paintings and asked, “Did you

to go to teacher’s college. Teaching was an honorable

know your great-grandfather was an artist?” I

profession for a woman. They would not be sending

said, “No, I didn’t, but I’m feeling some art coming

her to art school. Even though that perspective

out!” I didn’t even get to know Freelon’s work until

wasn’t unusual at the time, she carried that hurt

my father took me to an exhibition of his art, The

for the rest of her life. She felt that her talent was

Rediscovery of Allan R. Freelon: African American

stymied and that her growth and development as a

Master curated by Lori Verderame, at Muhlenberg

person was not what it could have been.

College, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1999–2000

VEGA: This wasn’t his bread and butter, no. He had

a job. But if you’re a true artist, you’re not doing

A Jungle Nymph, June 1928, by Allan R. Freelon, Sr., cover illustration for The Crisis (Crisis Publishing Co., Inc., publisher of the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)

it because you think you can sell it. You’re doing it because you have to do it. It has to come out. You can’t not do it. As an artist, Freelon was quite

P. FREELON: He was also a photographer.

versatile in his practice—he was a painter, he was

VEGA: He took a lot of portrait photographs of

a printmaker—

his family and friends. He also took pictures of

ASANTE: And a metalworker. We’ve even seen

some stained glass work. MCCAY: And he was a writer, too. VEGA: And a writer, yes. He was not afraid to

experiment and to expand his artistic practice into different areas. He was a very well-rounded, multifaceted artist.



landscapes to use as studies when worked in his studio, and he photographed his own work. ASANTE: I’ve seen harbor scene photos too.

Basically, it seems like he used photography to document his life well. P. FREELON: He had a darkroom and developed

When you look at the family photographs, you can see that the Freelons were clearly a middle-class family. The living room is beautifully decorated, and the sofas and chairs give it a Victorian look.

when I was in high school. I had a rediscovery at that point, copied some of his harbor scenes, and was really amazed at how quickly I took to oil painting. He was very inspirational for me.

his own work. Seeing his darkroom equipment and photographs let me know that being a WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


GOLD: You’ve described how when you visited

VEGA: We know that he knew Dr. Albert C. Barnes

I was running around at breakneck speed, bouncing

the Barnes Foundation (then located in Merion,

personally, and that being a student at the Barnes

off of things, and then I just stopped. He sat me

Pennsylvania), you were very aware that your great-

Foundation was a formative experience for him. It was

down on a log next to him and asked me to close

grandfather had once been right there as a student,

an unusual experience for a black man in those days.

my eyes and just listen. He asked me to block out all

looking at the same paintings in the same rooms. ASANTE: That was amazing! It was a really special

experience to actually walk through a space we had both been in. The cool thing about the Foundation is that everything is exactly the same as how Barnes left it—same collection, same arrangement. So right when I walked in I could see the kinds of inspiration Freelon got. I had a strong feeling that we were both drawn to the same artwork. I could imagine

ASANTE: He had been offered a scholarship to be

there, as a special circumstance.

my other senses and just use my hearing. And we talked about all that I was hearing. I think it was the first time I was shown another way to perceive the

VEGA: It’s so exciting that Freelon was part of the

environment other than all at once, helter-skelter, as

Barnes story. It was not only instructional but also

a kid. Subliminally, over the years, it must have fed

inspirational for him to be there with so many other

the beginnings of my interest in the environment,

artists in a group, all learning together. He was able

and how as an architect I might approach the

to share his special point of view with the other

intersection of the natural environment and the

artists, and this was very meaningful for him.

built environment. For me, it all comes back to that moment when he taught me to perceive what it

him seeing how European artists like Pablo Picasso

GOLD: Phil, do you, like Maya, find that you have

took African art and incorporated it into their own

been inspired by Freelon in your work as an architect?

work, and I could understand how his mind was

really meant to be in the woods. ASANTE: That is a great story. Yes, just close your

expanded by that experience. By visiting the Barnes

P. FREELON: Yes. I’m reminded of one story

eyes, and that’s how you get there. Because you

Foundation, I was continuing my rediscovery of him

from the time I knew Freelon, when I was maybe

don’t have to see anything, you just have to listen

as an artist.

four or five—about the age that my own young

and absorb. I love that.

grandchildren are now. We’d often go to the country GOLD: What do you know of Freelon’s own

to visit him, and on one occasion I was taking a walk

experiences at the Barnes Foundation?

through the woods with him, just him and me alone.



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Tuesday, May 5, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with artist Charles Jay to discuss his work. SUSANNA W. GOLD: Charles, can you tell us how

JAY: I only had two teachers: Arthur De Costa and

you got started in your painting career? Did your

Morris Blackburn. I went to PAFA part-time at first,

family encourage it by taking you to visit museums

while I was also working part-time in the offset

or cultural institutions?

business; once I started working full-time, I stopped

CHARLES JAY: No [laughs], nobody in my family

fooled around with museums or anything like that, but I did have an uncle who was interested in art— Mr. Clifford Jay, from New York City. He had won some art scholarships when he was a student, but he didn’t use them. He just got a regular job when he got out of school. But he would take large pieces of plywood, draw birds-of-paradise and things like that on them, and fill the drawings in with pieces of mirror. Then he would put transparent paint on the mirror and hang the works on the wall.

going to PAFA entirely. But I still kept in touch with

GOLD: We’ve interviewed a number of artists who

there. I never had gallery representation, though.

went to PAFA, and a few were not always treated

The Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia has

well by some of the professors because of their

had a few paintings of mine in the past, and I now

race. Did that play into your decision not to stay?

show with the Cooley Gallery up in Old Lyme,

JAY: No, not at all. I didn’t encounter any racism in

my dealings with professors or students. RACHEL MCCAY: Why did you leave PAFA

after a year?

Connecticut. When I finish a painting, I sometimes send it to them. But I don’t think I’d want to sign a contract with a gallery. That’s not for me. MCCAY: You seem to value your independence

as an artist. Would you say that the institutions

JAY: I left to start working.

De Costa, who taught my drawing class. He liked my work, and I liked his work, too—he had a classical,

GOLD: And you’ve been painting on your own

old master style.

ever since?

GOLD: Is that the kind of work you were doing

JAY: Yes, I’ve been painting ever since. But

when you were in school?

whenever I did a painting I thought was pretty good, I would call De Costa and he would tell me

JAY: It was just my style. I started out using

to come on by. So I’d go over to his house and

watercolors, but I got my first set of oil paints with

show him my work, and he would critique it. For

money I made shoveling snow. Once I finally got

example, when I was doing dark backgrounds, he

the oils, I felt like I could emulate the old masters

told me how the old masters might use a reddish

much better.

or mahogany red color for a background and then

I started painting before I got out of high school.

glaze over it. So I kept painting, and as my work

Then I went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the

improved, he had less and less to say—that’s when

Fine Arts (PAFA) for one year.

you know you’re getting better. After a while he just didn’t have much criticism left! [laughs] He

GOLD: Who were your colleagues at PAFA?

knew more about art than anybody else I knew. If I

JAY: I remember a man there named Richard J.

had to choose someone to walk with me through a

Watson. I really liked the way he worked. He would

museum, I’d pick him to explain things.

have a lot of paint on the canvas, and he’d work

GOLD: Were you exhibiting your work then?

out forms from that mass of paint. I thought it was fascinating. He had a garbage-can lid that he used

JAY: I wasn’t really showing my work anywhere at

as a palette, and I thought that was neat, too. I had

that point. I was just painting. Further along in my

a workman’s toolbox where I’d put my paints and

career I started participating in exhibitions at the

brushes—I wasn’t going to go out and buy an art box

West Chester Art Association, Pennsylvania.

at an art store—but I never had a garbage-can lid! GOLD: Were you selling your work, too? GOLD: Which of your teachers at PAFA were

particularly influential for you? 140


Celadon Squash and Rose, 1979, by Arthur De Costa (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of the estate of Arthur De Costa, 2007)

JAY: Every now and then something would sell out

Still Life (July 5, 1983, Paris), 1983, Charles Jay (Promised gift of Philip Jamison) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


of Philadelphia had no substantial impact on your career? JAY: No, they didn’t, really. I would, however, try to

see as much art as I could in the city. I’ve always enjoyed going to the student exhibitions at PAFA— they’re always great shows. PAFA was the only Philadelphia institution that I was engaged with, but again, that was only for one year, as a student. MCCAY: Did you also study in Paris for a time? JAY: I was in Paris, but I didn’t study under anybody.

I just did paintings on my own when I was there from the spring of 1981 to the summer of 1983. MCCAY: Did you go there to expose yourself

to the art? JAY: No, I was invited, so I went, but once I

was there I visited the Louvre and a number of

Vase of Flowers in a Window, c. 1618, by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (Mauritshuis: De Witte van Citters Collection, Middelburg; bequest of Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, The Hague, 1903) Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

other places. MCCAY: What kind of work were you creating while

you were in Paris? JAY: I was doing flower paintings and some

he said I should take a pencil and draw a flower with

abstracts. I’m still working on flowers, but my style

as much detail as I could. He said it would enter my

is a little different now. I also like landscape painting

subconscious, and then when I painted, it would

a lot, but I don’t have the imagination for it. I’ve

come back out. But I never did that. The only little

found that painting trees, for me, is hard! I prefer

bit of drawing I do now is when I’m preparing the

flowers. I first paint one flower, and then another—

outer lines of my paintings to fill in.

they might overlap a little bit—and I just keep adding more until the work is finished. There was a time when, if I didn’t like a painting, I would stop

Floral Still Life, 1977, by Charles Jay (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014)



JAY: Drawing somehow seems rudimentary to me.

When De Costa saw some of my flower paintings,

MCCAY: So you don’t create sketches before

you paint?

and write “Unfinished painting by Charles Jay” on it.

JAY: Oh, no. My flower paintings just turn out the

[laughs] But now when I start a flower painting,

way they turn out! You can direct them a little,

I finish it.

but after a while you say, “That’s enough,” and you

MCCAY: Your flower paintings are so highly detailed

just stop.

and meticulously rendered. You can see almost

GOLD: Do you paint from life, or from

every petal of every flower.

your imagination? WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


John Brown Going to His Hanging, 1942, by Horace Pippin (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: John Lambert Fund)

Grapes and Berries, 1952, by Ida Jones (Chester County Historical Society: Gift of Mrs. Roberta Townsend)

Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

JAY: Usually I just paint from my imagination.

JAY: That’s part of my primitive style. I didn’t mix

JAY: My favorite Pippin work is John Brown Going

whose work is especially interesting. He uses

I have a lot of prints and photographs, and I get

colors a lot. I still don’t. It’s just the way I taught

to His Hanging (1942), because of the color and the

trompe l’oeil a lot.

ideas from them, but I’m not a copyist—I really can’t

myself. This painting is part of a series of flowers in

composition. Even though I consider myself a self-

even copy my own paintings!

niches with blue backgrounds coming through. The

taught primitive artist, I’m not crazy about primitive

scene was inspired by Ambrosius Bosschaert the

art per se. Now, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s works are

Elder. His Vase of Flowers in a Window (c. 1618; ill.

completely different from Pippin’s. They’re more like

p. 144) looks almost like a religious painting; mine

old master paintings.

GOLD: You must know a lot about flowers

by now. Do you have a garden or do a lot of botanical research?

is very crude compared to his. [laughs] I’m nothing

JAY: No, no. I just bought some flower seeds the

like an old master painter, even if some people

other day—I’m getting ready to plant some zinnias.

might try to

But no, I don’t know a lot about plants. My flowers

say I am.

are invented. I’m just a primitive artist, that’s all. I don’t consider myself sophisticated when it comes to painting.

GOLD: It’s interesting that you describe yourself

and some of your work as “primitive.” Horace

GOLD: There are a few artists in the We Speak

exhibition who address their African heritage in their work. For others, heritage is not necessarily relevant to the content of their art. A number deal with informal qualities but are very much aware of

GOLD: From what you’ve described, it sounds like

their African heritage. Does your heritage play any

you’re very well informed about art history.

role in your work?

JAY: Actually, I haven’t studied art history. I like to

JAY: I’ve done flower paintings and I’ve done

look at art, but I haven’t picked up many books and

abstract work, but I haven’t painted people in a long

read a lot about it.

time. I used to do people, but my flower paintings are better.

Pippin and Ida Jones are two artists included in

GOLD: Are there contemporary, living artists whose

GOLD: Your Floral Still Life (1977) in the We Speak

the We Speak exhibition whose style has also

work is significant for you?

GOLD: You always come back to the flowers?

exhibition is lovely and vibrant.

been described that way. What do you think of their work? Is it particularly meaningful to you as

JAY: I like realism; I tend to prefer art that appears

JAY: Yes, I always come back to the flowers.

somebody who self-identifies as a “primitive” artist?

almost photographic. I have a friend, Gary T. Erbe,



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



your family, or did you decide to investigate it on your own?

On Monday, February 2, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with artist Martina Johnson-Allen to discuss her work.

JOHNSON-ALLEN: It’s a mixture. I visited the

SUSANNA W. GOLD: One of the things that

Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. My dad

interests us in the context of Woodmere’s exhibition

took me to the Smithsonian frequently, but I can’t tell

is the influence of Africa and African art on your

you exactly where I saw African art for the first time.

work. In his essay “The Legacy of the Ancestral

Later, after I graduated from college, I studied a lot

Philadelphia Museum of Art frequently as a child. I may have seen something there or at the

Arts,” Alain Locke describes Africa as a very

Magic statue Nkisi Nkonde. Yombe nail fetish, 20th century.

important point of reference for African American artists. He argues that they should be galvanized by their heritage without actually imitating African

Photograph © CNAC/MNAM/ Dist. RMNGrand Palais/Art Resource, NY

art—that they should allow African history and traditions to inform their work, while expressing a view that is unique to the social context of

on my own. The first book I purchased in 1974 for my private library of African and African American art was Modern Negro Art by James A. Porter. I bought it from a rare book store, as there was no Borders or Amazon.com at that time. Purchasing books by black authors was no easy task. GOLD: Did you travel as well?

twentieth-century America.

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Yes. After graduating from


a natural interest in the art of Africa, though I’m also intrigued by other art forms, including South American and American Indian traditions. I try to put all these cultural expressions together and find the similarities and differences between them. But I’m particularly drawn to African art, and I try to relate my own work to it. Recently I discovered the art of the Congo, and I found some similarities

use to help a person when that person is sick and

college I became a teacher in the Philadelphia

from which we obtain health; the name refers to

school district. It had a strong African studies

leaves and medicines combined together. . . . It is

department led by William C. Green, former

also called nkisi because there is one to protect the

chairman of the district’s Office of African American

human soul and guard it against illness for whoever

Studies. He would arrange trips to Africa every

is sick and wishes to be healed. Thus an nkisi is also

year through a national program called Educators

something which hunts down illness and chases it

to Africa. In 1971 I went to Dahomey, Nigeria,

away from the body.”

Ghana, and Togo through this program. I met many educators from all over the US as well as Africa. It

between it and mine. I hadn’t examined it prior to

After observing several of the bundles applied to

my own three-dimensional art making, so I wasn’t

African sculptures, I imagined, “Well, maybe I’m

merely imitating those forms—the connections

from the Congo.” I find myself and others I know

seem to be either spiritual, intuitive, or genetic.

always trying to find the origins of our ancestors.

For example, I enjoy the act of bundling and

Africa is such a huge continent, and most of the

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Traveling gave me a great

therefore include bundles in my work. At one point

slave trade was in West Africa, so some people

frame of reference. I collected several artifacts

I discovered the Congo nkisi, one form of which

like me adopt a place. I have adopted the Congo as

and books that helped me teach the art of Africa

my homeland because I believe I have a genetic or

to my students. My drawing Together (1976; ill, p.

spiritual connection to it by virtue of the way I create.

149) was inspired by a collection of photos I have

includes several bundles of varying shapes and sizes. In Robert Farris Thompson’s book Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy, an nkisi is described as “the thing we



Above and left (detail): The Priestess, 1997, by Martina JohnsonAllen (Collection of the artist)

was really a revelation. GOLD: How did your travels to Africa affect your art?

of African people. I wanted to draw this group of GOLD: Was your interest in African history and the

women because it shows two generations of people

art of Africa something that was encouraged by WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


who are poor by western standards, however, are

retire and create my art full time. She told me that

wealthy in a spirit embraced by a strong sense

she expressed her heart’s desire to retire from her

of community. The woman in the middle of the

successful teaching career to be with her family. Her

drawing is holding an egg, which symbolizes

husband’s response was, “Everything will work out.”

strength and continuity. On my recent travels to

My heart told me to retire early at the age of 55. I

Ethiopia, I felt this same strong sense of belonging

took Reba’s advice and everything is just fine!

and community. There are plenty of economic challenges existing in Ethiopia. When I expressed to my driver that I wanted to live in solitude in the hills of Southern Africa. His reply was: “Oh no, the

But the art scene today is strange, especially when it comes to ethnicity. When you’re known to be African American, people seem to want

people would be at your door everyday to assist you. No one is allowed to live in isolation. There is no privacy.” I found his remarks heart warming. The dollar had a different value during my early travels in Africa, so I could buy a lot. I’d see something while traveling or studying, and my imagination would run away with me. I’d improvise and offer my own interpretations of the art, but I’d also incorporate some of its images into my work so people could make their own comparisons and gain a perspective on cultural influences. GOLD: Your work seems to share some affinities

with that of Reba Dickerson-Hill. Did you know her personally? JOHNSON-ALLEN: I am so happy that you

mentioned Reba Dickerson-Hill. She was such a great inspiration to me. Because she was also an educator, she was able to give me strategies for finding the strength and willpower to develop my art while working as a teacher full time. She advised me to do as much as I could, artfully: “While teaching math and science, do it artfully. While washing the dishes and diapers, do it artfully.” She was very friendly and was always willing to help and encourage young artists before the term “mentoring” became popular. She also advised me that my heart would tell me when it was time to



Untitled (Three Women), 1960, by Reba Dickerson-Hill (Courtesy of the Hill Family)

Together, 1976, by Martina Johnson-Allen (Courtesy of the artist) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


your work to show African influences or to depict

States. Many of the artists we’ve talked to feel that

the exhibition Contemporary Philadelphia Artists.

JOHNSON-ALLEN: I graduated from the

African American people. I’ve been criticized for

their work doesn’t have to be one or the other,

The show was groundbreaking because it included

Pennsylvania State University with a degree in

not including ethnic elements in my designs. For

and that these categories sometimes can deter full

the work of both emerging and established local,

elementary education and a minor in art. I then

example, someone will look at my compositions

explorations of an artist’s ideas.

living artists, who were greatly underrepresented

felt free to educate myself further in art and art

compared to those in New York. I considered myself

history, and started attending Tyler School of Art

fortunate to be in that show, along with other

in the early 1970s. I was playing catchup. This was

African American artists such as Donald Camp, Moe

right after the civil rights movement, the Black

Brooker, and William E. Williams. I didn’t know them

Power Movement, and the hippie movement, and

at the time of the exhibition. Enid Mark, a Jewish

people felt new opportunities were opening up. I

artist, befriended me and took me under her wing

was exploring various art disciplines and finding

as a fellow artist who makes books. Many artists of

out how much I could learn on my own. I went to

diverse backgrounds were included too, of course—

night school, so I was among students who were

the idea was to highlight the work of Philadelphia

really passionate about art making and who weren’t

artists, whoever they were. I thought it was one of

hampered by the need to meet requirements to

the greatest shows the museum ever organized

earn a degree. We worked all day but still wanted to go to school to further our art educations. So we

and say, “Well, that doesn’t look very African to me.” I always think, “Well does it have to? Why can’t I just be concerned with designs coming from my imagination?” However, some artists or critics will say, “Well, whoever you are is going to come out, even if you’re just thinking about little widgets, so you don’t have to worry about it—the African influence is inherent.” At one point I said in defense of my style, “Well, why can’t I be characterized as a formalist?” That’s all right with me, and that label gives me more leeway to do what I like without

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Yes. I’ve just reread Locke’s

article. Each time I look at it, I find new meanings. I remember him saying, “There should be a Negro school of art.” AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) is a recent artist group that comes to mind that might be called a particular school of art, but I don’t know if we really have a black or African American school of art overall. It’s difficult to say precisely where the parameters lie, so there’s some inherent uncertainty.

people asking questions. Then again, artists don’t

GOLD: Even Driskell questions whether we can

because of this approach. But that was more than

want to be pigeonholed in any category that could

define a “black aesthetic”—whether this idea really

twenty years ago—they need to do these kinds of

really didn’t have that much time to be conscious of

thwart their artistic progress.

exists, or even should exist. He seems to be saying

exhibitions more frequently.

who was there and who wasn’t. Tyler was very small

RACHEL MCCAY: The frustration you describe

touches on two different arguments that Susanna and I have considered many times in the development of Woodmere’s exhibition, and in speaking with other artists. We’ve already mentioned that Locke’s “The Legacy of the

that there is a need for African American artists to create work that isn’t necessarily African inspired or derived. It might be abstract or formalist while also bearing some relationship to heritage. He doesn’t exactly answer the questions he poses, but he puts them out there for readers and artists to consider.

Ancestral Arts,” which encourages African American

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Yes. But do we look at all art

artists living in the 1920s to take inspiration from

that way?

GOLD: As a woman artist, and also as a black artist,

I expect your work is doubly vulnerable to being categorized as you describe. Can you tell us about your experiences as a student at University of the Arts and at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art? What were the racial and gender demographics like

then, and the printmaking program I participated in was very focused; we had a close-knit community that was very comfortable. I do remember being the only black student, but the class was largely made up of women who were close to my age. MCCAY: What was the printmaking program like?

at those schools when you attended?

their African heritage, was our point of entry for the exhibition. At the end of our period of inquiry, art

MCCAY: No, we don’t. We don’t look at white male

historian David Driskell’s 1976 essay “The Evolution

artists that way. Women artists are often grouped

of a Black Aesthetic” describes how African

as “women artists,” but you’re right, no one sees a

American artists have historically been inhibited by

need for a school of white male art, because that

the idea that their artwork should address social

work seems to preexist.

issues. It encourages artists to think beyond that restriction and develop what it describes as a “black aesthetic,” which he defines as an exploration of form that might have connections with black identity, but that doesn’t necessarily deal with the social histories of black people in the United 150


JOHNSON-ALLEN: Yes, I think that’s the problem—

the playing field needs to be leveled. We want our work to be looked at for its own sake, not categorized or considered in terms of just ethnicity. In 1990 the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted

An Afternoon at Les Collettes, 1988, by Enid Mark, printed by The Elm Press (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Ann E. and Donald W. McPhail, 2013) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


JOHNSON-ALLEN: When I started, I found

and bookbinding?” Thus came another turning point

printmaking so intriguing that I thought I would

in my art career. The class emphasized various forms

remain in the discipline. I wanted to become a

of bookbinding, but we also learned how to make

master printmaker—that was my dream. We did

several kinds of boxes for the books. I just loved both

etchings, plate lithography, and lithographs on

ideas so much that I combined the two disciplines in

stone, which is pretty archaic now—nobody does

my art. I’ve made numerous books, and my work has

it anymore, and it’s quite rigorous. We had the old

since evolved into a box-construction format that I

equipment; nothing was digitized then, of course, so

learned from that experience.

we did everything manually. It was very demanding, but very interesting, and I really enjoyed the experience. My printmaking instructors Gene Green,

MCCAY: What kind of teaching did you do in

the schools?

Romas Viesulas, and Tony Rosati were master

JOHNSON-ALLEN: As an elementary school

printmakers, and I’ll never forget them.

teacher, I taught grades one through five—mainly

GOLD: Was John E. Dowell, Jr. one of your teachers

in the printmaking department? JOHNSON-ALLEN: Yes, but that was maybe ten or

specialist at two schools. GOLD: You didn’t teach art?

fifteen years later, when I was on sabbatical from

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Well, I did teach art, because

my work as an elementary school teacher and had

when I had my own classroom I incorporated it into

decided to return to printmaking.

the math, social studies, and reading instruction.

GOLD: So you were at Tyler periodically throughout

your career?

Children love art and gym; they love doing anything artfully. And that way I didn’t have any time constraints. Art teachers are generally limited

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Yes. But I received a master’s

to forty-five minute class periods, and it’s very

degree from the Philadelphia College of Art (PCA,

exasperating, because they can only do so much in

now University of the Arts) in art education and

that short period of time. Since my assigned classes

printmaking. When I had my son, I felt a little guilty

would be with me for the entire day, I was able to

about making art and mothering at the same time.

teach quite a bit of art. Arlene Gosden, my thesis

Women artists always have this problem—“Oh,

advisor at PCA, thought I shouldn’t be concerned

should I be home instead of in the studio?” So I

about being an art instructor because of the

thought, “Well, I’ll compromise. While I’m at school,

advantages I had as a classroom teacher.

I’ll make something for him with my printmaking, like the letters of the alphabet or some kind of game.” To meet this goal, I created a game for my

MCCAY: Were you also exhibiting your work at

this time?

son that required a box. The box I constructed was

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Before I started teaching

very crude. Rosati, my instructor at PCA, said, “I like

full-time I lived in Atlanta, and I had my first

this idea, but your box needs refining. Why don’t

exhibition at Clark Atlanta University in the early

you go next door and take a class on box making

1970s. Hale Woodruff was there at the time, but



Mechanical Vision, 1989, by Martina Johnson-Allen (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Ann E. and Donald W. McPhail, 2013)

grade three. For a while I was a mathematics

I didn’t understand exactly who he was. I knew he was an artist of renown, but when I went home and researched him, I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is wonderful.” I also exhibited my work at the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum (now the African American Museum in Philadelphia, AAMP) in the 1970s. That museum has given me a lot of opportunities. GOLD: Did you feel your opportunities were

otherwise limited? JOHNSON-ALLEN: Well, I was grateful for the

opportunities that came along, because I was a new artist. So if I had even one, I was happy! But when I read about established artists having trouble finding places to exhibit their work, I recognized that it

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


was a big problem. I remember going to Driskell’s

community was okay with me. After Contemporary

GOLD: Did you exhibit your work at Brandywine

time. It was like being in heaven. I didn’t have to

anniversary exhibition at the University of Maryland,

Philadelphia Artists I got involved with the Sande

as well?

share equipment or wait my turn to use the press.

College Park. He had this piece titled I Have Always

Webster Gallery, where an African American group

Been an Outsider (1987) that was very compelling.

of artists called Recherché held meetings and

Many people asked, “How could you possibly call

invited me to join. I guess since my work was at

your piece I Have Always Been an Outsider, since

the Philadelphia Museum of Art, they thought I

you’re very much on the inside of the art world?”

was worthy! [laughs] I’m glad they did, because

Driskell said that in certain circles he was on the

that’s when things started to open up for me,

inside, but globally speaking, he didn’t feel as

and I became part of a network of artists, friends,

though he was a mainstream artist at all. I almost

and associates.

fell on the floor, thinking, “Well, if he doesn’t feel mainstream, what can I say about myself?” I found it very problematic that a widely acclaimed artist like

a group of prints that the museum acquired from the workshop. My print Another Realm (2006) was in that show and is now part of the museum’s permanent collection. I’m very happy about that! Richard J. Watson, who holds a position at

particularly influential or supportive?

opportunities possible for me. Barbara Bullock was

opportunities are plentiful today for artists of color

Brandywine Workshop has done so much for the

and female artists. Just in and around this city

artist community. Years ago the workshop was

there are multiple exhibitions of African American

on a little tiny street in West Philadelphia called

art this year—Woodmere’s upcoming show, the

Brandywine Street. Today its print collection is

Petrucci Family Foundation Collection at the AAMP,

a treasure—it has so much! Work by every artist

the Horace Pippin show at the Brandywine River

you’ve ever thought about is there, so I was very

Museum of Art, Represent at the Philadelphia

honored when Allan invited me to make a print at

Museum of Art, and PAFA’s exhibition of Norman

the workshop years after it moved to Broad Street.

Lewis’s work in the fall. The new frontier now—and

I had met him at one of Philadelphia’s community

this has been said over and over again—is to show

centers, where he was doing a demonstration. I was trying to complete an edition of prints at the time,

categorize work as “African American” in order to

and since the Tyler studios were closed that day,

showcase it.

Allan said I was welcome to use his workshop. At

how did you meet fellow artists?

the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2012 showcased

the AAMP, also made exhibitions and teaching

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Allan Edmunds at the

MCCAY: If you were working as a teacher full-time,

exhibitions, and still do. The Full Spectrum show at

GOLD: Were there specific artists who were

him didn’t consider himself mainstream. Exhibition

all American art together and not to necessarily

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Oh yes. I’ve always had public

the time there weren’t many printmaking studios

very encouraging as well. We spent hours debating the nature of art and art making. I always thought of Barbara as an excellent female artist role model. MCCAY: Are you still making prints?

Paper, ink, and other printmaking materials were provided. Visiting artists weren’t isolated, though. People who had printed there in the past, like James Brantley and Edward Hughes, would stop by to view the progress of other artists. Brandywine has a relationship with Taller Puertorriqueño, on Fifth Street near Lehigh Avenue in Philadelphia, so people go back and forth between the two locations. Artists of all ethnicities are invited to participate at Brandywine, and that’s enriching for all of us. I like the connections that these institutions are making, because the same people you see at Taller, you see at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at Brandywine, and at the Barnes Foundation. Relationships are built among staff and ideas are openly shared, so everyone feels connected.

JOHNSON-ALLEN: No, I’m working mainly in fabric,

found objects, paper, and acrylics now. Many of my

MCCAY: Was the experience of being part of a

series are in the box format. I don’t do printmaking

group, as a Brandywine artist or as a member of

anymore because the chemicals have become very

Recherché, an important support for you? Did it

toxic; dancolite is a very harsh solvent. The last time

change your work in any way?

I worked with John E. Dowell, Jr. we had to wear masks and gloves. But then again, Allan has invited me to Brandywine to do another print—offset lithography—and I would like to do it, because my heart remains in printmaking.

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Artist groups can be very

nurturing and supportive. My connection to Recherché opened my eyes to certain issues. The group wanted to create opportunities for African American artists because there were very few until

in Philadelphia, and you couldn’t just walk in cold,

GOLD: When you were working at the Brandywine

recently. When more opportunities finally opened,

as a stranger, because there was no proof that you

studios, were other artists there who you could

we thought, “What’s our next frontier?” Today the

JOHNSON-ALLEN: I really didn’t! [laughs] I didn’t

knew what you were doing. Printmaking equipment

share ideas with, or did you work with the

next big frontiers for the art community might be in

meet many other artists until I participated in the

is very delicate, and if you break it, it makes a loud

equipment by yourself?

the areas of critical scholarship, curating, museum

Contemporary Philadelphia Artists exhibition at the

sound, so everybody in the world knows what

directorship, and philanthropy. For instance, I

Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1990, because I was

you’ve done! [laughs] It’s very embarrassing. And

JOHNSON-ALLEN: People at Brandywine worked

working in total isolation. But I really didn’t mind it.

once it breaks, it costs a fortune to fix. So I thought

by themselves. That was the wonderful thing

organizations and donating money to existing

it was great that Allan, who didn’t know me, trusted

about it—Allan would give each artist full reign of

organizations that award grants and scholarships to

me with his tools. The fact that he gave me that

the entire studio space and provide two master

young, emerging artists.

opportunity was pivotal.

printmaking technicians to help them the entire

If you’re just interested in art, certain things aren’t that important. Just to be able to teach and then go to Tyler at night to be with a close-knit, nurturing



would like to get more involved in creating funding

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


MCCAY: I know you also teach art now and that

more because of technology. The younger artists

you’ve even taught classes at Woodmere. Is

have to use the computer a lot for communicating

teaching part of your practice of giving back and

and working with their art, so they have a bigger

supporting the arts?

job in some ways. They have to figure out how to

JOHNSON-ALLEN: Yes! I teach art because it keeps

me focused on the process of making things, and it allows me to be involved with other people. About twice a year I offer four- or five-day workshops at the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment, which

spend your whole day on the computer, what time do you have to make your art?

with a twist on painting and collage. I was also a

your success as an artist?

with high school students. That was a wonderful experience. I limit my teaching, however, because I want to spend the rest of my life developing my oeuvre—thus the reason for my early retirement, at the age of fifty-five.

JOHNSON-ALLEN: I think my curiosity and my

perseverance are what have driven me. You need to be always curious, always searching. I’m particularly interested in Ethiopian art right now because I recently traveled there and became acquainted with its fascinating tradition of manuscript writing. It’s a very strong tradition, but it isn’t recognized in

GOLD: Where do you show your work now?

other parts of the world. I’m in the process now of

Do you have gallery representation or show in

memorizing the Amharic alphabet, which has over

exhibitions locally?

137 characters! [laughs] But I’m finally getting it

JOHNSON-ALLEN: I’ve never had gallery

representation, but my work is exhibited frequently. Some of my box constructions were included in


do more to keep up with the global market. If you

MCCAY: What has been the biggest influence in

Art Futures program, which enabled me to work


artists throughout the world. They seem to have to

is a senior center. I love to teach bookmaking teaching artist for the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s

Another Realm, 2006, by Martina Johnson-Allen (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of the Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia, in memory of Anne d’Harnoncourt, 2009-61-97) Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

reach a larger audience and compete with other

the recent Petrucci Family Foundation Collection

because I’m looking at the patterns and finding that if you study each character carefully, it will lead you to the next, which may have a swirl or curl that’s a just little different. You can follow those visual patterns.

exhibition at the AAMP. I also participated in a

The goal of the visual artist is to interpret

show that opened this past March at Widener

knowledge and introduce it to people so that it

University, Chester, Pennsylvania. It was titled Giving

can be considered and discussed. As a result, you

Voice: Women, Artists, Inspirations, and included

whet everyone’s curiosity and make it incumbent

the artists Natalie Erin Brown, Anyta Thomas, and

upon society to seek new knowledge, or at least

Tanya Murphy. I was honored that they invited me

appreciate the lesser-known histories and traditions

to exhibit with them. I like to see young artists get

that are already out there. Otherwise, like you

ahead, and to see what innovative things they’re

said, the implication is that they don’t exist at all.

doing. It seems like their struggles are similar to

Educating oneself and others about them is essential

those I experienced, but I think they have even

for keeping those histories and traditions alive.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Wednesday, April 29, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with Laura Mitchell Keene and Lewis Tanner Moore to discuss the work of Paul F. Keene, Jr. SUSANNA W. GOLD: Laura, I understand that your

KEENE: Paul first enrolled in the Philadelphia

late husband, Paul Keene, was involved with the

Museum School of Art (now University of the Arts)

Wharton Centre. Can you tell us how he became

at Broad and Pine Streets. But it didn’t have the

associated with it and other community centers?

kind of professor he really wanted—he wanted


was a very important community center at TwentySecond Street and Montgomery Avenue in North Philadelphia. It was also an important part of Paul’s early art training. A lot of young people and children went there after school, and Paul taught art to the little ones. He grew up in North Philadelphia, and the Wharton Centre was not far from his home.

someone who knew about painting and color. He wanted to be able to touch, grind, and mix the paint himself. Temple University’s Tyler School of Art could give that to him, so he chose to go there. Some of the people who taught Paul at Tyler were just wonderful. Hermann Gundersheimer was what they called the “registrar” then, instead of “dean,” and he was a beloved teacher for all the students. He was on quite a pedestal, and he never

LEWIS TANNER MOORE: Paul taught at the

fell off it. It was Gundersheimer who told Paul, in

Wharton Centre as a teenager, but his first

1948 once his studies at Tyler were over, that the

introduction to it was as one of the little kids taking

Pennsylvania State University was looking for an art

art classes there. He went from being one of the

professor, and suggested that he apply for the job.

students to being a teacher because the others

Gundersheimer made an appointment for Paul to

noticed the talent and skill that he was developing.

meet the head of the art department at a restaurant

While Paul was there he met two of Philadelphia’s

near Rittenhouse Square. We were so excited! Not

established artists, Allan Freelon and Henry

many would hire a black art professor at the time,

Bozeman Jones, who visited the Centre to offer

but we thought that since this was a state school, it

reviews and critiques of his work. They were the

might not be terribly difficult. But when Paul walked

“elder statesmen” of African American artists for

into the restaurant, the man had an expression on

Paul’s generation, and he came to think of them

his face that indicated that he hadn’t known Paul

as good friends.

would be black. So Paul said, “I guess there’s no

Variations on a Spanish Theme, c. 1970, by Paul F. Keene Jr. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of the Keene Family, 2011)

point in my sitting down,” and the man said, “No.” GOLD: In addition to Freelon and Jones, did Paul

Then he said something to the point of, “It’s not that

have mentors at the other art schools he attended

I’m prejudiced; it’s the parents of my students who

in Philadelphia?

might have an objection.” So Paul just said goodbye and came home, quite disappointed, because he



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


artists studying in Europe to use as a gathering

scholarship to go to Haiti and teach at the Centre

point, and where they could each have a show. It

d’Arte, founded by DeWitt Peters. We had only

was called Galerie Huit.

been back home from France for a short time when

GOLD: How long did you live in France?

we decided to go. We lived right in the center of Port-au-Prince in a small hotel run by a Haitian

KEENE: We lived in France for three years. We

woman. We had a very special time there. Paul

found a little home in the boondocks outside of

went to the Centre d’Arte every day, and went out

Paris. Paul’s artist-friends all lived in tiny rooms

on weekends. He, DeWitt, and another Haitian man

in the city, where sometimes their paintings were

would take their Jeep out into the boondocks, and

bigger than the rooms themselves. Everybody

if they saw a house that somehow indicated that

came over on the weekends, since we had a house.

the person living there was interested in art—maybe

It wasn’t just artists—our circle included lots of

because of its colors—they would leave art supplies

Paul F. Keene, Jr. at Tyler School of Art, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by

Paul F. Keene, Jr. at Tyler School of Art, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

other people, all very political, and we’d have great

or invite the person to work at the Centre d’Arte.

discussions. The first communist I ever met was a

Many of those people became well-known Haitian

John W. Mosley.

Photograph by John W. Mosley.

woman whose husband was a politician. It wasn’t until many, many years later, after we’d come back to Philadelphia, and I read in the New York Times

thought a state school wouldn’t be discriminatory. It

Oscar Bortner, remained our friends all those years.

wasn’t always easy, but Paul went to Tyler, and that

Rudolf Staffel was also there. He was married to

was a wonderful school for him.

Doris Staffel, and they were our friends too.

MOORE: I always had the impression that

GOLD: Doris must have been one of Paul’s teaching

Gundersheimer felt an affinity for Paul because of

colleagues at the Philadelphia College of the Arts

his own experiences in Europe, perhaps finding a

(PCA, now University of the Arts). She taught in the

parallel with Paul’s situation here.

painting department there from 1957 to 1990.

KEENE: Perhaps. He had been the curator at the

KEENE: Yes, Paul taught at PCA from 1954 to

group became quite well known, such as Jules

Jewish Museum in Nazi Germany, and at gunpoint

1968. He enjoyed his fourteen-year career there

Olitski, Herbert Gentry, and Haywood “Bill” Rivers.

he had had to take down all the artwork in the

before he moved on to Bucks County Community

Paul was also in a show with Pablo Picasso when he

museum. He later fled the country with his daughter

College, where he taught until 1985. We acquired

was in Europe. This was in 1950, only five years after

in the middle of the night and came to the United

the property adjacent to his family’s property in

the end of the war. Picasso was a communist and

States. But Tyler, on the whole, was always very

Bucks County, and moved there to be near them.

wanted to raise money for the communist party,

open regarding race. There was never an unhappy

Back when Paul was still a student at Tyler, his two

so he sold posters for this exhibition, which he had

moment for Paul.

dearest friends were Robert L. Rosenwald and

signed. We paid ten dollars for one of Picasso’s

Joseph J. Greenberg, from Philadelphia. They all

signed posters.

GOLD: Did Paul have a network of significant

colleagues there?

graduated at the same time, and remained close for many years. In fact, when Paul and I went to Europe

that this woman’s father was a very well-known civil rights leader. While we were in France, Paul was very active with the Galerie Huit exhibitions. Each American artist involved in maintaining Galerie Huit was given a one-man show with a vernissage and an opening event. Some of the artists who showed in that

GOLD: You and Paul also lived in Haiti for a while?

KEENE: Selma Bortner was at Tyler with Paul, and

so that he could study at the Académie Julian, in

KEENE: Paul always thought he’d get to Africa at

was around the same age. She and her husband,

Paris, Bob was living there at the time. He was a

some point, but that didn’t work out. He did get a

sculptor and had a studio that he allowed American 160


Voodoo Priest, date unknown, by Paul F. Keene, Jr. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift from the collection of Benjamin D. Bernstein, 1995)

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Art Alliance on Rittenhouse Square. He had a rather interesting experience there. They often had exhibition openings, so when Paul was asked to have a show, I began to write down names of people to invite to the reception, because that was the standard process. Then the director told us that Paul could have a show, but not a reception, because they didn’t want black people coming in off the street. So Paul said, “Okay, then I won’t have a show at all.” Then all his friends, including Bob Rosenwald, said they would all resign from the Art Alliance if Paul wasn’t allowed to have a reception. So of course the director changed his mind right away, since all the artists were going to leave. GOLD: So he had the reception eventually?

(Left to right) Miss Dorothy Warrick, Josephine Bond Keene, Sussie Elliott (Dean of Women at Howard University) at the Pyramid Club Art Exhibition. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley.


Nude #5, date unknown, by Edward L. Loper, Sr. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Loper, Sr., 2004)

GOLD: Good! Did Paul meet with many challenges

one particularly significant place that included his

showing his work?

work in exhibitions was the Pyramid Club.

KEENE: Are you asking if was hard for him as a

KEENE: Oh, yes! The Pyramid Club was a men’s

black artist in Philadelphia? Well, you know, Paul

social club in Philadelphia. It was created before

grew up black! [laughs] It was a time that was

black professional men could go to places like the

difficult for everybody. All we wanted was for the

Warwick Hotel and have a good afternoon with

law to change, so people could be themselves.

their friends. Things were still segregated at that

It didn’t make any sense. Even when Paul wore

point. So some professional black men got together

a lieutenant’s uniform, he had to stand in a train

and purchased a beautiful brownstone house

coach. These were soldiers—they had given their

around Fifteenth Street and Girard Avenue and built

artists. Some came to the United States and made

antiques shop and had a few other things as well.

lives, they were parts of families that had given their

a very well-run private club. It was beautifully kept.

names for themselves here.

Whenever it sold a painting, Paul’s mother would

lives—but that’s just the way it was. It was a time

We could go there for lunch or dinner, and they also

send the money to us in France.

we were all changing. Slowly but surely the world

had receptions. Paul showed his work in some of

changed with us, though it took a while to get there.

the Pyramid Club’s big art exhibitions.

GOLD: It sounds like Paul had some interesting

professional experiences when he was abroad.

MOORE: Dubin also showed the work of Edward

What kinds of exhibition opportunities did he have

L. Loper, Sr. For a while Dubin was the only

RACHEL MCCAY: Were there community groups

MOORE: The Pyramid Club had exhibitions

in Philadelphia when he was a young artist, or even

commercial gallery that exhibited art by African

other than the Wharton Centre that strongly

periodically over a number of years. Humbert

as an established artist?

American artists.

supported Paul’s career?

Howard was the art director. His work was shown

KEENE: Paul showed at Dubin Gallery on Sixteenth

KEENE: Yes, that’s absolutely true. But later Paul

MOORE: Paul showed his work at lots of

and Pine Streets early in his career. Dubin was an

developed a connection with the Philadelphia

community locations, like churches and YMCAs, but



there along with the art of Raymond Steth, Claude Clark, and Selma Burke, to name just a few. And the club didn’t limit its exhibitions to Philadelphia WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Edna Thrash (seated, far left), Dox Thrash (standing, far right), and others at the Pyramid Club Art Exhibition, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph

Dox Thrash and Beauford Delaney at the Pyramid Club Art Exhibition looking at Delaney’s painting. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

undertakers, which is one of the professions that

by John W. Mosley

was much respected within the black community, (Left to right) John F. Lewis, unidentified man, Selma Burke, Humbert Howard, Hale Woodruff, and Mrs. Woodruff at the Pyramid Club Art Exhibition admiring Burke’s Fallen Angel, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

and they owned their own business. Paul came from very tightly knit, strong, and well-educated

MOORE: One of Paul’s significant supporters was

shared a very long and close relationship. Paul

people. Paul’s father was a businessman, but also

Benjamin Bernstein. He was a major collector of

made at least eight prints over a number of years at

someone who all the neighbors came to for advice

Paul’s work, as well as work by many other artists.

the workshop, and received its James Van Der Zee

and guidance. He was a quiet and friendly man artists; it showed work by national figures like Beauford Delaney and Romare Bearden. It was also one of a very small number of venues in which the walls were integrated. Julius Bloch showed there, as did many slightly-to-the-left white artists. Albert C. Barnes was invited to speak there. KEENE: All the members were distinguished men

of the black community. Lewis’s father, whose name was also Lewis Tanner Moore but called “Tanner,” for example, was a very important lawyer. MOORE: Paul was not a club joiner, but his family

who knew an awful lot about the neighborhood. I respected him tremendously. Paul’s mother raised her four children with an iron hand and was also very active in a national group called Business and Professional Women. And her brother was Marian Anderson’s first accompanist. KEENE: Yes, Paul was fortunate to be from an

enlightened and creative family, and to have a mother and father who were very supportive of him studying art.

KEENE: Yes. Ben’s family owned Quaker Moving

Award for lifetime achievement in the arts.

and Storage, a big business in Philadelphia and

KEENE: Yes, Paul accomplished a lot as an artist.

elsewhere. He loved being an art collector. Ben was

We had quite a long life together—we were married

a supporter of all of the city’s art institutions—the

sixty-six years and had two children. He was quiet

Philadelphia Museum of Art, PAFA, Woodmere, La

and did his work without caring what other people

Salle University, Villanova University. Ed Bernstein,

thought. It wasn’t always peaches and cream, you

his brother, was important in the arts as well.

know. We would sit here on the sofa, and if we had

MOORE: Allan Edmunds, the director of the

Brandywine Workshop, was also an important supporter and advocate for Paul’s work. They

an argument, he’d say, “I’m not going anywhere!” And I’d say, “Well, I’m not going anywhere!” So there we stayed.

GOLD: What other sources of support did Paul find?

was also very successful, professionally. They were



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Thursday, March 12, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with Phil Sumpter, former art director of the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia. SUSANNA W. GOLD: Phil, because we are

GOLD: What was the atmosphere at the Pyramid

looking at exhibiting institutions in We Speak,

Club like?

we’re particularly interested in the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia. You served as the art director there for a time.

SUMPTER: When you walked up the steps of the

old, three-story brownstone at 15th Street and Girard Avenue for a social event, gas lanterns would

PHIL SUMPTER: I was the second, and the last,

be lit at night. There was a great doorman we used

art director at the Pyramid Club. The art director

to call Sinbad. He was a big, tall, strapping black

reported to the president of the club. Humbert

man—an ex-boxer—but he was elegant. He was a

Howard was the director before me.

real character. When he welcomed you through

GOLD: Could you tell us a little bit about Pyramid

Club—how it got started, why it was so important, and what your role as the art director was?

the foyer, it seemed like you were walking into a palazzo: The entrance was all laid out with tile, and all the walls were covered in fine wallpaper—no painted surfaces. Once you entered on the main

SUMPTER: The Pyramid Club started in 1937 as

floor, you looked straight ahead into the dining

a social gathering point for African American

room. It was a fantastic dining room—the cooking,

professionals. Being a professional, or being from

the food, and the service were all par excellence.

a professional family, was one of the prerequisites

The tables were always laid out with beautiful

for membership, whether that was a spoken rule or

Irish linen, with napkins as thick and heavy as bath

not. We’re talking doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs—

towels. The smell of the food in this place, oh my

in other words, “acceptable” professionals. There

God! It really had excellent cuisine with Southern

was also a color barrier in the Pyramid Club, as

heritage—“homegrown,” cooked by moms and

there was in many other black organizations. Black

grandmoms, because the ladies in that kitchen

people today might be embarrassed by this idea,

were just dynamite. They made the greatest mock

but we all knew it existed. You had to pass what I

turtle soup in the world, yes indeed! All the cooks

call the “coffee test” in order to join. You also had

that were there worked for one of the three major

to be recommended for membership by someone

catering companies—Holland’s, which carried the

already “on high” in the club. In short, the Pyramid

Main Line trade; Baptiste, run by a black family from

Club existed for a specific purpose. It served to

New Orleans operating out of West Philadelphia;

bring people together socially, and it also became a

and McAllister on Girard Avenue, an Irish catering

stronghold for any African American in Philadelphia

company that had mainly black waiters and cooks.

who had political ambitions.

A lot of the people who worked for the catering

The Pyramid Club at 1517 West Girard Avenue, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

The front hallway on the first floor of the Pyramid Club. 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

Photograph by John W. Mosley

Photograph by John W. Mosley

Miriam Brown (in white shirt, facing camera) and others at the Pyramid Club Art Exhibition, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

The Alexandria Room at the Pyramid Club, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

Photograph by John W. Mosley



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


companies that conducted and operated the dining

was another member. The club had some of his

facilities at the Pyramid Club had mainly black

sculptural work, like architectural models. Between

workers, from the cooks down to the waiters,

the annual exhibitions and the art collection, you

male and female.

might wonder if all these professional black men

The Pyramid Club bar was down in the basement. It was a very comfortable, very social bar where you would meet with friends and talk. Then, of course, there was the “private domain” of the club, the gambling room, which was up on the third floor. That’s where the old timers would go and play poker and God knows what else! And then there was a staircase with banisters that led to a beautiful game room on the second floor, where you could sit and read or play cards and billiards. This is where the art gallery was.

in the Pyramid Club were interested in art—I’d say, yes and no. I never saw any specific interest in art develop and blossom there, but the Pyramid Club did provide some important exposure and exhibition opportunities for the individual artists who were members. Humbert was really the spirit behind it all. He was a US postman who educated himself in the practice and appreciation of art, and he became quite well known in the Philadelphia art world. So when he joined the Pyramid Club, he was able to create important opportunities for artists. But the interest in art at the club was not

MCCAY: What were some of your primary

paramount. It was mainly a social gathering place,

responsibilities as art director?

though it did have members that were artists.

SUMPTER: By the time I became art director,

GOLD: Who were some of the artists who were

the Pyramid Club had begun holding annual art

Pyramid Club members?

exhibitions. Humbert Howard, the club’s first art director, had introduced the first art shows and had conducted all aspects of preparation for shows. But the Pyramid Club also had a very interesting collection of work. Humbert had accumulated quite a few pieces from artists who not only sold, but gave, their work to the club, so my responsibilities

SUMPTER: Sam Brown was one of the early

members of the Pyramid Club. Sam was a teacher in the Philadelphia school system and an excellent artist. He was very special. He had lots of energy,

The Yellow Cup, 1949–50, by Humbert Howard (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: John Lambert Fund) Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

and his energy was genuine. He didn’t have to fake it. He never really exhibited his work much around Philadelphia, but the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Sam were getting work through this government

school. The first place where I taught was Mayer

was aware of him because he left several works to

program. Allan Freelon was also a member of the

Sulzberger Junior High School, the same junior

them in his legacy. His drawing technique was great,

Pyramid Club. He was the only black assistant

high school I attended, at Forty-Eighth Street

GOLD: What kind of work did the Pyramid Club

and he was a master at engraving. Dox Thrash

director of art in the Philadelphia system.

and Fairmount Avenue. I taught in the very same

have in its collection?

was also an engraver, as well as an inventor. He

also included maintaining the artwork that the Pyramid Club owned.

was a quiet type, very emotional. Raymond Steth

GOLD: Was it Freelon who hired you to work in the

SUMPTER: It had some sketches and drawings by

was an engraver, too. They were both members

Philadelphia public school system?

Tanner Moore, nephew of Henry Ossawa Tanner, that

of the Pyramid Club during the Works Progress

I remember hung on the wall up in the game room.

Administration (WPA) period. Under the WPA,

Tanner was a lawyer who was also a member of the

Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood that he had

Pyramid Club. Julian Francis Abele, the architect,

to create jobs for artists and poets. So Dox, Ray, and



classroom I was taught in! Beatrice Claire Overton was teaching art at Sulzberger, too. She was the first black teacher to teach in an integrated classroom in

SUMPTER: Allan was the man who encouraged me

the Philadelphia public school system. She was also

to pursue a scholarship from John Bartram High

an art teacher at the Saturday morning art league

School. He was also the one who hired me when

at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Selma Burke, the

I came out of the service and started teaching

sculptor, was at Sulzberger as well. Selma was from

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


North Carolina originally, and later, she moved to

just didn’t frequent that club. But the Pyramid Club

loved him. He also started the Philadelphia Cotillion

New Hope, Pennsylvania. John Harris, who taught

was open to whomever, if you were a gentleman.

Society. Institutions like the Cotillion Society were

me at Sulzberger when I was a student, was another

But there was also a ladies’ auxiliary, a social club in

for girls, and their only purpose was to give black

member of the club. He became a professor of art

which women could participate.

youths a platform from which to launch themselves

at Cheyney State College as well. GOLD: Harris and Burke are represented in

this exhibition.

GOLD: Were there other social clubs that were

important for the black community in Philadelphia? SUMPTER: Yes, black people without a shadow of

into life, socially. Eugene was one of those important people, like Samuel L. Evans. MCCAY: Evans was the president of the

Pyramid Club?

SUMPTER: Oh, wonderful! Other Pyramid Club

a doubt certainly did have a society in Philadelphia.

members included Paul Keene, who was a later

We had home parties; there were sororities; there

SUMPTER: Yes, he was the president in all the years

member, as was Samuel Curtis. Sam was a professor

were fraternities; and there were social clubs. These

of my tenure there. When I joined the club after I

of art at Cheyney State College (now Cheyney

social clubs were the supporting arms for any event

returned from Europe, where I was stationed during

University of Pennsylvania). Jack Bookbinder and

that involved black culture. For instance, Dr. Eugene

the Korean War, it was Sam who recommended me

Morris Blackburn also contributed much to the

Wayman Jones was a tenured professor at Temple

for membership. He was a most remarkable man—

Pyramid Club as artists. These were two white

University who bought a brownstone in an area on

probably the single most influential supporter of

members. There was more to the club than just

Broad Street that at one time was known as the

black culture in Philadelphia. “I’m a scholar,” he’d

having black members; it also attracted a lot of

“sugar hill” for black folks who lived north of Girard

tell you with great pride, “and an entrepreneur.” He

white clientele because it was a rival club to the

Avenue. There he initiated a social club he called the

dressed immaculately. When you dressed out of

Union League of Philadelphia, on South Broad

Heritage House. The Pyramid Club ladies’ auxiliary

Brooks Brothers back in those days, you dressed!

Samuel J. Brown at work in his office at 5914 Thompson Street, 1946. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

Street, which did not allow blacks. If blacks were

interacted often with the Heritage House. Eugene

And he had beautiful pipes. He was my influence

entertained there, it was only on rare occasions. You

was charismatic to no end—I mean, the ladies just

when I began smoking a pipe. Sam also initiated

Dox Thrash (far left), Beatrice Overton (second from left), and others at the Pyramid Club. 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

(Left to right) Humbert Howard, Morris Blackburn, Lois Jones, an unidentified man, and Jacob Lawrence at the Pyramid Club Art Exhibition, 1957. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

The October 1941 Pictorial Album of the Pyramid Club. (Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


we needed some young blood in there—thus his

GOLD: Do you think that even though the Pyramid

invitation for me to join. I was then twenty-six,

Club wasn’t an arts institution, it was nonetheless

going on twenty-seven.

significant for artists to have shown their work

GOLD: So there weren’t as many opportunities for

those kinds of activities when the Pyramid Club was flourishing. SUMPTER: Absolutely not, and you’ve got to

remember too that Philadelphia was under the blue laws then, you know? Nothing was open on Sundays. If you wanted recreation that included music, booze, and dancing, you had to go over to New Jersey, to Lawnside! GOLD: Or have a private club.

there—in a place that you describe as being associated with so much pride? Do you think that having had such experiences and associations helped them as they moved forward in their artistic careers? SUMPTER: Oh, gosh yes. I do, because when the

exhibitions opened, they were by invitation, and the invitations went far and wide in the community of Philadelphia. And they were not limited to the art community—political people of importance would attend. The club was the place to be. These exhibitions were nights to socialize and interact. There were artists you didn’t know two days ago.

Samuel L. Evans (second from left), Dox Thrash (right), and others at the Pyramid Club, 1940s. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

Asa Philip Randolph, former president of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, pioneer labor leader and organizer of the March on Washington, at the Pyramid Club, 1944. (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by John W. Mosley

SUMPTER: Or have a private club, yes. Besides,

Now you know them, you know? And you not only

the booze and the food at the Pyramid Club cost

know them, but you see their work. Both white and

more than it did at an outside bar, and of course,

black artists would attend, of course, because the

the appreciation of the food decreased as blacks

work on view was not just by black artists. These

ate out more. In short, the general environment

were great, healthy exchanges. I think it did a lot to

just started to slip away, and the Pyramid Club saw

open up art to young people who didn’t know what

its demise. Sam kept it going for a while when he

it was about.

bought the building, but by then it had gotten to the point where it was like “Auld Lang Syne.” The last club meeting that we had up in the game room

what were called the “coffee concerts” at the

around for black people in Philadelphia. White

ended with a turn of the key in the door, and that

Academy of Music, with the support of a number of

establishments, including restaurants, were opening

was the end of it. The club officially closed in 1963.

benefactors. When I joined the Pyramid Club, there

up to blacks, so Jim Crow was run out of the city.

It was sad. That particular place went with a lot of

was some internal fighting among the professionals

You began to have black people either buying

pride, and I don’t think that people quite realized

about the ownership of the club building. When it

into, or buying outright, drinking establishments,

what its impact on society had been.

came time to put up or shut up, Sam certainly did put

so going to bars and restaurants became the new

up, with a blank check, again from some important

thing to do. On Saturdays and Sundays people who

benefactors, and he bought the place outright

wanted to do things socially could meet downtown

GOLD: Did that allow the club to remain active?

club anymore. So the Pyramid Club slowly began deteriorating—its membership was falling off with

important part of the history of the Pyramid

this new competition in Center City. The club had

Club. Toward the late 1950s, things were turning

begun to attract fewer members, and as Sam said,


GOLD: This has been a wonderful conversation.

and come out. You didn’t have to go to a private

SUMPTER: Well, this internal struggle is a very


MCCAY: Thank you, Phil.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



On Sunday, December 7, 2014, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with Richard J. Watson and Gail D. Montgomery-Watson to discuss his work. SUSANNA W. GOLD: What do you think of

in Africa but became American citizens, so their

Woodmere’s curatorial framework for this

memories and psyches are African, but their

exhibition—starting in the New Negro Movement of

social and political experiences are American. And

the 1920s and going up to the Bicentennial era of

when you merge those together you get conflicts

the 1970s?

between history and contemporary life, between

RICHARD J. WATSON: The early work from the

1920s makes a statement about the presence of black artists—that we were here, that we wanted inclusion. But it is also about self-interpretation. It

your culture and your environment. So the role of the artist has become detached from identifying what one is, and has become more about what one experiences.

was then, during the Harlem Renaissance, that black

RACHEL MCCAY: It is Alain Locke’s argument in

artists began to make their own statements about

“The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts” that African

their culture, their people, and their environment.

American artists shouldn’t feel like wandering

The black artist became an important idea and was

orphans without a trajectory of art history, because

no longer peripheral in the mainstream European

they do indeed have a cultural history to reclaim.

art context. Just after the Harlem Renaissance,

However, the African American experience is

people became interested in Social Realism. Charles

different from the African experience. So Locke

White and people like him gained the confidence

argues that though African American or—to use

to say, “This is our story, this is our stage,” and

Locke’s term—“Negro” art should not be a direct

the younger artists who were influenced by them

quote of African styles and formal qualities, it

learned to make statements about their lifestyles—

should be connected to African heritage, while also

realities that many people had not even considered.

making reference to the contemporary time of the

They began to take the “first voice,” as opposed to

Harlem Renaissance. One quote of Locke’s that we

the “back-up voice,” in the composition of social

thought was significant was, “The sensitive artistic

life. The role of the African American artist today is

mind of the American Negro, stimulated by a

still somewhat compromised and marginalized, but

cultural pride and interest, will receive from African

the margin has expanded way beyond the confines

art a profound and galvanizing influence. The legacy

of what people once thought African American art

is there at least, with prospects of a rich yield.” Do

“should” be about.

you see that as being significant to your own work?

Even the term “African American” is nebulous

R. WATSON: I do, because my involvement in

now. There are African Americans who were born

the arts was prompted by a sense of identity and



Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addresses a crowd outside Girard College, Girard and Corinthian avenues, August 3, 1965, Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


by recognizing that how you express who you

about the contemporary moment, but the most

R. WATSON: Actually, I had to go to the bathroom!

1960s, I was just trying to survive—don’t get shot,

are is relevant to where you are, and how you’ve

meaningful way for me to express my ideas was to

I was in the area, and that was the first place I

don’t get beat up. That was really the driving force

progressed. The elements that help you identify

draw—to draw what I was feeling about the social

saw. I thought it was an insurance building or

in my world. Most of the people who succeeded

who you are also come from the reverberations

and political upheavals that were going on in the

something, and that it must have a bathroom in

were athletes; they became basketball players,

of who you are not. You have to accept who you

country. I had to shift my intention from being only

the lobby. I walked in and went to the men’s room,

football players, or track stars. But that wasn’t my

are not in order to make connections. We all have

a student to being an activist and a student so that

and when I came out I looked at those grand stairs

motivation. My motivation was to just enjoy life, and

that African connection; we just have to address it

I could continue to grow in both areas. You could

and thought, “Oh, there are paintings in here!”

art was something I had a facility with. But one of

psychologically. We may have the talent to express

say it was a perfect storm—I had a new instrument

I ran up the stairs and I saw that it was PAFA.

the teachers there said to me, “You know, you could

almost anything, but the psychological part of it

and the instruction for how to use it at the same

So I got some information about it and applied

really do something if you take this seriously.” So

becomes very important to sustaining what we

time. Then I started learning about other artists

for admission in my senior year of high school. I

I developed a higher level of consciousness about

express. So the short answer is yes, I agree with

who were doing what I liked doing, such as Romare

already had some experience and a portfolio from

what could be done in the art world. I looked into

Locke’s ideas completely.

Bearden and Jacob Lawrence. When I focused on

my previous involvement with art at the Wharton

other opportunities to learn about art and began

merging my African American identity with my own

Centre and other Philadelphia settlement houses,

going to the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, in

expressive needs, I found there were other artists

so it wasn’t like I was starting from square one. I

South Philadelphia, on Saturday mornings when I

doing that, too!

barely squeaked in, but I made it! And once I got

started high school.

GOLD: Did your choice to attend the Pennsylvania

Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), with its strong realist tradition, encourage you to draw from your heritage and think about your identity as

I was in the right place. I found a way to love that

you worked in the style of realism? Did those

place because I could learn what I needed to know

motivations join together easily?

to express myself. That gave me strength not to

R. WATSON: I see PAFA as having had two

important aspects. Because it was an academy, it offered a vision of how to tell stories through drawing, so it gave me an impetus to learn more about that. One of the first pieces I did at PAFA was a drawing of a girl out in a field, which was really about dedication to detail. I wanted to make the

get distracted by thoughts like, “Well, I’m not going

there, I stayed. I would be there when they opened and I would be there when they closed, and that’s how I became immersed in all aspects of what was possible there. GOLD: Can you tell us about your art experiences at

college at all. I didn’t even know if I could get into college, since I’d just been playing around for twelve

this institution.” Along those lines one instructor, Morris Blackburn, asked me, “What are you going to do? You have to decide if you are going to be a politician or a painter.”

R. WATSON: Settlement houses were community

activity places, and they promoted cultural involvement to provide young people in the area with some healthy, creative development in their

at the same time, I entered PAFA on the eve of my

couldn’t be both?

settlements. It had a stage and a little theater

war in Vietnam was going on; demonstrations were happening across the country, like the one in Selma, Alabama; we were seeing the integration of Girard College, Philadelphia—this was all going on at the same time, and I was a part of it. But I was also a

to do, man?” I didn’t know. I had not applied to any

the Wharton Centre and other settlement houses?

early years. The Wharton Centre was one of these

on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The

the Vietnam War. They said, “What are you going

would interfere with what I’m trying to learn from

GOLD: As if it were an either/or choice, and you

movement, in 1964, not too long after the March

1963, people were talking about getting drafted into

to get involved with social issues, because that

imagery look just how it was supposed to look. But social and political awareness and the civil rights

By the time I graduated from high school, in June of

R. WATSON: Right. Morris was a painter and

printmaker and one of the most respected instructors there. I appreciated his candor, but I couldn’t just decide. I was hanging out in Rittenhouse Square, looking like a hippie, trying not to make too many decisions right then. I was just doing my work, just being, without committing to anything.

group, and on Saturday mornings it had something called the School Art League that offered arts and crafts activities. The Wharton Centre was at Twenty-Second Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, only three blocks from where I lived. I would go

years. But my life has been a series of examples of being in the right place at the right time. When I got into PAFA, I was fortunate enough to have someone give me a scholarship. Tuition at PAFA was $1,200 a year, but I had a senatorial scholarship from the city to cover that cost, since I couldn’t afford to pay it myself. In addition, the Wharton Centre had a foundation funded by Dr. Robert R. Rosenbaum for helping young people in the arts, and a scholarship from him paid for all my materials. Both were blessings!

there and just meddle around with clay or whatever,

GOLD: What was it like behind PAFA’s walls in

and I liked it. It not only gave me something to do

that cultural climate of the civil rights era and the

on Saturday mornings, but I also learned what went

Vietnam War, when you began the program? Did

student at PAFA. I was conflicted sometimes about

MCCAY: How did you decide to go to PAFA? Had

on in the art world on a community-based level.

you talk to your colleagues, friends, and professors

learning to draw and wanting to express my ideas

you been exposed to art in high school or through

As a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old student growing

about political issues?

your family?

up in North Philadelphia in the late 1950s and early



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


R. WATSON: That was about ten years after PAFA.

Right after leaving the academy, I wasn’t positioned

William Johns, age 8, working with watercolor paints during a preteen art class at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, a tuition-free art school and gallery at 715–719 Catharine Street, February 19, 1978. Photograph by Jack Tinney. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Barbara Cottman, 14, under the supervision of instructor Frank Drummond at the Police Athletic League Ceramic Art Center, 135 South Sixtieth Street, June 26, 1963. Photograph by Meyer. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

R. WATSON: I was the only one from my

“I’m not a boy, Mr. Pittman.” And he fired back,

neighborhood entering PAFA at the time, so there

“But you are a boy, you are a boy! You are an

weren’t many people I was socializing with at that

insolent boy!” You could tolerate that sort of thing

point. But I met about seven or eight black students

at times, because you’d think, “I’m not going to let

when I got there.

him push my buttons and get me up against the

GOLD: Out of how many? R. WATSON: There were maybe about 230 or 240

students, total. So the black guys hung together for a while. We found a sense of community with one another, since PAFA students were coming from

wall and frustrated.” But they were great instructors, sometimes eccentric people, and we learned from them.

to become a professional artist, because there was no avenue for it. My father and mother wanted me to get a job right away, but I had just gotten out of school and didn’t know what I was going to do. That was the reality that people graduating from art school in 1968 had to deal with—that dramatic realization that you need to decide what you are going to do for the rest of your life, and where you are going to go. Studios at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, March 3, 1974. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Richard Rosenberg

So I hung out in Rittenhouse Square and started learning how to play the guitar. I played guitar every day for a couple of years—Jimi Hendrix; Steely Dan; Crosby, Stills, and Nash—all that was my life. Then

someone stood up to Walter, he respected them. I think he was trying to root out those who were not strong enough to take it. But there was never any out-and-out harsh conflict or confrontation. One time we went to a Halloween party where people had been drinking, and somebody yelled, “Niggers!” and closed the door on us really fast.

MCCAY: Did they encourage you to be aware of

That’s not something that was out of character

Vietnam and the women’s movement?

for the times, with racial conflict on the national stage. But it didn’t erupt into anything violent. Most

I joined this group called Freedom Theatre and was doing stage plays for about four years. In the early 1970s I became involved with the Model Cities Cultural Arts Program, whose drama department was housed at the Church of the Advocate on Diamond Street. One of my art friends that I knew from West Philadelphia, Walter Edmonds, had done a small mural panel on one of its auditorium walls. I wanted to work on a mural, too, so we talked to Father Paul Washington at the church, who said, “Why don’t you guys do something together on

so many various places. A sense of camaraderie

R. WATSON: No. I don’t think women were

of the time people were not trying to use art as

naturally formed between people of color. There

particularly revered at the academy. The “old

a political platform, not even the black students I

were some Southerners who clumped together

guard”—men like Franklin Watkins, Walter

went to school with. Some made statements in their

and some people from New England who saw

Stuempfig, Hobson Pittman, and Roswell Weidner—

work that acknowledged that they were African

each other on the ski slopes, so you had these little

were almost in their seventies. They considered the

So I went back to painting seriously in 1973, with

American people, which offered them a sense of

enclaves, which is a very healthy, communal thing.

women’s movement and other political events more

that project for the Church of the Advocate. It

validation. Some instructors would ask, “Why are

as distractions than as things to encourage. Walter

was a monumental physical task just to put up the

you always painting black people?” Well, that’s what

was known to say things to the female students like,

scaffolding. We had to put metal support systems

we would see all the time. That’s who we were and

“Why don’t you go home and have a baby?”

up so we could screw the largest panels onto the

that’s what we did.

walls. It took us about four months to put the

MCCAY: That’s terrible.

GOLD: When did you get involved with the Church

There was never any out-and-out racial conflict, but some of the instructors were kind of abrasive at times. On one occasion, there was one Southern instructor who said, “What are you boys doing in the bathroom? You boys are not supposed to be here.” A fellow student, Cranston Walker, responded,



R. WATSON: Seriously. Women would go out crying

from a critique after a comment like that. But if

of the Advocate?

those great, heavy walls underneath the stained glass windows in the sanctuary?”

materials together. The first mural I did was the largest one I had ever undertaken. I figured that if you’re going to jump back into the water, you might as well to dive into the ocean. WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


MCCAY: Had you ever painted on such a large scale? R. WATSON: Never. I had never done anything

larger then four or five feet. There were ten panels on the side walls, each twelve by eight feet, and the one on the top was thirty-two by twenty feet. GOLD: Did you have free reign in terms of painting

what you wanted to paint, or did Father Washington tell you what he needed?

The chains that bond us are Alcoholism and drug addiction, Shadows, demons and paranoia, Sexual promiscuities, Parasites, roaches and rats, The dead, dying and vanishing forest. The poem directly corresponds to the imagery in the finished mural. Rats fester down below the large figures, who are chained and suffering.

R. WATSON: Father Washington gave us fourteen

Above their heads float symbols of power,

passages from Genesis to Revelations to guide the

dominance, and alcoholism.

project. We were to give contemporary voice to the scriptures by drawing parallels between the struggles of the enslaved Africans transported to America and those of the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, such as the flight from Egypt and the civil rights era of African Americans. GOLD: Walter Edmonds’s circular painting, Progress

(1973), is a study for the mural that reflects the biblical verse from Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”

MCCAY: I understand that Edmonds was involved

in many church activities. Were you a religious person when you were working on the Church of the Advocate murals? R. WATSON: I’m a spiritual being! It felt like I went

to church almost every day of my life with my grandparents. If you lived in the South with older people, you had to go to church every Sunday. My grandfather was a Methodist and my grandmother was a Baptist, so I’d alternate going to each kind of church. They had revivals in the summer where you

R. WATSON: Edmonds paralleled this verse to the

would go to church every night. One church had

very difficult conditions that impoverished people

its revival, and then the next church had its revival,

today must endure, symbolized by the large rat

so I would go almost twelve days in a row, plus

among the teaming crowd in the city.

every Sunday! That’s what gave me the heart and soul to interpret creatively. Sitting in church every

Progress [Study for the Church of the Advocate], 1973, by Walter Edmonds (Collection of Matilda Petty)

GOLD: Edmonds himself has described this imagery

Sunday, I had to visualize all that the ministers were

in his own elegant poetry:

describing about the journeys of the apostles and

The weight of our society is heavy on our shoulders.

Christ. I had to put my own picture together based on what others said, and that became my reality.

We are slaves who are burdened with

GOLD: How did others respond to your creative

Consumption and waste,

interpretations of scripture in the murals?

Technology and science,



Power and dominance,

R. WATSON: When people came to see the murals,

Engineering and machinery.

some of them felt the pictures conflicted with what

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


the scriptures meant to them personally. Walter

Philadelphia that were built around the political

made the best point when he said, “What you

operations of the city.

accept now as appropriate are these images of the crusaders in armor with swords in the stained glass windows. They are pretty outdated—look what they’re doing.” A lot of people looked up at those

art again after completing the Church of the Advocate project?

windows they had become accustomed to seeing in

R. WATSON: Yes, the murals got me back into

church most of their lives, and hadn’t even realized

producing art—and my exhibition activity picked up,

that these men swinging their swords were killing

too, because the project gave me more exposure

one another with tools and instruments of violence.

in the art world. But the opportunities for African

They said that those windows were about violence,

Americans to show their art were limited, locally.

but that they were also about the reality of their

Not many galleries would exhibit that kind of work.

time. Then Father Washington made the point that

The Gross McCleaf Gallery showed the work of

what we were doing with the murals was showing

Humbert Howard and maybe one or two others

the reality of our time, and how violence has been

were showing at the Makler Gallery. A few other

perpetrated against us. It made more sense to be

galleries that are now gone showed a couple black

surrounded by the reality of our own time than to

artists, but there was no real wellspring of African

look at a truth of the past. It was not about so much

Americans in those settings. Later the October

about religion as it was about politics.

Gallery, Sande Webster, and a couple other galleries

GOLD: The murals were completed in 1976, the

bicentennial year. Was that a coincidence, or was it An installation view of Walter Edmonds’s and Richard J. Watson’s mural cycle at the Church of the Advocate

MCCAY: Did you continue to focus on your

came along. Barkley L. Hendricks’s work was shown at the Kenmore Galleries on Eighteenth Street. He

intentional? Was Father Washington thinking about the bicentennial and reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence? R. WATSON: No, it was coincidental. Father

Washington would have been the last person to initiate something to commemorate the bicentennial. His whole platform was about redemption of the spirit and the fairness of social realities. It had nothing to do with the bicentennial at all. The black community was not a part of that celebration. That only included the political community of Philadelphia, which North Philadelphia was not a part of at all. Nothing up beyond Race Street had anything to do with the bicentennial. All that was focused on the neighborhoods in Center City and South



Two men talking before the vote at the Bicentennial board meeting, May 26, 1971. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Jack Tinney WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


broke a boundary because his work was “in your

art by African Americans that had themes that were

face,” but it wasn’t confrontational. Making social

more universal.

statements was popular then because some people wanted to collect “black art.” They shifted from an interest in African art to an interest in contemporary images of black people. But that wasn’t what African American art was; that wasn’t how we wanted our work to be characterized. Barkley created work that would satisfy those people who wanted a piece of black art, but it wasn’t really black art—it was just a black guy on the wall. Still, we embraced Barkley because he broke a boundary, and so did Charles Searles. Charles had embraced Africa as a source for his work, and he was inspired to go to Nigeria so he could understand the heart and soul of what being African was about. That

GOLD: That reminds me of David Driskell’s 1976

essay “The Evolution of a Black Aesthetic, 1920– 1950,” in the exhibition catalogue Two Centuries of Black American Art, in which he describes something very similar. He looks back through the twentieth century and describes the compulsion projected onto black artists to deal with issues relevant to their own social experiences. He questions this burden and encourages contemporary artists to move beyond it with what he describes as a “black aesthetic,” involving ideas and forms that are more universal and that don’t necessarily deal with African or African American history.

changed his world dramatically. After he returned, a

G. MONTGOMERY-WATSON: Yes, exactly. By

whole cadre of symbols of Africa proliferated in his

the time I graduated from college, in 1976, my

work. He interpreted it through his own symbolism,

generation hadn’t been a part of the Black Arts

through his own vocabulary.

Movement and didn’t always want to see African


started collecting art, I was looking for a black artist who didn’t work with black symbolism. This was hard to find. I am from a biracial family, so I was

American identity represented. So we started looking for something that was less symbolic and more esoteric, that dealt with color, texture, and various materials.

looking for universal landscapes with figures. This is

GOLD: Would you describe Richard’s work, then, as

what I found when I first saw the work of my now-

having a black aesthetic?

husband, Richard Watson. I started buying Richard’s work before I even met him.


when you look at some of his work, you wouldn’t R. WATSON: When people saw black art back

necessarily know it was by a black artist. For me,

then, the concept of what “black” meant was not

that’s what art is supposed to be about. I shouldn’t

consistent. Even among black Americans, some

be confronted with your ethnicity, your religion,

thought “African art” meant “black art.”

or your politics when looking at a portrait or a

G. MONTGOMERY-WATSON: My generation, right


behind yours, Richard, was looking for something

R. WATSON: That can be dangerous, because when

different. My generation weren’t looking for

you search for those kinds of identifying factors,

symbolic African American art—we were looking for

you are applying an interpretation to the work that might not be relevant or valid.



Three Souls in One, 1977, by Charles Searles (Collection Jim’s of Lambertville ) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


G. MONTGOMERY-WATSON: Exactly. WATSON: For instance, my painting, The Hungry

R. WATSON: I always mix my shows up. I never

parts of the world were plagued by war, and the

show only one style of work in any given exhibition;

children were starving. I’ve always been very

instead I present an overall vision of what I do. If I

sensitive to depravation across the continents.

do a one-man show with thirty pieces, it looks like

That depravation is typified through the faces of

different people did the work. People come in and

these children who look like victims of all kinds

ask, “Where are the other artists?” I enjoy having

of atrocities around the world, while the image of

control over my aesthetics. To be creative is to

George Washington, the symbol of money and

be spontaneous. There are times when I feel like

American wealth and materialism, is in the center of

playing music, so I do. The banjo is something I’ve

the painting. The open space at the bottom of the

put down and picked up over the years, and I love it

composition appears as a void, almost like a black

when I go back to it—it’s like going back to visit an

hole. It’s like a sucking cavity, where there could be

old friend. I’m also writing plays now.

MCCAY: One can see a similar danger of reading

identity into the work of women artists as well—the line of thinking that if the artist is a woman, then she must be showing this, or telling that. G. MONTGOMERY-WATSON: And that’s not true. MCCAY: Right. That puts the viewer in a position of

making assumptions and applying meanings that aren’t always accurate. There certainly aren’t those confines for white male artists. We don’t expect a white male artist to paint in a particular way simply because he is a white male—I don’t even know what the way would be! G. MONTGOMERY-WATSON: You have to consider

what’s universal, because that’s what’s more appealing across the board. African Americans



particularly meaningful to you, Richard?

Eye, was produced in 1976, around the time when

something good, but most of the time there isn’t.

The Hungry Eye, 1976, by Richard J. Watson (Collection of Gail D. Montgomery-Watson)

GOLD: Are the beautiful landscapes you make

MCCAY: You create visual art, play music, write

plays—and what else? R. WATSON: I write songs and short stories,

and I record my observations. I’m a writer, but people don’t really embrace me as a writer because I haven’t put myself out there as one. The “Renaissance man” label has been attached to me, but that’s not something I embrace. I’m just a guy who wants to do a lot, and I don’t let it go. I might get into something and develop it to a level of proficiency, but I’m not pounding it around, trying to market it. GOLD: What relationships do you see between your

writing, your music, and your visual art? Are they separate experiences, or do they share some of the same processes?

on the whole cannot afford to buy a lot of art, so

R. WATSON: They come out of the same

when you present it in a universal way, it appeals to

motivation. At first it’s always about observing and

them, but it appeals to everybody else as well. I was

having an artistic thought about that observation.

actually referred to Richard for that reason. It wasn’t

That’s the raw material that gets processed into

symbolic of the 1960s or 1970s. It had nothing to do

something else. I might write a song that makes a

with politics—it was about beauty.

statement about things going on around me. The WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


paintings are statements about my observations,

and a couple other major exhibitions like that, so it

too. You can “package” something that you feel

wasn’t that I was unaware of museum involvement.

into music or a painting, but does the viewer or

GOLD: Were you a museum-goer growing up or

listener experience that? Are they seeing or hearing

when you were at PAFA?

what you felt? Maybe. If they do, then you’ve made a connection. That’s the power of being able to

R. WATSON: Yes, particularly at PAFA. We went out

harness a feeling into a product that people can

to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the University

consume. I feel good about that.

of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Rodin Museum—and I also went

GOLD: In addition to your creative work, you

to Woodmere! You go to all those places because

also work at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. When did you get involved with that organization? R. WATSON: In 1986. Its original name was the

Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum

Zoning Board hearing regarding the proposed location of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum at Sixth and Pine Streets, February 20, 1975. Supporters and protesters of the project gathered to express their opinion in City Hall Annex. Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Robert L. Mooney


they are what you’re involved with in your life. You want to know as much as you can about the things that came before you. Works by Johannes Vermeer, one of my favorite people, and Salvador Dalí—you don’t get to see those kinds of things very often. But the founding of the AAMP seemed to be

MCCAY: Were you aware of the founding of the

camp youth coordinator. Then I started working

more of a moment for Philadelphia’s social scene

museum, in 1976?

as a part-time exhibits coordinator, and eventually

than it was for the art scene. It told the whole

I was offered a full-time job. I got sucked in—I’ve

story of the African American experience from

been there twenty-nine years now! I became

life in Africa through the migration period. It was

exhibits coordinator, exhibits director, curator, and

not a contemporary art center like the Institute

exhibits manager, and now I’m artist-in-residence

of Contemporary Art. The first CEO and director,

and exhibits manager. I’ve had nine different titles

Adolphus Ealey, brought in some of his own work

and have worked under ten different CEOs and

from the Barnett-Aden Gallery in Washington,

presidents. I have the longest-running history

DC, and that was the core of the museum’s fine

of anybody who’s ever worked there, and I have

art collection for the first several years. But the

maintained a professional career as an artist as well.

art perspective wasn’t written into the institution.

R. WATSON: I was, but I wasn’t interested in

it then. I knew it was happening, or that it had happened, but I didn’t go to the opening. That’s how nebulous the museum was. I got involved because one time I was walking downtown and had paint on all my clothes because I had been working. Irene Burnham, the exhibits director for the museum, happened to see me and asked, “Oh, are you an artist? I wonder if you can help me.”

It took some time to develop into a place where

They were desperate to have some prints and

GOLD: It’s interesting that the AAHCM wasn’t on

drawings matted and framed because they were

artists could consistently show their work. It

your radar when it was founded, and I’m wondering

having an opening on Sunday and they were really

exhibited Ellen Powell Tiberino’s work as its first

why. You mentioned that making it as a commercial

in a crunch. So I called up four other people who

one-person show, in 1977, but only after several

artist was tough, since there weren’t a lot of galleries

could mat drawings, and they paid us to mat and

years did a strong curatorial aspect develop

showing black artists. Did museums and galleries just

frame all weekend, almost around the clock. After

under Deirdre Bibby with shows being carefully

not seem like meaningful platforms for you?

researched and the collections getting more

that, one thing led to another and they got to know who I was as an artist. I told them about my work

R. WATSON: Well, I had already shown in an African

at summer arts camps with young children for the

American art exhibition curated by Barry Gaither

Model Cities Program, so I became their summer

at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1971 or ’72



focused. A great number of local artists have shown there—including Benjamin Britt, Paul Keene, Roland Ayers, Barbara Bullock, James Dupree and many other world renowned presenters.

An exhibition at the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia, August 27. 1976. Published in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA) Photograph by Sonnee Gottlieb

GOLD: Some people thought that the

establishment of the museum was “too little, too late” in terms of recognizing the black community. How do you respond to that controversy? R. WATSON: There was no one, cohesive black

community that could assess the need for a museum to honor the history of its heritage, so the black community was not “at the table,” so to speak, for the establishment of the museum. There were some major players who were expected to represent the black experience, such as Clarence Farmer, who had some political power along with Philadelphia’s mayor, Frank Rizzo. But it really seemed to have been an “in-house” political deal. The masses of black people in Philadelphia felt that the AAHCM didn’t represent who they really were. There was no inclusion of community members to explain what their needs were, or who some of the greatest people influencing and sustaining their lives

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


psychologically and emotionally were. The original

was a real breakthrough as a cultural experience,

It is a must!!!” What particular challenges do you

name of the institution—Afro-American Historical

because it engaged people from around the city

feel the need to address, and what do you hope to

and Cultural Museum—described its priorities of

whose ancestors brought them here. It established

accomplish by “stepping up” and “giving back”?

displaying objects like dioramas of people in African

an important point of connection with Philadelphia

villages, people being transported on slave ships,

audiences, and so the the museum came to

or people living as slaves in the South, but that

function as a cultural hub. Rowena invited people

didn’t fit with the culture of contemporary people in

to bring their stories and their collections to the

Philadelphia. So they didn’t immediately flock to join

museum. Jack T. Franklin, a noted photojournalist

the AAHCM because many felt excluded, thinking

who amassed more than five hundred thousand

that it was not their museum. The AAHCM didn’t

prints and negatives of people he had been

include the kinds of folk heroes that people would

shooting all his life, donated his entire collection.

have liked to see representing them.

So the museum’s identity started to change into

MCCAY: We’ve chosen the 1970s as the end of our

historical period, partially because of the founding

an institution that spoke to the inclusive black community.

R. WATSON: From time to time I do workshops

in schools. If a school has no art program, I will sometimes volunteer to come and present new possibilities for young people. I find that children are programmed to stay within certain confines and limitations by the instruction they’re getting. I want to present a variety of perspectives so that others can see that there is value in pursuing what they envision as a way of life for themselves. I have found that there are challenges you will be confronted with when you make those decisions, but the

of the AAHCM in 1976. Would you comment on the

Today the institution is trying to redefine what

challenges are worth it, because you expand. If you

era or the significance of the institution?

“African American” means as it relates to art. In the

don’t expand your creativity, it becomes stilted

last several years we’ve gone beyond just African

and you become frustrated. You become stuck in

American identity to the African diaspora. We’ve

a pattern of someone else’s design. I tell young

done things about the African presence in Mexico

people to believe in themselves. That is how I

and India—all kinds of places that have been

succeeded. I believed I could do something, and the

affected by the African diaspora.

more I tried, the better I became at it. There may

R. WATSON: It is a very necessary entity, but it

is directors who drive museums. By the time I got to the museum, in 1986, the director, Rowena Stewart, had created an exhibition called Let This Be Your Home: The African American Migration to Philadelphia, 1900–1940, which was about Southern

GOLD: On your website you describe how

traditions that had been transplanted to the North.

important it is for you as an artist to give back to

The exhibition considered how many people had

the community, and to younger people in particular.

to leave their homes in the South due to economic

You write, “I believe that giving back, reaching back

problems, discriminatory practices, and outright

and most importantly, STEPPING UP to meet the

terrorism, and how they found new places to live

challenges of the need for positive energies and

in Philadelphia and other urban centers. That show

images, in these times, is more than just a notion!



be people around me who will doubt you, but the idea is to be confident and just stick to your guns. People will respect you for that, and then they will begin to appreciate you. They will understand you more because you understand what you’re doing.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



WEBSTER: Yes, other kinds of exhibiting

institutions seemed more open to showing and buying work by black artists. One of my favorite

On Thursday, January 22, 2015, Susanna W. Gold and Rachel McCay met with art dealer Sande Webster to discuss her career. SUSANNA W. GOLD: When did you become an art

WEBSTER: No. In fact, we had an opening every

dealer in Philadelphia?

month for each show, and fifty or sixty people

SANDE WEBSTER: In the beginning I was one of

four partners who opened a gallery called Wallnuts at 2018 Locust Street in 1967 or 1968. It wasn’t until later that my gallery was called Sande Webster Gallery. It might sounds a little silly, but we chose the name “Wallnuts” because we were nuts about walls! We wanted to do something that wasn’t

stories is about the Philadelphia Art Alliance calling to ask if they could have five pieces by five artists to show for Black History Month. I told them I wouldn’t provide work for shows during Black History Month unless they could also offer another month of the

would come because we had nice wine and nice

year when they would show one of these artists’

food! [laughs] The white people would start talking

work. When they told me they couldn’t and were

to the black people, because many of them didn’t

all booked up, I turned them down. But once I

know any black people. Life wasn’t as integrated

hung up, I realized that I was being stupid because

then as it is now. They would end up going out

these were exactly the people I wanted to see this

together to have something to eat, or making

art. So I called back and arranged to come with

arrangements to see each other later.

slides before the committee. When I got there I

being done in Philadelphia. So I called the dean

GOLD: So your gallery was profitable, despite

proposed that instead of five pieces by five artists,

of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, David

those who doubted that you could be successful

they choose one piece each by twenty-five artists.

Pease, and asked if he could recommend some

representing black artists?

young artists who had graduated from Tyler. He sent me about thirty or forty he thought would be exciting, from which we chose perhaps twenty-five or twenty-eight, some of whom were black. David had not indicated to us which artists were black and which were not. When we opened, the owner of a prominent gallery on Walnut Street called to welcome me to the gallery scene. “But I hear you have black artists in your gallery,” she said. I said, “Well, we have good artists in the gallery. Some of them happen to be black, white, male, female, young, old, gay, and straight.” She said, “Well, don’t you know you can’t do that? If black people come, white people never come.” And, of course, the rest is history. We ended up selling art all over the world! Almost all our exhibitions were reviewed because

WEBSTER : Two years before we closed the gallery

The committee said, “Well, there aren’t that many Exterior of the Sande Webster Gallery. Photograph courtesy of Sande Webster

black artists around.” “Let me show you,” I said. I didn’t present the idea as a good thing they should

in 2011—we were on Walnut Street at that point—

be doing for black people—I presented the work as

we did almost $1 million worth of art business.

that if I was showing work at the National Black

really incredible and something people should see.

This was quite a lot, because the majority of the

Fine Art Show, I had to be black myself!

It was always about the quality of the work. Since

paintings we sold were between $2,000 and $10,000. We did sell some for $35,000 or $40,000,

RACHEL MCCAY: What was the environment like in

and every once in a while we sold one for $50,000.

Philadelphia for black artists when you began in the

We were selling a lot because in Philadelphia there

gallery scene, in the 1960s?

was no other place to buy work by black artists. We had people coming from everywhere to visit the gallery—New England; Washington, DC; the Midwest; and even California. That was a really nice thing. One man from California, who had heard about us at National Black Fine Art Show in New York, visited our gallery and said, “I’m here to see

WEBSTER: There were perhaps one or two galleries

that’s how I presented it, that’s how they received it. When they saw what I had brought, they ended up choosing one piece each by fifty-four artists! That show filled the whole Art Alliance, and they even produced a catalogue for it. And, instead of having

that represented black artists, but other than that,

the exhibition during Black History Month, they had

there was nobody. There had at one time been a

it in September, at the opening of the art year.

place on Seventeenth Street, Kenmore Galleries, that showed works by black artists, but it had moved out of Philadelphia.

Another of my favorite institutional stories is about the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sam Gilliam was one of the first artists to take the canvas off the stretcher—he painted it, and then he draped it. In

Sande Webster.” I said, “Well, I’m Sande Webster.”

GOLD: At this time when there were so few

And he said, “You can’t be. Sande Webster is

commercial opportunities for black artists, did

1975 the Philadelphia Museum of Art was the first

GOLD: Did you ever lose clients or have people

black.” And I said, “So is Mariah Carey—can we go

you find institutions such as museums and other

to show this work in an outdoor exhibition, called

refuse to come because of race?

on from there?” [laughs] Lots of people assumed

exhibition spaces more willing and open to showing

Seahorses by Sam Gilliam. They hung a draped

their work?

canvas about fifty feet long outside, on the museum

the work was so good.



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


anything there for nothing. Nobody was able to do that because you can’t tell an artist’s racial identity from looking at their art. Some people started to buy “black art” only because they saw the price increasing as more people came to know that it was quality work. Once, when we used to do the National Black Fine Art Show, there was a white Above: Sam Gilliam. Photograph by John Gossage; right: Seahorses by Sam Gilliam (1975) installation. Photograph by Patrick Radebaugh (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives)

artist who painted what people thought was “black Founding members of Recherché, 1984. From left Carolyn Hayward-Jackson, Andrew Turner, Richard Jordan, James Dupree, Charles Searles, seated Hubert Taylor and Syd Carpenter. Sande Webster is seated at left, in white scarf. Photograph courtesy of Sande Webster

art.” So people were buying his artwork because they thought he was black! [laughs] MCCAY: We’ve had some discussions with artists

wall. But they didn’t own even one piece by Sam!

When we were trying to decide what we should

Now they have some wonderful examples of his

call the group, Charles Searles said, “How about

in this exhibition about whether there’s any such

work in their permanent collection, which is really

‘The Seven N’s,’ because that’s what they’re going

thing as a “black aesthetic,” and whether for African

nice, though I think the museum should collect art

to call us anyhow.” I said, “Oh, this is getting out

by black artists much more actively. I’ve also sold

of hand—a little too much wine!” So I took the

work to museums in Copenhagen and New Jersey;

dictionary, opened it up, and pointed to a word,

to the Hampton University Museum, Virginia; and

saying that whatever that word was, it was what we

to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New

were going to call the group. I ended up pointing to

York. The Whitney had an important show of work

a French word meaning “choice, rare, much sought

by African American artists. There were about

after.” It was perfect. We showed all around—

twenty artists in that show, and my husband, James

including Hampton University, Atlanta, Copenhagen,

Brantley, was among them.

Denmark, Brazil, and Cuba. It was amazing because

People started to get excited when they saw that attention to black artists was growing. When we had a show or sent out mailers, I never identified artists as black. But whenever there was a review in

people began to realize that there was some very, very wonderful work by African American artists. Recherché just grew and grew, and it ended up including over thirty artists.

art because they loved it. And we had some loyal

American artists, a tendency toward being political

patrons. We had people who bought art by twenty-

with their work has been historically stronger than

five or thirty different artists, and if some of them

an interest in dealing with formal issues. Were your

happened to be black, it wasn’t an issue. I think one

patrons more attracted to work that expressed a

of the reasons the gallery was successful was that

seemingly recognizable “black aesthetic”?

I would say to the people who worked with me as soon as I hired them, “This isn’t about selling art; this

WEBSTER: There were some people who were

is about people getting things they really love. Not

interested in abstraction, like Sam Gilliam’s and Moe

because it matches the couch, or because an artist

Brooker’s work, but then there were others who

is famous—because it’s something that touches

wanted figurative or representational pieces, or

their soul. So please don’t say, ‘You should buy this

pieces that were clearly inspired by African culture

because. . . ’ They should only buy it if they love it.”

and aesthetics, like the work of Charles Searles.

So people didn’t feel intimidated at all. They felt so comfortable coming to the gallery and just looking

the newspaper, it would always indicate that. The

GOLD: What kind of work did you show in

at art, because they know that buying it was not

paper would never say when someone was a white

your gallery?

part of the deal. If they didn’t love anything, they

artist, but it would always say when someone was a black artist. I just didn’t want to do that; I wanted people to look at the work for what it was. I wanted to point out the fact that we had black artists without saying that we had black artists. So we formed a group called Recherché in 1984. When it first got started it only had seven African American artists, and it met in my apartment.

WEBSTER: We had representational work, abstract

work—all kinds of work. We just had anything that was exciting, that people would come to see. I often


or political themes, like civil rights, racism, or contemporary life in Philadelphia?

didn’t buy anything. But as more and more people

WEBSTER: Yes, we did a whole show that

came to understand the art, it became easier and

represented the civil rights movement and all the

easier to sell.

tensions that went along with it. We showed a lot of

had shows that I knew wouldn’t sell anything right

But I had to be sure that the white artists I

away, but I thought people needed to be introduced

represented were represented just as well as the

to that work. Maybe by the second or third time

black artists. I couldn’t show any favoritism. When

they saw it, they would be ready to receive and

people came into the gallery I used to say that

buy it. People who came to the gallery bought the

if they could tell me who the black artists were and who the white artists were, they could have


GOLD: Did you carry work that dealt with social

work that was very edgy, and people weren’t ready to buy it yet. They had to see it for a while first. But we were fortunate that we could show art that didn’t necessarily sell, because it was so good that it really deserved to be seen. We tried to be more than just a gallery.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


he had bought twenty-five or thirty pieces. I didn’t really care about making money, I was just happy about what he was doing. When ARCO closed, the company was going to sell each piece individually to whoever wanted to buy it. But Sorgenti said, “No, I’m going to buy it myself and give it to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).” He had paid less than $250,000 for all the art he had bought for the company over the years, and then bought it back from ARCO for $1 million! But the collection is worth well over $10 million. MCCAY: But you think that fewer black artists are

enrolling in PAFA today than in the 1960s? Dancer, 1989, by Charles Searles (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia: The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary African-American Art) Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

WEBSTER: I think fewer students altogether are

enrolling in art schools—including PAFA, Tyler School of Art, and the University of the Arts. But

Spontaneous Feast, 1991, by Moe Brooker (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia: The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti. Collection of Contemporary African-American Art) Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

they still need a spokesperson. If I went by one of artists that the gallery as an institution is not as

these schools and said, “How about I curate a show

significant. It’s really difficult.

of your young artists?” you would be sure that if

The hottest thing now is Swann Auction Galleries in New York. They realized that black artists are a MCCAY: How have opportunities for black artists in

really hot thing, so they have two auctions a year

Philadelphia changed since that time?

featuring only work by African American artists.

WEBSTER: I don’t see as many opportunities for

black artists today as there should be. That’s why my gallery is sorely missed—I didn’t represent more black artists than white artists, but I did represent a substantial number of black artists. Today there are hardly any galleries that show their work. Larry Becker Contemporary Art represents black artists, as does Snyderman-Works Galleries. Bridgette Mayer Gallery also represents several black artists, as do a couple of artist-run exhibition spaces in town. A lot of the galleries in Philadelphia have closed or have moved to the suburbs. The Internet has made it so much easier to buy directly from



They have really, really wonderful art, which can be purchased at modest prices. But the prices today are still much higher then they used to be.

there were African American students, the ones who deserved it would be included. But selling art has become harder and harder to do. Most of the African American artists I represented in the past don’t have gallery representation now, and that’s really

GOLD: Is that because the market isn’t as strong?

now because they realize how much the value will

WEBSTER: No, it’s because people are still racist.

increase, if they buy really good work. When ARCO

You realize that racism has changed, but not as

Chemical came Philadelphia, its former CEO Harold

much as you would think.

artists for the company because his father had

Fine Arts

hard. Today it’s even harder in the gallery scene.

There are some who collect African American art

Sorgenti decided to buy work by African American

Animal Healer (Healer Series), 1990, by Barbara Bullock (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. The Harold A. and Ann R. Sorgenti: Collection of Contemporary AfricanAmerican Art) Photograph courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the

GOLD: Do you miss having a gallery now?

in that exhibition—one by each of the artists I was representing at that time we closed. That’s when I realized why the gallery had gotten so much attention all these years—because the work was incredible! It was a wonderful and exciting experience. Even though I was a physics major in college, I’ve loved everything that has happened.

given him a Romare Bearden piece for Christmas,

WEBSTER: When we closed the gallery, Rosemont

If I had the forty-two years that I was in the gallery

and he really liked it. He went to the galleries in

College, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, had a show

business to do all over again, it’s still exactly

town and found that there wasn’t a lot available.

for us because we did what nobody else had ever

what I would do.

They all said to him, “You have to go Sande

done. They said it was the biggest opening they

Webster.” Within an hour or so of visiting my gallery,

had ever had there! There were about thirty pieces WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s




Center and his alma mater, and joined the staff of

American, born 1941

the Free Library of Philadelphia. A master of many mediums—including pen and ink, watercolor, collage,

James “Duke” Atkins has split his career between

and gouache—Ayers also continued to create his own

industrial warehouses and art galleries, parking

figurative, often surrealist works.

forklifts and picking up paintbrushes to support his passion. He paints genre scenes in his South Philadelphia kitchen. He was self-taught until he began attending classes at the Samuel S. Fleisher

Cataclysm, Rebirth New World, 1968 Pen and ink on paper, 27 x 30 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015

Art Memorial in 1967 to further develop his voice. His painterly brushstrokes, abstract forms, bold colors, and depictions of daily life are often juxtaposed with


figures whose faces are monochromatic, gestural,

American, born 1945

or entirely blank. His work has been included in a number of exhibitions throughout Philadelphia,

James Brantley distorts and exaggerates perspective,

including at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

color, and form in his work, embracing elements of surrealism, abstraction, and Impressionism. Born and

Colored Coach, 1969 Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in.

raised in Philadelphia, he developed this style while

Courtesy David David Gallery, Philadelphia

After receiving his BFA in 1971, Brantley and other

Early Movie Theater, 1971 Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in. Courtesy David David Gallery, Philadelphia

attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. alumni, including Moe Brooker and Charles Searles, formed the artist group Recherché in collaboration with gallery owner Sande Webster, with the goal of enhancing the presence of African American art in Philadelphia and beyond. Brantley remains an active

ROLAND AYERS American, 1932–2014 Philadelphia-born Roland Ayers enjoyed an international career. He received his BFA from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now the University of the Arts) in 1954 and traveled to Europe in the 1970s, where he felt the public was

member of Recherché, in addition to working at the Brandywine Workshop and Archives and exhibiting at museums across the United States. Brantley’s work is included in the collections of PAFA and Woodmere Art Museum. Clarence Morgan, 1972 Oil on canvas, 48 1/2 x 46 in. Courtesy of the artist

more receptive to his art. During his brief residence abroad, Ayers began to draw dream scenes, a genre that came to define his artistic style. After returning to Philadelphia, he taught art at Allens Lane Art



Early Movie Theater, 1971, by James Atkins (Courtesy David David Gallery, Philadelphia) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



Art and Design, where he is now professor emeritus.

American, 1923–1996

His work is included in the collections of the African American Museum of Philadelphia, the Cleveland

Benjamin Britt exhibited his work in Philadelphia for

Museum of Art, the Georgia Museum of Art, the

almost fifty years. In 1947 he enrolled at the Hussian

La Salle University Art Museum, the Philadelphia

School of Art, a school for commercial artists, leaving

Museum of Art, and Woodmere Art Museum, among

in 1950 to attend the Philadelphia Museum School

other public and private collections.

The Odd Sister, 1973 Mixed media, 39 1/4 x 14 1/8 in.

New York City. Britt’s artistic style varied throughout his career, beginning with Cubism, moving toward

Self-Portrait, 1985 Lithograph, 25 1/2 x 19 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015

was equally diverse, ranging from bold African


themes to children, landscapes, and portraiture. Britt

American, 1907–1994

was also an instructor and mentor throughout his career, teaching at the Wharton Centre, the YMCA,

Samuel J. Brown moved to Philadelphia in 1917 and

and St. John’s Place Family Center.

studied at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) and

Untitled (Abstract), c. 1950s Oil on paper on board, 20 x 16 in.

the University of Pennsylvania. In 1933 he was hired

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015

create art for the city. Brown’s politically charged

by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to watercolors were initially controversial, but were championed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who


praised the artist’s depictions of racial inequality,

American, born 1940

boldness, and emotion. After leaving the WPA in 1935 he worked in various Philadelphia schools, eventually

Moe Brooker depicts joy in both realist and abstract

settling at Murrell Dobbins CTE High School, where

works. He received his BFA and MFA from Temple

he taught commercial art for twenty-five years. In

University’s Tyler School of Art and received his

1986 the Brandywine Workshop and Archives and

certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the

others created a scholarship in his name at the

Fine Arts (PAFA), which led to his membership in

University of the Arts to honor his many years of

the artist collective Recherché. Graffiti influenced


his style of abstraction that contains bold colors

African American day school faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Art and has served as chair of

Abstract, c. 1942 Carbograph, 9 3/4 x 6 1/2 in. Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

the Foundation Department at Parsons School of Design, professor at PAFA, and professor and chair of the Foundation Department at Moore College of



BARBARA BULLOCK American, born 1938 Barbara Bullock has been an active member of the

surrealist representation. His choice of subject matter

part of his career teaching. He became the first

Selma Burke, born in North Carolina, came to Philadelphia as a young woman to work as a registered nurse prior to becoming a sculptor. She attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University College of

Just That, 1977 Mixed media collage, 40 x 26 in.

surrealism, minimalism, and then returning to

and free forms. Brooker has also spent a large

American, 1900–1995

Collection of Sherry L. Howard

of Art (now the University of the Arts). From 1952 to 1953 he took courses at the Art Students League in


Urlene, Age Nine, 1956 Watercolor on paper, 13 x 9 1/2 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2004

Philadelphia art community since attending classes at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial from 1956 to 1959 and the Hussian School of Art from 1963 to 1966. In 1971 Bullock became director of the art department at the Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center; from 1977 to 1979 she worked for the Visual Artist in Public Schools Program organized by the Brandywine Workshop and Archives; and in 1988 she became an associate artist at Prints in Progress. She has also participated in residencies at more than two hundred public schools and African American institutions throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Bullock is still exhibiting and engaging with her community. Her work can be found in many public collections, including the African American Museum of Philadelphia, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Jersey; the

Medicine) and moved to New York City to pursue her lingering passion for art. There she was influenced and intrigued by the avant-garde ideas of the Harlem Renaissance. Burke trained in Europe and at Columbia University, receiving her MFA in 1941 and teaching sculpture at the Harlem Community Art Center while she studied. Four years later she completed the relief of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that served as the basis for his profile on the dime. Burke continued to carve figures in stone throughout her life. She also established art schools in New York City and Pittsburgh. Her work is included in the collections of the James A. Michener Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, among others. Jim, 1935 Plaster, 13 1/2 x 8 x 9 1/2 in. Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit; PAFA; and Woodmere Art Museum. Her public art commissions include the Philadelphia International Airport and the Forty-Sixth Street SEPTA El station. Dark Gods, 1982 Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 in. Collection of the artist

DONALD E. CAMP American, born 1940 Donald E. Camp employs nineteenth-century non-silver development processes modified with nature-based emulsions to create raw, painterly photographs of the human face. From 1972 to 1980 he worked as a photojournalist for the Philadelphia Bulletin and joined the faculty at Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, in 2000, where he remains

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


a Professor Emeritus. He eventually left the Bulletin


to attend Temple University’s Tyler School of Art,

American, born 1939

receiving his MFA in 1989. Today Camp remains a professor emeritus at Ursinus College, and he

Barbara Chase-Riboud began her art career at age

continues practicing photography in Philadelphia. His

seven, attending classes at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art

work is included in the collections of the Pennsylvania

Memorial and selling her first print to the Museum

Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum

of Modern Art, New York, when she was a teenager.

of Art, and Woodmere Art Museum, among

She received her BFA from Temple University’s Tyler

others. He has been awarded fellowships from the

School of Art in 1957 and won a fellowship to study

Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment

at the American Academy in Rome the same year.

for the Arts, and the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

She created her first bronze works there, which became her most recognizable medium. She earned

And the House, 1977–79 Chromium-intensified gelatin silver print, 4 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.

her MFA from Yale University in 1960 and settled

Courtesy of the artist

Chase-Riboud began her celebrated Malcolm X series,

Evening, 1978 (negative), 1980 (print) Chromium-intensified gelatin silver print, 3 x 4 3/4 in. Courtesy of the artist

G-G-G- - -, 1978 Chromium-intensified gelatin silver print, 4 1/2 x 6 in.

permanently in Europe upon graduation. In 1969 which consists of over-life-size cast bronze sculptures draped and bound with knotted and braided fabrics. Chase-Riboud’s sculptures are included in national and international collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Courtesy of the artist

The Hill, 1978 Chromium-intensified gelatin silver print, 5 1/4 x 7 1/4 in.

Time Womb, 1970 Aluminum and silk, 78 x 18 1/2 x 12 in. Collection of Dr. and Mrs. William Wolgin

Courtesy of the artist

Clockwise from top: And the House, 1977–79, by Donald E. Camp (Courtesy of the artist); Evening, 1978 (negative), 1980 print), by Donald E. Camp (Courtesy of the artist); The Hill, 1978, by Donald E. Camp (Courtesy of the artist); G-G-G---, 1978, by Donald E. Camp (Courtesy of the artist)

On the Hill, 1979 Chromium-intensified gelatin silver print, 4 3/4 x 7 1/4 in.


Courtesy of the artist

American, born 1942

Two Dresses Friday Night, 1979 Chromium-intensified gelatin silver print, 5 x 7 1/4 in.

Laura Williams Chassot creates colorful works of

Collection of Alice Oh

different art forms, including poetry and music. She

Winter Grass, 1979–81 Gelatin silver print, 5 x 8 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2013

abstraction and magical realism that draw from many moved to Philadelphia from Virginia and graduated from Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) in 1964. She also studied at New York University and a variety of Philadelphia art institutions. including the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Chassot taught classes in the Upper Merion Area



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


School District for many years and has dedicated

Hoff is known for still lifes and figurative drawings,


much of her career to community education and

paintings, and pastels. In 2015, she was presented

American, 1899–1979

outreach through the arts. Today Chassot writes

with Fleisher’s Founder’s Award for her contribution

poetry and short stories, and continues her work as

to the art community. She continues to teach and

Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, Aaron Douglas

a visual artist.

create art in her studio.

studied at the School of Fine Arts at the University

Exploration, 1973 Acrylic on canvas, 34 x 36 in.

Josie–Seated Woman, 1970s Oil on canvas, 67 1/2 x 55 in.

school students in Kansas City, Missouri. Wishing to

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist

passed through New York and became captivated

of Nebraska-Lincoln, and began teaching art to high expand his experiences with travel abroad, Douglas by the creative and intellectual energy circulating in Harlem in the 1920s at the height of the New Negro CLAUDE C. F. CLARK


Movement, which delayed his plans. He stayed in

American, 1915–2001

American, 1919–1994

New York and began creating illustrations for a

Born in Georgia but raised in Philadelphia, Claude C.

Stock Exchange, date unknown, by Claude C. F. Clark (Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of

number of publications associated with the New Born in Philadelphia, Reba Dickerson-Hill was an artist

Negro Movement, interacting professionally with

and educator known for her adaptation of the ancient

notable figures such as Alain Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois,

calligraphy technique of East Asian Sumi-e painting,

writer James Weldon Johnson, poet Georgia Douglas

American culture. From 1935 to 1944 he studied at

which uses brush and ink on paper to create delicate

Johnson, photographer Carl van Vechten, and many

the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial

scenes in a limited color palette. Dickerson-Hill

others. From 1928 to 1929, Douglas studied at the

Art (now University of the Arts) and the Barnes

Barnes Foundation on a $1,200 scholarship, learning

F. Clark was an influential educator and artist known for still lifes and genre scenes depicting African


Foundation, which exposed him to African art.

A Dreamer, 1938 Oil on board, 28 x 22 in.

learned Sumi-e from Ramon Fina, a Spanish diplomat she met in Philadelphia when she was a young girl.

from the collection’s holdings of West and Central

During this period Clark also worked for the Works

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2013

She went on to study at the State Normal School at

African art while he continued his own Africa-inspired

Cheyney (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania),

graphic work.

Progress Administration, making social realist and cubist–inspired prints alongside artists Raymond Steth and Dox Thrash. In 1948 Clark founded the art department and began teaching art at Talladega College, Alabama, eventually leaving to earn his BA

Stock Exchange, date unknown Etching, 10 1/4 x 13 1/4 in.

where she earned her degree, as well as at the

Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

the Barnes Foundation. In the mid-1940s Dickerson-

from Sacramento State College (now California State

University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Hill also took lessons from artist Claude C. F. Clark. She taught for many years in the Philadelphia public

University, Sacramento) in 1958 and his MA from the

school system and at Cheyney. Although Sumi-e is

University of California, Berkeley, in 1962. His studies


her most notable style, Dickerson-Hill also created

and teaching experience led him to write A Black Art

American, born 1926

woodcuts, watercolors, oil paintings, and sculpture.

Art Curriculum, a book that affected institutional

A current resident of West Chester, Pennsylvania,

learning nationwide.

Louise Clement-Hoff studied at the Barnes

Samburu, c. 1976 Linoleum print, 13 1/4 x 9 3/4 in.

Foundation, the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, the

Courtesy of the Hill Family

Men and Magnets, 1942 Oil on board, 19 5/8 x 17 9/16 in.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Temple

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2008

BFA. Her career as an educator has also taken her

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2011



Viking Press

Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life (cover illustration), October 1925, Vol. 3, No. 34 Edited by Charles S. Johnson Published by the National Urban League

Perspective: A Black Teacher’s Guide to a Black Visual

Brothers & Sister, 1949 Oil on board, 12 x 9 in.

God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, 1927 by James Weldon Johnson illustrations by Aaron Douglas

University’s Tyler School of Art, where she earned her to a variety of Philadelphia institutions; in addition

Untitled (Three Women), 1960 Linoleum print, 15 x 6 1/4 in. Courtesy of the Hill Family

JOHN E. DOWELL, JR. American, born 1941 John E. Dowell, Jr. is an internationally recognized painter, printmaker, and photographer whose work

to teaching at Fleisher since 1954, she has served as

has been shown at the Whitney Museum of American

an instructor at Hussian School of Art, West Chester

Art’s 1975 Biennal and the Thirty-Fifth Venice Biennale

University, and Woodmere Art Museum. ClementWE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


in 1970. He had a solo exhibition, John E. Dowell, Jr:


Prints and Drawings, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in

American, born 1949

Washington, in 1971. Born in Philadelphia, he earned his BFA from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art

Allan Edmunds founded the Brandywine Workshop

in 1963. Dowell went on to complete a fellowship at

and Archives, which trains artists and art students in

the Tamarind Lithography Workshop (now Tamarind

fine art printmaking. Born in Philadelphia, he attended

Institute) in Los Angeles and to attend the University

classes at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial and

of Washington, Seattle, where he received his MFA in

Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, where he

1966. He returned to Philadelphia in 1971 and became

focused on printmaking and education. He earned

a professor of printmaking at Tyler. Dowell continues

his BFA and MFA from Tyler, where he benefited

to make art and his work is represented in many

from the mentorship of artist John E. Dowell, Jr. In

museum and public collections internationally.

1972 he created Brandywine, a nonprofit institution that provides artists with printmaking training and

Untitled, 1967 China ink, graphite, and ink on paper, 35 1/8 x 46 1/8 in.

resources. Edmunds employs a variety of printmaking

Courtesy of the artist

offset lithography, and screenprinting, and he

processes in his own work, including lithography, continues to teach and work at Brandywine.

JAMES DUPREE American, born 1950

Playtime: Inner City, 1976 Silkscreen, 22 1/2 x 30 1/8 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2015

James Dupree creates colorful abstract paintings inspired by music. He spent part of his childhood in Philadelphia, where he attended classes at the


Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. He received his

American, 1938–2011

BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design, Ohio, in 1972; studied at the Pennsylvania Academy

Walter Edmonds began painting murals in

of the Fine Arts (PAFA); and received his MFA from

Philadelphia while working as a surveyor for the

the University of Pennsylvania in 1977. In the 1970s

city’s Department of Streets. He often sketched

Dupree developed his recognizable “thrown” painting

public buildings, gathering inspiration for murals

style, meant to emulate the sound and improvisation

he would later paint in schools and libraries. After

of jazz. In 1979 Dupree bought the studio and gallery

training at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art

space known as Dupree Studios, or the “Studio

(now University of the Arts) in the 1960s and at

Museum in Philadelphia,” which remains open to

the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial in the 1970s,

visitors in Philadelphia. His works are in the collections

Edmonds became a heavily involved member of

of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PAFA, and the

the local art community and Recherché, a group of

Studio Museum in Harlem.

African American artists that formed at the Sande Webster Gallery. His murals in North Philadelphia’s

Dark Surface Change, 1974 Acrylic on canvas, 45 1/2 x 27 1/2 in.

Church of the Advocate at Eighteenth and Diamond

Courtesy of the artist

and 1976, are Philadelphia landmarks. The murals

Streets, created with Richard J. Watson between 1973 Dark Surface Change, 1974, by James Dupree (Courtesy of the artist)



WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Arts) in 1898 and traveled to France to continue her


training in 1899. There she achieved great success,

American, 1908–1972

awing Parisians with emotional, sometimes gruesome subjects derived from the Symbolist tradition, and

Painter and printmaker John T. Harris was born in

gaining the support of prominent sculptor Auguste

Philadelphia, where he enjoyed a long career as both

Rodin. Fuller depicted African American themes well

an artist and a teacher. He earned his BA from the

before many Harlem Renaissance artists began to do

Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now

so, inspired in part by her friend and confidant W.E.B.

University of the Arts) and his MA from Temple

Du Bois. She returned in 1902 to the US, and although

University’s Tyler School of Art. He served as an

a fire 10 1910 destroyed much of her early work, she

art instructor at the Wharton Centre and Cheyney

left a legacy that is widely celebrated today.

State Teachers College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) in the ranks of other influential

Maquette for Ethiopia Awakening, c. 1914 Painted plaster, 13 x 3 1/2 x 3 3/4 in.

teachers in the Philadelphia art community such

Danforth Art: Gift of the Meta V. W. Fuller Trust, 2006

and Samuel J. Brown. Harris has exhibited at the

as Laura Wheeler Waring, Allan R. Freelon, Sr., Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Morgan State University, Baltimore; the Harmon Foundation; and

Cubist Still Life, 1950, by Reginald Adolphus Gammon (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2004)


Cheyney University. His work can be found in the

American, 1921–2005

collections of La Salle University Art Museum and Temple University.

reimagine biblical narratives through the lens of

Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Freelon’s

African American history.

commitment to art and education continue to be admired today.

Progress [Study for the Church of the Advocate], 1973 Acrylic on canvas, 42 x 42 in. Collection of Matilda Petty

Nine Coming Up, c. 1953 Oil on canvas, 28 x 32 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2006

ALLAN R. FREELON, SR. American, 1895–1960

in the Philadelphia public school system, as well as the first African American member of the Print Club of Philadelphia. Freelon studied art education at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts), the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his BA in 1924. He also studied at the Barnes Foundation and received his MFA from 208


best known for prints and paintings depicting African American subjects. He attended the Philadelphia

Boy at Work in Recreation Center, 1941 Pen and ink on paper, 7 7/8 x 9 3/4 in.

Museum School of Industrial Art (now University of

La Salle University Art Museum

the Arts) in 1941 but soon left to support the war effort. In 1948 he moved to New York City, where he worked blue-collar jobs and painted at night. He was eventually invited to join Spiral, a group of African

Untitled (Boat in Harbor), 1928 Oil on Masonite, 18 x 24 in.

American artists including Romare Bearden who

Collection of Lewis Tanner Moore

After Spiral disbanded, Gammon and Benny Andrews

gathered to exchange ideas about art and civil rights. formed the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, a

Allan R. Freelon, Sr. was the first African American appointed as assistant director of the art program

Born in Philadelphia, Reginald Adolphus Gammon is

political group concerned with discrimination in the META VAUX WARRICK FULLER

arts. Gammon taught at Western Michigan University

American, 1877–1968

from 1971 until 1991 and then moved to New Mexico, where he continued to create new work and engage

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller broke both race and gender

actively with the art community.

boundaries with her work, becoming one of the most recognized woman sculptors in American history. She received a diploma from the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now University of the

Cubist Still Life, 1950 Soft-ground etching, 5 3/4 x 8 7/8 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2004

Boy at Work in Recreation Center, 1941, by John T. Harris (La Salle University Art Museum) Photograph courtesy of La Salle University Art Museum

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Checker Player at Marian Anderson Playground, 1950 Carbon pencil on paper, 8 7/8 x 9 1/8 in. in.

HUMBERT L. HOWARD American, 1915–1990

La Salle University Art Museum

Untitled, c. 1950s Gelatin silver print, 9 1/4 x 5 1/16 in. Muriel Feelings Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

Working in oil and watercolor, Humbert Howard depicted people, places, and objects drawn from his own culture and experiences. The Philadelphia resident studied art at Howard University, Washington, DC, on a football scholarship before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania his


senior year. He studied at the Barnes Foundation

American, born 1945

and the International Academy of Arts and Letters in Rome. In the 1930s Howard joined the

Born in Philadelphia, Barkley L. Hendricks is best

Works Progress Administration as a painter and

known for life-size depictions of African American

ceramicist, and in 1940 he became the art director

figures in urban environments that combine traditions

at the Pyramid Club, a social organization for black

of Western portrait composition with powerful

professionals in Philadelphia. He continued painting

character portrayals. From 1963 to 1967, Hendricks

throughout his life. Today his work can be found

attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine

in many private and public collections, including

Arts, and then earned his MFA from Yale University.

the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the

In 1972, he began teaching at Connecticut College,

University of Pennsylvania, Howard University, the

where he is now professor emeritus of studio art.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Woodmere Art

Hendricks exhibits and practices his distinctive style


of portraiture to this day, creating photographs and paintings. His work is in numerous public collections, such as the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Tate Modern, London; Studio Museum, New

The Yellow Cup, 1949–50 Oil on canvas, 24 x 32 1/8 in. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: John Lambert Fund

York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Pennsylvania

install ceramic tile works representing the history of

Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Nasher Untitled, c. 1950s, by John T. Harris (Muriel Feelings Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)

Sugar Ray Robinson, c. 1940s Watercolor on paper, 8 7/8 x 9 1/8 in. Muriel Feelings Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

Untitled (Two Men Playing Checkers), c. 1940s Graphite on paper, 7 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. Muriel Feelings Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA



Meet Miss Subway, 1965, by Edward Hughes (Collection of Kevin Pugh)

the neighborhood, as well as in galleries throughout

Museum of Art, Durham, North Carolina; Columbus


Museum of Art, Ohio; and the Fogg Art Museum,

American, born 1940

Philadelphia and PAFA’s permanent collection.

Edward Hughes is known for his three-dimensional

Meet Miss Subway, 1965 Oil on canvas, 48 x 32 in.

J. S. B. III, 1968 Oil on canvas, 48 x 34 3/8 in.

mixed-media artworks characterized by bright colors

Collection of Kevin Pugh

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richardson Dilworth

studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Harvard University.

and playful lines. He was born in Philadelphia and (PAFA), where he earned a certificate in painting, and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his BFA. Hughes’s abstract creations often contain symbols drawn from black American and Haitian culture. His art can be found at SEPTA’s FiftySixth Street Station, where he was commissioned to

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



culture. At PCA she was exposed to bookbinding

American, born 1947

and box making, which have also become integral to her practice. Johnson-Allen has been involved

Charles Jay’s meticulous paintings of flower

with the Sande Webster Gallery, the black artist

arrangements evoke a long tradition of floral still lifes,

group Recherché, and the Brandywine Workshop

but his training and approach set him apart from the

and Archives; her work is included in such prominent

European artists who preceded him. Although he

public collections as the Philadelphia Museum of Art

attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

and Woodmere Art Museum.

for a year and received mentorship from professorartist Arthur De Costa throughout his career, Jay is

Together, 1976 Wolfe crayon and graphite pencil on Arches paper, 27 x 22 in.

largely self-taught. He studied the old masters on his own, learning to paint by emulating the work of such artists as Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. In the early 1980s Jay spent time in Paris, where he continued to study and work on his technique. Rarely making preliminary sketches or mixing paint colors, Jay

IDA JONES Untitled (House), c. 1974–75, by LeRoy Johnson (Courtesy of the artist)


American, 1874–1959

American, born 1942

continues to create depictions of floral arrangements

Often described as an American folk painter, Ida

from his imagination in his Morton, Pennsylvania studio, one blossom at a time.

Streetcar, 1974, by Ed Jones (Collection of Kevin Pugh)

Courtesy of the artist

Johnson’s work is in the art collections of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company and the Philadelphia Juvenile

Ed Jones grew up in North Philadelphia into a family

Jones created an impressive body of work depicting

that fostered his love of music and art. He attended

rural life and culture with simplified and flattened

Simon Gratz High School, and credits the supportive

forms. Although she did not begin her career as an

teachers in the Philadelphia public school system,

artist until 1945, when she was seventy-two years

Floral Still Life, 1977 Oil on canvas, 21 x 17 in.

Justice Center, and a variety of private collections. In

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014

Philadelphia’s Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

particularly Hilda Schoenwetter, for helping him get

old, she made more than three hundred paintings

started toward a painting career. After high school,

and drawings that have been exhibited across

Untitled (House), c. 1974–75 Cardboard, acrylic paint, and paper, 17 x 8 x 16 in.

he received a four-year scholarship to study at the

Pennsylvania, including at the Philadelphia Art

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, interrupted

Alliance, the Pyramid Club, and Lincoln University.

by a two years of military service in Vietnam from

Before making her mark on the art world, Jones

1964 to 1966, after which he returned to North

spent her time taking care of ten children on a farm

Philadelphia. Inspired by the sights and sounds of the

in Ercildoun, Pennsylvania, just outside of Coatesville.

LEROY JOHNSON American, born 1937

2014, Johnson was awarded a prestigious grant from

Courtesy of the artist

Inspired to become an artist after reading Richard Wright’s Native Son, a novel about a young black


city, Jones considers himself “strictly a Philadelphia

She was almost completely self-taught, with only

man’s struggles in 1930s America, LeRoy Johnson

American, born 1947

painter,” capturing the characteristic architecture,

three formal lessons to inform her paintings of

urban environment, and busy activity on the streets.

landscapes and biblical themes.

creates mixed-media works that represent city life and his personal experiences in Philadelphia. He

Born in Philadelphia, Martina Johnson-Allen works in

His work has been exhibited at the Philadelphia

studied art at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial;

many media and is an active participant in the city’s

Art Alliance, Woodmere Art Museum, and several

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle,

art community. She received a BA in elementary

commercial galleries.

Maine; and the University of the Arts. He also earned

education from the Pennsylvania State University,

an MA in human services from Lincoln University,

studied at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art,

Pennsylvania, and has worked as a teacher while

and earned an MA in art education and printmaking

pursuing his artistic practice. His paintings, sculptures,

from the Philadelphia College of Art (PCA, now

and collages incorporate such materials as wood,

University of the Arts). After becoming a teacher in

clay, photographs, and found objects, which serve

the late 1960s she traveled to Africa with a group of

as physical reminders of urban debris and decay.

educators. The trip furthered her interest in African



Streetcar, 1974 Oil on canvas, 44 x 46 in. Collection of Kevin Pugh

Deer Season, 1940 Oil on board, 17 5/8 x 21 5/8 in. Chester County Historical Society: Gift of Mrs. Roberta Townsend

Grapes and Berries, 1952 Gouache on paper, 12 1/8 x 14 1/2 in. Chester County Historical Society: Gift of Mrs. Roberta Townsend

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


PAUL F. KEENE, JR. American, 1920–2009 Born in Philadelphia, Paul F. Keene, Jr. was mentored in his youth at the Wharton Centre by Allan R. Freelon, Sr. and Henry Bozeman Jones. He attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts) from 1939 to 1941 and received his MFA from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in 1948. While subsequently studying at the Académie Julian, Paris, he helped create Galerie Huit, a gallery for American artists in France. In the early 1950s Keene traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on a fellowship to teach at the Centre d’Art. Upon returning to Philadelphia he taught at the University of the Arts until 1968, and then at Bucks County Community College until 1985. He work is held in many public collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the James A. Michener Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania; and Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia. Bar Room Brawl, 1939 Etching and aquatint, 15 x 11 in. Free Library of Philadelphia: Print and Picture Collection

Untitled (Three Women Rejoicing), date unknown, by Columbus Knox (Collection of Sherry L. Howard)

End Game, 1964 Drypoint on paper, 6 x 9 in.

and art director, in addition to creating acrylic, oil,

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2003

Variations on a Spanish Theme, c. 1970 Mixed media on paper, 35 x 45 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of the Keene Family, 2011

and watercolor paintings. He often depicted black communities and received many commissions for portraits and murals, such as the painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. he made for a public school named after King in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Knox has exhibited at the University of Pennsylvania,

COLUMBUS KNOX American, 1923–1999 Bar Room Brawl, 1939, by Paul F. Keene, Jr. (Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia



Born in Philadelphia, Columbus Knox studied at the University of the Arts and worked for government

the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Untitled (Three Women Rejoicing), date unknown Watercolor on paper, 21 1/2 x 28 1/2 Collection of Sherry L. Howard

agencies, and for the Naval Supply Depot as an artist

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Nude #10, date unknown, by Edward L. Loper, Sr. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Loper, Sr., 2004)


Loper taught at institutions including the Delaware

American, 1916–2011

Art Museum and Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, and

Over the course of his career Edward L. Loper, Sr. transitioned from realism to abstraction, creating cubist-style paintings that refract his subjects into geometric planes. Born in Wilmington, Delaware, he got his start at the Works Progress Administration, drawing decorative art objects for the Index of American Design. There he met Walter Pyle, a nephew of illustrator Howard Pyle, who encouraged Loper in his work. Though he would remain largely self-taught, Loper studied at the Barnes Foundation.



his work is held in the collections of the University of Delaware, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Woodmere Art Museum. Nude #5, date unknown Ink wash on paper, 14 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Loper, Sr., 2004

Nude #10, date unknown Ink wash on paper, 14 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Loper, Sr., 2004a

Protest against Philadelphia Transportation Company Hiring Practices, November 8, 1943, 1943 (negative), 2015 (print), by John W. Mosley (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)


American newspapers—including the Philadelphia

American, 1907–1969

Tribune—Mosley’s photographs and negatives are held in the Charles L. Blockson Collection at

Photographer John W. Mosley documented black life

Temple University.

in Philadelphia from the mid-1930s through the late 1960s. His subjects range from family gatherings to public events with civil rights leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr. Mosley was born in North Carolina and developed an early interest in

Pearl Bailey, Actress, 1940, 1940 (negative), 2015 (print) Digital print, 10 x 8 in. John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

photography. In 1934 he moved to Philadelphia, where he honed his skills at the Barksdale Photography Studio, became a photojournalist, and served as staff photographer for the Pyramid Club, an influential black social organization. Published in many

Protest against Philadelphia Transportation Company Hiring Practices, November 8, 1943, 1943 (negative), 2015 (print) Digital print, 8 1/2 x 10 in. John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 1976 by Mildred D. Taylor illustrations by Jerry Pinkney

John Brown Going to His Hanging, 1942 Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 30 1/4 in. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: John Lambert Fund

Dial Press

Selected Plays, 1977 by Tennessee Williams illustrations by Jerry Pinkney

CHARLES PRIDGEN American 1922–1991

The Franklin Library and Easton Press Leather Books

Lithographer and printmaker Charles Pridgen was Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, 1979 by Eloise Greenfield and Lessie Jones Little illustrations by Jerry Pinkney HarperCollins

an artist and teacher who influenced a generation of younger artists, including Moe Brooker, John E. Dowell, Jr. and Raymond Saunders. Born in Philadelphia, Pridgen studied at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and worked at Beck Offset Printing Company in Pennsauken, New Jersey, for

Illustration from Folktales and Fairy Tales of Africa, 1967, by Jerry Pinkney (Published by Silver Burdett Co.)

Pearl Bailey, Actress, 1940, 1940 (negative), 2015 (print), by John W. Mosley (John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA)


fifteen years. He drew inspiration from innovative

American, 1888–1946

visual artists, such as Paul Klee; literary figures, such as Langston Hughes; and musical genres, such as

A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Horace

jazz. Artists, writers, and musicians alike gathered at

Pippin lived primarily in New York and New Jersey

his studio across from City Hall in the 1950s and 1960s

until 1917, when he enlisted to serve in World War

to discuss art, philosophy, and education. His work is in

I. He was sent back to West Chester in 1919, after is the recipient of numerous awards, including a

private collections and the African American Museum

sustaining a gunshot wound in his right arm—the

Caldecott Medal, five Coretta Scott King Awards,

in Philadelphia.

arm he nonetheless began to paint with soon after

and four Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, and five

his return. His career gained momentum in the 1930s,

New York Times “Best Illustrated Books.” Pinkney

and in 1940 he received the support of influential

was also a nominee for the 1997 Hans Christian

Philadelphia collector Albert C. Barnes. Though he

Andersen Illustration Medal, recognizing those whose

studied briefly at the Barnes Foundation, Pippin was

complete works have made a lasting contribution to

a self-taught artist who garnered praise from notable

children’s literature. The artist has had over thirty solo

figures such as Alain Locke for the refinement of his

exhibitions of his work at institutions such as the Art

folk style. His canvases and burnt-wood paintings

Institute of Chicago; the Brandywine River Museum

have been collected by museums throughout the

of Art, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; the New York

United States and Europe, including the Pennsylvania


Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in

Academy of the Fine Arts, the Barnes Foundation,

American, born 1939

Black Culture; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and the

the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Phillips

Philadelphia Museum of Art. His work is in numerous

Collection, Washington, DC.

Civil Rights Demonstration, August 2, 1965, 1965 (negative), 2015 (print) Digital print, 9 1/4 x 10 in. John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

Children at Play on Chicken Bone Beach, 1960s, 1960s (negative), 2015 (print) Digital print, 8 x 10 in. John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson AfroAmerican Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

Born in Philadelphia, Jerry Pinkney studied at the

public and private collections.

Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts). Since 1964 he has been illustrating children’s books. His books have been translated into sixteen languages and published in fourteen countries. He



Folktales and Fairy Tales of Africa, 1967 selected and retold by Lila Green illustrations by Jerry Pinkney Published by Silver Burdett Co.

Marian Anderson II, 1940 Oil on canvas, 27 x 23 x 2 1/4 in. Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

The Blues, c. 1950 Oil on canvas, 37 x 61 in. The African American Museum in Philadelphia: Gift of Kay and Doris Pridgen in honor of Doris Power

Study, c. 1950 Graphite on paper, 7 3/4 x 14 1/8 in. Collection of Lewis Tanner Moore

RAYMOND SAUNDERS American, born 1934 Raymond Saunders incorporates painting and collage into his abstract, mixed-media works depicting urban black life and culture. Born in Pittsburgh, he attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) from 1950 to 1953 before

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


moving to Philadelphia, where he studied at the

of Art, PAFA, and Woodmere Museum of Art have

Barnes Foundation and the Pennsylvania Academy

collected his work.

of the Fine Arts (PAFA). He returned to the Carnegie Institute to earn his BFA in 1960 and subsequently moved to California, where he received his MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts, CCA). After teaching at California State University, East Bay, for twenty years, he joined the CCA faculty. In 1967 Saunders published Black Is a Color, a pamphlet arguing that

Untitled (Boxer), 1963 India ink and watercolor on paper, 21 7/8 x 14 7/8 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2012

Three Souls in One, 1977 Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 53 in. Collection Jim’s of Lambertville

black artists should not be confined to creating work based on their race and heritage. He is represented in the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and PAFA. La Chambre, 1961 Oil on canvas, 42 1/4 x 64 1/4 in. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: John Lambert Fund

TWINS SEVEN SEVEN Nigerian (active Philadelphia), 1944–2011 Twins Seven Seven was a prominent Nigerian painter, draftsman, printmaker, and textile designer. He began his career as an artist in 1964, attending workshops at an experimental art school in Oshogbo, Nigeria. His work met with initial success, appearing in local and international exhibitions, he but after he moved

CHARLES SEARLES American, 1937–2004 Inspired by his travels to Nigeria and other parts of Africa, Charles Searles frequently incorporated African subjects and stylistic elements into his work. Searles was born in Philadelphia and he studied at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), from which he received traveling scholarships that he used to travel to Europe and Africa. Searles taught at Philadelphia’s Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center, joined the black artist group Recherché, and was an instructor at the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) for more than twenty years—continuing to teach there even after he moved to New York City in 1978. He received commissions for numerous public projects, including a mural for the William J. Green Jr. Federal Building, Philadelphia, and sculpture for the Delaware River Port Authority. The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, the Philadelphia Museum 220


to Philadelphia in the 1980s, he fell on hard times and became nearly destitute. He was working as a parking lot attendant at Material Culture, an antiques and furniture store in the city, when the owner learned he

Winged Lion, date unknown, by Twins Seven Seven (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014) © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

was an artist and eventually offered him studio space. Renewed interest in Twins Seven Seven’s work led to another wave of exhibitions, as well as involvement


with such Philadelphia institutions as the Ile Ife Black

American, 1932–2008

Portal on Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 1957 Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 35 3/4 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Mrs. Helen Siegl, 1979

Humanitarian Center. Today his work can be found at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Woodmere Art

Raised in Philadelphia, Louis Sloan received his

Museum, and in private collections.

training at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA),


Winged Lion, date unknown Ink on paper, 13 1/2 x 21 1/2 in.

from which he graduated in 1957. He was active

American, 1917–1997

Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2014

still-life, landscape, and portrait painting at PAFA

Raymond Steth created social realist prints depicting

from 1962 until 1997. There he became an instructor,

black culture and the struggles of black communities

influencing the careers of generations of students.

in Philadelphia and the South. Having moved from

During this time Sloan also worked in the conservation

Virginia to Philadelphia as a child, Steth studied at

department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His

the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of

art can be found in the collections of the Philadelphia

the Arts) and the Barnes Foundation. He worked

Museum of Art, PAFA, and Woodmere Museum of Art.

in the Graphic Arts Division of the Works Progress

Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters (My Mother Bearing Agony), 1968–69 Oil, dye, and ink on linen, 72 x 72 in. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds contributed by John H. McFadden and with the gift of Material Culture, 2006-78-1

at the Pyramid Club early in his career and taught

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Administration alongside artists such as Dox Thrash

at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he eventually

and Claude C. F. Clark in the 1930s, and in 1942

settled. Influenced by Eakins and the artwork he saw

and 1943 he was a guest curator at the Print Club

at the Musée du Louvre, Tanner built a career painting

(now Print Center), Philadelphia. He also served as

genre scenes and religious subjects. In 1899 Booker T.

an instructor at the University of the Arts and the

Washington traveled to Paris and published an article

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and helped

on the artist, cementing his reputation in the United

develop a graphic arts and printmaking department

States. Tanner’s work can be found in the collections

at Morgan State University, Baltimore. His work,

of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the High Museum

which includes a number of prints made with Thrash’s

of Art, Atlanta; the Art Institute of Chicago; the

carborundum mezzotint technique, can be found in

Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the Pennsylvania Academy of

the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and

the Fine Arts, and La Salle University Art Museum.

the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Southern Barbecue, 1935 Lithograph, 8 x 9 3/4 in.

The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, 1907 Etching, 7 3/16 x 9 1/2 in.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania: WPA Art Program

Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Beacons of Defense, c. 1942 Lithograph, 15 1/2 x 22 3/4 in.

Study for Christ, 1900 Charcoal on paper, 11 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.

Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

Art & Artifacts Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Evolution of Swing, date unknown Lithograph, 16 x 20 in. Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

Patton St. Derelict, date unknown Lithograph, 16 1/8 x 11 1/2 in. Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

DOX THRASH American, 1893–1965 Georgia-born Dox Thrash is best known for his invention of the carborundum mezzotint and his depictions of black life in America. He left home to find work at age fifteen, reaching Chicago in 1911. In 1914 he began taking night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, working as an elevator operator by day.

HENRY OSSAWA TANNER American, 1859–1937 Henry Ossawa Tanner was one of the first internationally successful African American artists. Portal on Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 1957, by Louis Sloan (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Mrs. Helen Siegl, 1979)

Born in Pittsburgh, Tanner moved to Philadelphia at a young age and eventually studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) under the renowned artist Thomas Eakins. Tanner also trained



His studies were interrupted by his service in World War I. Thrash settled in Philadelphia in 1925, where he was active at the Tra Club and studied at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. In 1937 he began working for the Works Progress Administration’s Fine Print Workshop, where he and two other artists created the innovative carborundum print process. Thrash later joined the Pyramid Club and the Print Club (now Print Center), Philadelphia. His work can be found

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Played Out or Intermission, 1937–38, by Dox Thrash (Historical Society of Pennsylvania: WPA Art Program) Photograph courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Woodmere Art Museum. Untitled (Male Model, Seated), early 1930s Etching, 10 x 7 15/16 in. Free Library of Philadelphia: Print and Picture Collection

Played Out or Intermission, 1937–38 Etching and aquatint, 9 x 6 in. Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Self-Portrait, c. 1938 Oil on Masonite panel, 18 x 15 3/4 in. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Paris Haldeman Fund

Drawing for 24th and Ridge, c. 1940 Graphite on paper, 9 5/8 x 12 1/8 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2013 Coal Breaker, c. 1943, by Dox Thrash (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2007)



Nelly Scott, date unknown, by Dox Thrash (Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia) Photograph courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Coal Breaker, c. 1943 Carborundum mezzotint and etching, 9 13/16 x 6 7/8 in. Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2007

Charlotte or Charlot, date unknown Carborundum mezzotint, 9 x 7 in. Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Harmonica Blues, date unknown Etching and drypoint, 5 x 4 in. Historical Society of Pennsylvania: WPA Art Program

Manda, date unknown Carborundum mezzotint, 5 x 4 in. Historical Society of Pennsylvania: WPA Art Program

Nelly Scott, date unknown Color carbograph, 10 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, New Deal Art Project: On deposit with Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


ELLEN POWELL TIBERINO American, 1938–1992

W.E.B. Du Bois, before 1948 Oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 25 in.

Born in Philadelphia, Ellen Powell Tiberino attended

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution: Gift of Walter Waring in memory of his wife, Laura Wheeler Waring, through the Harmon Foundation

the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1956 to 1961, receiving a scholarship to study in Europe in 1959. After spending six years in New York in the 1960s, she married artist Joseph Tiberino and moved

Fannie Jackson Coppin, early 20th century Oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 23 in. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

back to Philadelphia, where she continued to create paintings, drawings, sculptures, and murals. Today her


Museum, which was created by family and friends to

American, born 1929

and daughter.

Howard N. Watson is an internationally recognized

Untitled (Queenie), date unknown Photo lithograph, 19 x 26 in.

He served in the Air Force during the Korean War

Free Library of Philadelphia: Print and Picture Collection

Culture at the New York Public Library. From 1992

American, born 1946

until 2000 she served as a curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for African American History and

Richard J. Watson is a well-known artist in multiple

Culture, Washington, DC. She is currently a professor

disciplines and media. Born in North Carolina, he

at New York University, and her work can be found

relocated to Philadelphia as a child and began

at the Center for Creative Photography, Arizona; Los

studying art at the Wharton Centre and the

Angeles County Museum of Art; and many other

Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. He earned a four-

prominent public and private collections.

year certificate in painting from the Pennsylvania

legacy lives on at the Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial display her art alongside that of her husband, sons,


watercolor painter born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. before attending Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now University of the Arts), where he received his BFA. Praised for the immense detail of his urban

Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in 1968 and soon joined the Model Cities Program. His career gathered force in the 1970s when he and Walter Edmonds the Advocate, which depicted biblical scenes through the lens of black history. Since 1986 he has worked at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, where he is currently an artist in residence and exhibitions manager. His art resides in public collections such as PAFA.

landscapes, Watson has served as an art instructor

American, 1887–1948

both abroad and at local institutions including the

The Hungry Eye, 1976 Collage and oil on canvas, 46 x 26 in.

University of the Arts and Woodmere Art Museum.

Collection of Gail D. Montgomery-Watson

Laura Wheeler Waring forged a successful career

He has received commissions from such prominent

painting portraits, landscapes, and still lifes. Born

figures as Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton,

in Connecticut, she began teaching art and music

and he is an active member of the Philadelphia


at the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney

Watercolor Club, where he served as president for ten

American, born 1948

University of Pennsylvania) soon after enrolling at


After graduating from PAFA in 1914 she took summer courses at Harvard and Columbia Universities and studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière,

Deborah Willis is a scholar and artist concerned Marian Anderson, c. 1954 Gouache on paper, 10 x 7 in. Collection of Lewis Tanner Moore

with the depiction and self-identification of black Americans. Born in Philadelphia, she received a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art (now University

Paris. Though she had begun to receive accolades for

of the Arts) in 1975; an MFA in photography from

her work in the first decade of the twentieth century,

the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, in 1979; an MA from the

her late portraits of black leaders are her best-known

City College of New York in 1986; and a PhD from

paintings today. Waring’s work can be found at the

George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, in 2001.

National Portrait Gallery and the National Archives,

In 1980 Willis became curator of photographs and

both in Washington, DC.

prints at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black



Courtesy of the artist and Material Life NOLA

completed the mural cycle in Philadelphia’s Church of


the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).

I Made Space for a Good Man, 1976/2012 Silkscreen, 15 x 29 1/2 in.

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s



Abele, Julian Francis, 35, 168

Basquiat, Jean-Michel, 40, 54–55, 85

Abstract (Brown), 119, 200

Beach, George, 6

Académie Julian, 160, 215, 223

Beacons of Defense (Steth), 79, 223

Academy of Music, Philadelphia, 103, 172

Bearden, Romare, 55, 85, 124, 164, 176, 196, 209

Adams, Ansel, 98

Becotte, Michael, 97

African American Museum in Philadelphia (formerly the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum), 7, 19, 55–56, 61, 72, 79–80, 87, 96, 101, 153, 188–190

Bennett, Gwendolyn, 107

AfriCOBRA, 104, 150 Afternoon at Les Collettes, An (Mark), 151 Allan Freelon: Pioneer African American Impressionist (exhibition), 129 Amarotico, Joseph, 76 American Bicentennial (Edmunds), 124 American Foundation for Negro Affairs, 121 American Greetings, 75 American Magazine of Art, 40 Amos, Emma, 124, 131

Bernstein, Benjamin D., 165 Bernstein, Edward, 165 Bibby, Deirdre, 101, 189 Black Arts Movement, 32, 103, 119, 184 Black Opals cover illustration (Freelon), 132, 133 Black power movement, 23, 151 Blackburn, Morris, 60, 64, 140, 170, 176 Bloch, Julius, 16, 17, 30, 63, 64, 106, 164 Blow, Charles M., 28, 49 Blue, Hannah, 102 Blues, The (Pridgen), 55, 60, 61, 219 Bogle, Robert W., 6

And the House (Camp), 202, 203

Bookbinder, Jack, 170

Anderson, Marian, 12–13, 36, 39, 44, 101, 118, 128, 164, 210, 219, 226

Bortner, Oscar, 160

Andrews, Benny, 118, 209, Animal Healer (Bullock), 197 Annunciation, The (Tanner), 36 Another Realm (Johnson-Allen), 155, 156 ARCO Chemical, 196 Art and Painting, 111 Art Digest, 40 Art News, 40 Asante, Maya Freelon, 6, 126–139 Aschak, 102 Ashton, Ethel V., 17, 30 Atkins, James, 198, 199 Ayers, Roland, 4, 5–6, 19, 41, 189, 198 Back to Africa Movement, 121 Bailey, Joseph C., 78, 79, 103, 118, 121 Bailey, Radcliffe, 85 Baldwin, James, 93 Baltimore Museum of Art, 134 Bar Room Brawl (Keene), 23, 214, 215 Barbecue—American Style (Freelon), 134, 135 Barnes, Albert C., 10, 16, 27, 40, 41, 45, 105, 106–113, 138, 164, 219 Barnes Foundation, 6, 10, 16, 35, 41, 54, 100, 105–113, 138, 155, 204–5, 208, 211, 216, 219, 221



Bortner, Selma, 160 Bosschaert, Ambrosius, 143, 144, 212 Boy at Work in Recreation Center (Harris), 209 Boys and Girls Club, 88, 103 Brandywine River Museum of Art, 154, 218 Brandywine Workshop and Archives, 6, 19, 30, 39, 76, 88, 114, 116, 118, 120, 122, 124–25, 154–55, 165, 198, 200, 201, 206, 213, 218 Brantley, James, 6, 23, 50–59, 122–24, 155, 194, 198 Breckenridge, Hugh Henry, 129 Bridgette Mayer Gallery, 196 Britt, Benjamin, 20, 48, 189, 200 Brooker, Moe, 60, 60–77 Brooklyn Museum, 5, 110 Brother James (Brantley), 57, 59 Brother Who Taught Me to See/Herbert Camp (Camp), 91 Brothers & Sister (Clark), 35, 204

Community Education Center, 88

Edmunds, Anne, 88

Gentry, Herbert, 161

Educators to Africa, 147

Georgetown, South Carolina (Frank), 92

Burke, Selma, 9, 100, 124, 163–64, 170, 201

Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, 17, 88

End Game (Keene), 121, 215

Gilliam, Sam, 193–95

Burnham, Irene, 188

Condax, John, 112

Ethiopia Awakening (Fuller), 10, 11, 23, 209

Girard College, 176

Camp, Donald E., 6, 21, 84–85, 90–99, 151, 202–3

Congo (Douglas), 107

Evans, Orrin, 106

Giving Thanks (Pippin), 108

Camp, Kimberly, 6, 16, 21, 28, 41, 100–113

Cooley Gallery, 141

Evans, Samuel L., 16, 121–22, 171–72

Canaday, John, 32

Corcoran Gallery of Art, 116, 206

Giving Voice: Women, Artists, Inspirations (Widener University), 157

Carpenter, Syd, 55, 114, 195

Cornell University, 114

Cataclysm, Rebirth New World (Ayers), 4, 5, 198

Cotton Candy (Ashton), 30

Catlett, Elizabeth, 100, 124

Cowdery, Mae Virginia, 131–32

Celadon Squash and Rose (De Costa), 140

Crisis, The, cover illustration (Freelon), 133, 136

Celebration (Searles), 78

Cubism, 60, 200

Centre d’Arte, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 215

Cubist Still Life (Gammon), 208, 209

Chambre, La (Saunders), 62, 220

Curtis, Samuel, 170

Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) (Williams), 36

d’Harnoncourt, Anne, 41–42, 49–50, 70–71, 123–24

Bullock, Barbara, 6, 9, 20, 23–25, 35, 44, 75, 78–89, 103, 120–21, 155, 189, 197, 201,

Evening (Camp), 202, 203

Goya, Francisco de, 93

Evolution of Swing (Steth), 64, 223

Grapes and Berries (Ida Jones), 144, 213

Exploration (Chassot), 46, 47, 204

Green Street Workshop, 17

Fabric Workshop and Museum, 76

Green, Gene, 152

Family of Man, The, 93 Fannie Jackson Coppin (Waring), 18, 226

Green, William C., 76, 147 Greenberg, Joseph J., 160

Farmer, Clarence, 189 Fine Print Workshop (Works Progress Administration), 13, 27, 37, 73, 90, 223

Greene, Stephen, 66 Greenfield, Eloise, 219

Fisk University, 111

Griffiths, Philip Jones, 94 Grigsby, Jr., Eugene, 118

Dalí, Salvador, 189

Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy, 146

Dancer (Searles), 196

Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 141

Dark Gods (Bullock), 85, 86, 87, 201

Fleming, Ray Frost, 75

The Chemistry of Color: The Sorgenti Collection of Contemporary African-American Art (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), 5, 27, 196–97

Dark Surface Change (Dupree), 206, 207

Flirting with Abstraction (Woodmere Art Museum), 28

Chester County Historical Society, 7, 9, 144, 213

Deer Season (Ida Jones), 9, 213

Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment, 157

Delaney, Beauford, 42, 93, 164

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, 7, 12, 16, 18, 37, 38, 101, 170, 203, 209, 211, 226

Delaware State Arts Council, 88

Charles, Ray, 66 Charlotte or Charlot (Thrash), 44, 225 Chassot, Laura Williams, 9, 20, 46–47, 102, 203–4 Checker Player at Marian Anderson Playground (Harris), 101, 210

Children at Play on Chicken Bone Beach, 1960s (Mosley), 218 Chisum, Gloria, 6 Church of the Advocate, 24, 26, 179–83, 206, 208, 227 Church, Barton, 110 Citizens for Progress, 80 Civil Rights Demonstration, August 2, 1965 (Mosley), 95, 218 Civil rights movement, 19, 31–32, 151, 176, 195, Clarence Morgan (Brantley), 51, 198 Clark Atlanta University, 153

Dada (Brantley), 52, 53

De Costa, Arthur, 140–41, 143, 212 DeCarava, Roy, 93

Dett, R. Nathaniel, 128 Dewey, John, 105–6, 111–12 Dickerson-Hill, Reba, 9, 23, 24, 101, 148, 205 Disciples See Christ Walking on Water, The (Tanner), 37, 90, 223 Doty, Robert, 56 Douglas, Aaron, 10, 12, 16, 41, 107, 205 Dowell, Jr. John E., 17, 115, 116, 118, 152, 155, 205–6, 219 Drawing for 24th and Ridge (Thrash), 43, 225 Dreamer, A (Clark), 22, 23, 204

Gross McCleaf Gallery, 183 Gruppe, Emile, 129 Gundersheimer, Hermann, 158, 160 Hall, Arthur, 20, 80, 81, 103, 104, 120, 121 Hals, Frans, 50, 65,

Floral Still Life (Jay), 142, 144, 212

Hampton University Museum, 59, 194

Ford Motor Company, 75 Form and Figure: Fourteen Philadelphia Printmakers, 1910–1950, 71

Harlem Renaissance, 137, 174, 201, 209 Harmon Foundation, 13, 209, 226

Frank, Robert, 92–93

Harmonica Blues (Thrash), 63, 225

Franklin Institute, 54

Harris, John T., 9, 16–17, 23, 37–38, 101–2, 134, 170, 209–10

Franklin, Jack T., 94, 96, 190,

Heldring, Frederick, 104

Franklin, Robert Warren, 120

Hendricks, Barkley L., 23, 50, 54, 58–59, 71, 123, 125, 183, 210

Freedom Theatre, 179 Freelon, Nnenna, 137

Heritage House, 171

Freelon, Phil, 126–139

Hicks, Leon, 118, 121

Freelon, Sr., Allan R., 10, 12, 16, 38–40, 126–139, 158, 169, 208–9, 215 Frontispiece for Mae V. Cowdery’s We Lift Our Voices and Other Poems (Freelon), 132

Higgins, Charles T., 120 Hill Family, 7, 24, 148, 205, Hill, Leslie Pinckney, 37 Hill, The (Camp), 202, 203

Driskell, David, 20, 27, 42, 52, 69, 85, 150, 154, 184

Full Spectrum: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop (Philadelphia Museum of Art), 155

Du Bois, W.E.B., 12, 24, 43, 132–33, 205, 209, 217

Fuller, Meta Vaux Warrick, 9–11, 23, 208–9

Dupree, James, 20, 189, 195, 206, 207

G-G-G--- (Camp), 202, 203

Howard, Humbert L., 100–102, 106, 121, 131, 163– 64, 166, 168–70, 183, 211

Howard University, 111, 163, 211

Brown, Curtis, 103

Clark, Claude C. F., 15–16, 22–23, 35, 40–42, 72, 107–8, 111, 163, 204–5, 223

Brown, Miriam, 167

Clark, Effie, 107–8, 111

Ealey, Adolphus, 189

Gadson, James, 76, 114

Howard, Sherry L., 7, 122, 201,

Clement-Hoff, Louise, 9, 23, 28–29, 120, 204–5

Early Movie Theater (Atkins), 198-199

Galerie Huit, 161, 215

Hughes, Edward Ellis, 155, 211

Cleveland Museum of Art, 75–76, 200

Edmonds, Walter, 24, 26, 78–79, 102, 179, 180, 181, 182, 206, 227

Gallery 72, 71

Hughes, Langston, 107, 219

Gammon, Reginald Adolphus, 208, 209,

Hungry Eye, The (Watson), 24, 186, 187, 227

Edmunds, Allan, 5–6, 17, 19, 28–32, 76, 114–125, 154, 165, 206

Garvey, Marcus, 121

Hunt, Richard, 125

Brown, Natalie Erin, 157 Brown, Samuel J., 9, 15, 39, 100–101, 116–19, 121–22, 134, 168, 170, 200, 209, Brueghel, Pieter, 93

Coal Breaker (Thrash), 224, 225 Colored Coach (Atkins), 198

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Hussian School of Art, 78, 200–201, 204 I Can’t Keep from Singing II (Brooker), 69 I Have Always Been an Outsider (Driskell), 154 I Made Space for a Good Man (Willis), 31, 32, 227 Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center, 17, 19–20, 80–82, 84, 87–88, 103–4, 120–21, 201, 220 Institute of Contemporary Art, 189 Ittmann, John, 27, 71 Jack Shainman Gallery, 54, 71

Legacy of the Ancestral Arts, The, 10, 27, 45, 50, 126, 146, 150, 174 Let This Be Your Home: The African American Migration to Philadelphia, 1900–1940 (African American Museum in Philadelphia), 190 Lewis, Norman, 40, 154 Lighthouse community center, 88 Lincoln University, 101, 212–13, 216 Lindo, Nashormeh, 6, 100–105

Morgan, Barbara, 106

Pease, David, 66, 192

Morris, Quentin, 55

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 5, 7, 12, 16–17, 27, 31, 50, 57–58, 60, 62, 66, 78, 103, 116, 119, 140, 145, 169, 176, 178–79, 196–98, 200, 203–4, 206, 209–13, 215, 219–21, 223, 225–27

Mosley, John W., 13, 38, 94–96, 99, 106, 109, 116, 122, 131, 134, 160, 163–65, 167, 170, 172, 217–18 Mount Airy Art Jam, 34 Muchot, John, 55 Muhlenberg College, 137 Munro, Thomas, 108 Murphy, Tanya, 157

Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, 88 Pennsylvania State University, 151, 158, 212 Peronneau, Bill, 118 Peters, DeWitt, 161 Philadelphia Art Alliance, 193, 198, 213

Company Hiring Practices, November 8, 1943 (Mosley), 217 Pugh, Kevin, 7, 211, 213

Self-Portrait (Thrash), 116, 225 Shannon, Helen M., 6, 28–49 Simon Gratz High School, 54, 59, 213

Pyramid Club, 13, 16–17, 63, 101, 106, 116, 118, 130–31, 134, 163–65, 166–73 R. W. Brown Community Center, 88, 103

Simpson, John, 78 Sloan, Louis, 17, 64, 221, 222 Smalls, Evelyn F., 6

Randolph, Asa Philip, 172 Recherché, 55–56, 154–55, 194–95, 198, 200, 206, 213, 220

Smith, Howard, 63 Smith, W. Eugene, 94

Rediscovery of Allan R. Freelon: African American Master, The (Muhlenberg College), 137

Smithsonian Institution, 13, 33, 37, 78, 147, 220, 223, 226–277

Represent: 200 Years of African American Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art), 5, 154,

Snyderman-Works Galleries, 196

James Baldwin (Delaney), 93

Locke, Alain, 10, 12, 20, 27, 41, 45, 47, 50, 85, 104, 106–7, 126–27, 146, 150, 174, 176, 205, 219,

Jamison, Philip, 141,

Loper, Sr., Edward L., 123, 162, 216

Museum of Modern Art (New York), 42, 63, 203

Mackie, Deryl, 78, 85, 101, 114

Nathans, Dean, 81, 120

Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts), 31, 103, 119, 152, 203, 212, 218, 220–21, 227

Madigan, Martha, 97

National Black Fine Art Show, 192, 195

Philadelphia Cotillion Society, 171

Ringgold, Faith, 131

Southern Barbecue (Steth), 73, 223

Magazine of Art, 40

National Conference of Artists, 9, 28, 78, 100

Rivers, Haywood “Bill”, 161

Soutine, Chaïm, 111

Magic statue Nkisi Nkonde, 146, 147

National Endowment for the Arts, 100, 203

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 19, 80–81, 87, 94, 104, 120, 175, 178–79, 183, 189

Rizzo, Frank, 19, 72, 189

Soyer, Raphael, 70

Maiden, Joe, 82

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 7, 13, 37, 226

Roach, Max, 80

Speight, Francis, 64

Robert Kidd Gallery, 75

Spiral, 104, 209

Rock and Roll (Howard), 102

Spirits of My Reincarnation Brothers and Sisters (My Mother Bearing Agony) (Seven Seven), 83, 220

Jarvis, Martha Jackson, 85 Jasmine Gardens series (Bullock), 85, 87 Jay, Charles, 6, 16, 20, 30, 74, 140–45, 212 Jim (Burke), 100, 201 Jim’s of Lambertville, 7, 185, 220 John Brown Going to His Hanging (Pippin), 145, 219 John Gloucester House, 88 Johnson-Allen, Martina, 6, 23, 39, 55, 74–75, 146–57, 212–13 Johnson, Charles S., 111 Johnson, LeRoy, 55, 212 Johnson, Shirley, 102 Jones, Eugene Wayman, 171 Jones, Henry Bozeman, 158, 215 Jones, Ida, 9, 16, 144, 213 Josie–Seated Woman (Clement-Hoff), 23, 29, 205 J.S.B. III (Hendricks), 58, 210 Jungle Nymph, The (Freelon), 133, 136 Just That (Brooker), 67, 200 Kandinsky, Vasily, 68 Keene, Josephine Bond Hebron, 163 Keene, Jr., Paul F., 17, 20, 23, 28, 30, 32, 40, 44, 118, 121, 158–65, 170, 189, 214–15

Main Line Art Center, 59 Mainstreams of Modern Art, 32 Making Visible (Brooker), 76, 77 Manayunk Train Bridge (Tarver), 34 Mance, Jimmy, 55 Manda (Thrash), 15, 225 Manual Training and Institute for Colored Youth, 109 Marian Anderson (Watson), 14, 226 Marian Anderson II (Pippin), 13, 219 Mark, Enid, 151 Martin, Joseph T., 80 Maryland Institute College of Art, 134 Mason, Alfonso, 120 Massiah, Louis, 6 Material Culture, 83, 220 May Show (Cleveland Museum of Art), 75 Mayer Sulzberger Junior High School, 169 McPhail, Ann E., 151, 153

Keene, Laura Mitchell, 6, 158–65

McPhail, Donald W., 151, 153

Keeping It Real (Woodmere Art Museum), 30

Mechanical Vision (Johnson-Allen), 153

Kenmore Galleries, 183

Men and Magnets (Clark), 72, 204

Kent State University, 75

Meet Miss Subway (Hughes), 211

Knox, Columbus, 215

Miss T (Hendricks), 71

Knox, Simmie, 123

Model Cities Program, 17, 19, 80, 88, 121, 179, 188, 227

Kùlú Mèlé African Dance and Drum Ensemble, 120 La Salle University Art Museum, 7, 101, 165, 200, 209–10, 223 Larry Becker Contemporary Art, 196 Larson, William, 97 Lawrence, Jacob, 55, 69, 90, 100, 118, 170, 176

Modern Negro Art, 147 Montgomery-Watson, Gail, 7, 174–191, 227 Moonrise (Adams), 98 Moore College of Art and Design, 76, 200 Moore, Lewis Tanner, 5–7, 14, 62, 91, 127, 136, 158–65, 168, 208, 219, 226 Morgan State University, 134, 209, 223



Murrell Dobbins CTE High School, 116, 200

Negro Art and America, 27, 41, 105–6 Nelly Scott (Thrash), 225 New Deal Art Project, 64, 79, 119, 200, 204, 223, 225

Philadelphia Inquirer, 43, 56, 80, 188 Art Futures Program (Philadelphia Museum of Art), 157 Philadelphia National Bank, 104 Philographic School of Art and Print Workshop, 119

Rodin Museum, 93, 189 Rodin, Auguste, 93, 209

Philadelphia Sketch Club, 63

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 12, 13, 116, 200

Picasso, Pablo, 32, 50, 69, 138, 161

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 168, 201

Pieri, Diane, 88

Rosati, Tony, 152

New Negro, The, 10, 27, 41, 50, 106

Pinkney, Jerry, 218–19

Rose, Trudy, 35

Nine Coming Up (Freelon), 126, 127, 208

Pinto, Angelo, 112

Rosemont College, 197

Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), 40, 154

Pippin, Horace, 12, 13, 16, 41, 106–11, 144–45, 154, 219

Rosenbaum, Robert R., 177,

Pittman, Hobson, 50, 64, 178

Rosenwald, Robert L., 160, 163

Nude #10 (Loper), 216

Played Out or Intermission (Thrash), 225

Rubens, Peter Paul, 66

Nude #5 (Loper), 162, 216

Playtime: Inner City (Edmunds), 123, 206

Rutgers University, 89, 201

O’Keeffe, Georgia, 110

Pope, Odean, 80

Saar, Betye, 85

Odd Sister, The (Brown), 122, 201

Portal on Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia (Sloan), 221, 222

Sacramento State College, 35, 204

New Jersey State Council on the Arts, 88 New Negro Movement, 9–10, 24, 126, 131–32, 174, 205

Of Museums and Racial Relics, 28

Social Realism, 134, 174

Spontaneous Feast (Brooker), 196 Staffel, Doris, 30 Staffel, Rudolf, 160 Steichen, Edward, 93 Steth, Raymond, 15, 40, 42, 63–64, 72, 73, 79, 100–101, 118–19, 163, 168, 204, 221 Stevens, David, 114

Rosenberg, Richard, 179

Stewart, Rowena, 190 Still Life (July 5, 1983, Paris) (Jay), 141 Stock Exchange (Clark), 204 Streetcar (Ed Jones), 213 Stroud, Marion “Kippy” Boulton, 76, 88 Studio Museum, 6, 40, 206, 210

Samburu (Dickerson-Hill), 23, 24, 205

Study (Pridgen), 62, 219

Office of African American Studies (School District of Philadelphia), 147

Porter, James A., 147 Portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes (Van Vechten)

Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, 17, 34, 88, 198, 201, 203–6, 212, 220–21, 223, 227,

Oh, Alice, 7, 84, 203

Postman (Joseph-Étienne Roulin), The (Van Gogh), 54

Saunders, Raymond, 60, 62, 64, 123, 219–20

Olitski, Jules, 161 On the Hill (Camp), 97, 98, 203

Pounds, James, 114

Opportunities Industrialization Center, 94

Price, Barbara Gillette, 76

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, 7, 11, 13, 15, 37, 90, 100, 201, 218–19, 223, 227,

Opportunity Magazine, 111

Pridgen, Charles, 9, 55, 60, 61–63, 79, 219

School Art League, 88–89, 119, 177

Talladega College, 108, 204

Overton, Beatrice Claire, 38, 169, 170

Priestess, The (Johnson-Allen), 146

Scott, John T., 125

Taller Puertorriqueño, 155

Palmore, Tommy, 64

Seahorses by Sam Gilliam, 193, 194

Tamarind Institute, 116, 206

Paone, Peter, 110

Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia, 21, 64–65, 79, 119, 200, 204, 214–15, 223, 225–26

Parsons, The New School for Design, New York, 76, 200

Searles, Charles, 20, 21, 23, 30, 44, 50, 55, 75, 78–80, 87, 103, 121, 184–85, 194–96, 198, 220

Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 15, 35–37, 42, 72, 90, 118, 145, 168, 223

Print Club (Print Center), 17, 98, 119, 133–34, 208, 223

Tarver, Ron, 6, 28–49

Patton St. Derelict (Steth), 119, 223

Second World Black and African Festival of Art and Culture (FESTAC), 119, 121

Prints in Progress, 17, 88, 201

Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art, University of Alabama, 59

Progress (Study for the Church of the Advocate) (Edmonds), 180, 208

See the Woman with the Red Dress On (Brooker), 66

Taylor, Michael, 71

Pearl Bailey, Actress, 1940 (Mosley), 217, 218

Protest against Philadelphia Transportation

Study for Christ (Tanner), 15, 37, 223 Stuempfig, Walter, 52, 64, 178 Sugar Ray Robinson (Harris), 17, 23, 210 Sumpter, Phil, 6, 16, 166–73 Swann Auction Galleries, 196

Taylor, Hubert, 55, 195

Sefarbi, Harry, 110

This Is Her First Lynching (Freelon), 134

Self-Portrait (Brown), 39, 201

Thomas, Anyta, 157

WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


Thomas, Hank Willis, 32

Van Vechten, Carl, 40, 205

Woodley, Jean, 6, 28–49

Thompson, Bob, 120

Variations on a Spanish Theme (Keene), 28, 30, 159, 215

Woodruff, Hale, 152

Thompson, Phyllis, 114 Thompson, Robert Farris, 146 Thrash, Dox, 15, 21, 23, 27, 30, 40, 42–44, 60, 63, 72–73, 101, 109, 116, 118, 164–65, 168, 170, 172, 204, 223–25

Vase of Flowers in a Window (Bosschaert), 143, 144 Vega, Randall Freelon, 6, 126–139 Verderame, Lori, 137

Three Souls in One (Searles), 185, 220

Vermeer, Johannes, 189

Tiberino, Ellen Powell, 65, 78, 85, 102, 123, 189, 226

Viesulas, Romas, 152

Time Womb (Chase-Riboud), 2, 23, 203 Toatley, James, 50 Together (Johnson-Allen), 147, 149, 213 Tra Club, 134, 223 Trayvon—Most Precious Blood (Bullock), 24, 25 Treasures of Ancient Nigeria (Philadelphia Museum of Art), 41–42, 56, 125 Trilogy (Johnson-Allen), 74 Turner, Andrew, 55, 195 Tuskegee Airmen, 121 Twins Seven Seven, 20, 44, 83–84, 220–21 Two Centuries of Black American Art (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), 20, 27, 52, 69, 85, 184

Vietnam Medic (Camp), 94 Village of the Arts and Humanities, 104 Villanova University, 165

Yellow Cup, The (Howard), 169, 211 YMCA, 133, 163, 200 Young, Bernard, 114 Young, Ulysses, 80 Zacharias, Lou, 56 Zawditu (Johnson-Allen), 74

W.E.B. Du Bois (Waring), 13, 37, 226 Wade, Sr., John L., 17, 114, 118, 121 Walker, Cranston, 35, 53–55, 78–79, 103, 178 Wallnuts Gallery, 192 Warhol, Andy, 54 Waring, Laura Wheeler, 9, 12–13, 16, 18, 37, 44, 209, 226 Warrington, Karen, 103 Washington, Fr. Paul, 179, 181, 183 Watkins, Franklin, 63, 64, 178 Watson, Howard, 12, 14, 226 Watson, Richard J., 6, 24, 35, 55, 78, 140, 155, 174–191, 206, 227

Union League of Philadelphia, 170

We Lift Our Voices and Other Poems, frontispiece (Freelon), 131, 132

University of Maryland, College Park, 154

Weaver, A. M., 6, 28–49

University of North Carolina, 12, 27, 66

Webster, Sande, 7, 20, 34, 41, 55, 97, 154, 183, 192–97, 198, 206, 213 Weidner, Roswell, 178

Untitled (Abstract) (Britt), 48, 200

West Chester Art Association, 141

Untitled (Boat in Harbor) (Freelon), 127, 208 Untitled (Boxer) (Searles), 21, 23, 220

Wharton Centre, 17, 158, 163, 177, 200, 209, 215, 227

Untitled (Dowell), 115, 206

White, Charles, 174

Untitled (Harris), 210

Whitney Museum of American Art, 27, 28, 56, 194, 205

Untitled (Male Model, Seated) (Thrash), 21, 225

Yeh, Lily, 104

Voodoo Priest (Keene), 161

Tyler School of Art, Temple University, 16–17, 31, 60, 66, 76, 97, 114, 116, 125, 130, 151–52, 154, 158, 160, 192, 197, 200, 203–4, 206, 208–9, 212, 215, 219, 226

Untitled (House) (Johnson), 212

Wyeth, Andrew, 59

Voids and Barriers (Camp), 92

Two Dresses Friday Night (Camp), 84, 203

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 19, 121, 123, 189

Work, Frederick, 109

Widener University, 157

Woodmere Art Museum receives state

Untitled (Queenie) (Tiberino), 65, 226

William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel Scholarship, 53, 65

Untitled (Three Women) (Dickerson-Hill), 148, 205

Williams, Nerissa Keren, 103

from the Pennsylvania Council on the

Williams, William E., 151

Arts, a state agency funded by the

Untitled (Three Women Rejoicing) (Knox), 215 Untitled (Two Men Playing Checkers) (Harris), 38, 210

Willis, Deborah, 31, 32, 125, 227 Wilson, H. German, 80

Urlene, Age Nine (Brown), 117, 200

Winged Lion (Seven Seven), 220, 221

Van Der Zee, James, 125, 165

Winter Grass (Camp), 96, 98, 203

Van Gogh, Vincent, 54

Wolgin, William, 2, 7, 203

Van Rijn, Rembrandt, 50, 66

Wood, Clarence, 118



arts funding support through a grant

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Support provided in part by The Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

© 2015 Woodmere Art Museum. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher. ISBN: 978-1-888008-00-5 Photography by Rick Echelmeyer unless otherwise noted. Catalogue designed by Barb Barnett and edited by Gretchen Dykstra and Lucy Medrich. Artist biographies written by Maggie Vaughn. Printed by CRW Graphics. Front cover: Variations on a Spanish Theme, c. 1970, by Paul F. Keene Jr. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of the Keene Family, 2011) WE SPEAK: Black Artists in Philadelphia, 1920s–1970s


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