Sunday, March 22, 2009

Distinguished Visions in Fayetteville

A powerful collection of works by some of the leading African-American artists is on display at the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County.
The exhibit, called “Distinguish Visions, Timeless Traditions,” came about when Calvin Mims, art services coordinator for the council, discovered that a number of art collectors in town have works of some of the nation’s most important black artists. They allowed the Arts Council to borrow their pieces.
I have chosen to focus on the late Dr. John Biggers, whom I admire. I interviewed him several times. He visited here occasionally because his wife, Hazel, is a native of Fayetteville.
Dr. Biggers was born in Gastonia in 1924. His grandmother had been a slave. As a boy, he helped his mother, a laundress, by rising early to build fires under large black pots of water. As a teenager, he was up early to light furnaces at the high school he attended. He said this work influenced his paintings the rest of his life.
In 1993, Biggers showed his work at the Fayetteville Museum of Art. While here, he generously gave his time to talk to young art students from local colleges.
Biggers attended Hampton Institute in Hampton, Va. In 1943, he was featured in an exhibit titled “Young Negro Art” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1949, he moved to Houston to establish the art department at Texas Southern University, where he worked as a professor for more than 30 years.
Biggers said the greatest influence on his life came in 1957 when he received a UNESCO fellowship to visit Africa. It changed his way of thinking and of how he created art.
His drawings and paintings centered on the African and African-American traditional experiences from then on.
Biggers retired from teaching in 1983 to devote full time to his art. It is said that he always treated his subjects with dignity.
Much of his work deals with black women and their heroic roles in family life. In a 1993 interview for a show at the Fayetteville Museum of Art, he had high praise for women as the ones who first domesticated animals, “women who made the first calendars, women as providers, the earth mothers, goddesses of the sky. The role of women as keepers of the environment, the mother figure giving life and nourishment.”
Staff writer Melissa Clement can be reached at or 486-3528.

Workshop: Quilting Together Our Heritage

Award winning artist and fifth generation quilter, Phyllis Stephens, will make a stop in the Scenic City to host a workshop entitled Quilting Together Our Heritage. The workshop will be held on Saturday, April 4, from 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the Chattanooga African American Museum.Considered by critics to be the Master of African American story quilts, Ms. Stephens will teach participants techniques of bringing life to their individual masterpieces through the applique process. The cost to attend this one-day workshop is $35, which includes lunch and free admission to the museum following the workshop. Space is limited and advanced registration is required. To register, contact Carmen Davis at 266-8658.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How Lexus Is Spreading Sustainability Message to African Americans

So far, Toyota’s luxury imprint has shown it has been able to sustain its message of sustainability in a volatile economic market that hasn’t been kind to cars. Lexus now sells three vehicles that feature hybrid technology, has a manufacturing facilities with a zero landfill policy and a commitment to using sustainable and recycled materials in the building of vehicles. It even has a Lexus Hybrid Living Web portal dedicated to celebrating “the ethos of luxury eco design: living life with less impact on the earth while enjoying maximum luxury, comfort and style.” Recently, Lexus turned its green marketing communications to the African American community. In February, the brand returned as sponsor of Essence magazine’s Black Women in Hollywood pre-Oscars awards luncheon honoring actresses Halle Berry, Diahann Carroll and Taraji P. Henson along with director Gina Prince-Bythewood. At the event, the Torrance, Calif.-based automaker hosted a WaltonIsaacson-designed green gifting suite to show off its eco-friendliest models and align with other brands in the space. Brandweek spoke to MaryJane Kroll, Lexus National Advertising, about the intersection of marketing green and luxury to the African American market.

Brandweek: What does “green luxury” mean to consumers? It sounds like an oxymoron because we think of green as cutting back and sacrificing.

MaryJane Kroll: Our environmental commitment is incredibly important to us and a key tenet of our corporate philosophy on down to our products’ manufacturing processes to what we try to do in our facilities. It’s something were always working on and always trying to communicate. Our hybrids products in the luxury realm obviously establish us as a leader because we don’t have any competition, or at least not until recently with Cadillac SUV hybrids. So this has been an area where we’ve been able to establish our leadership and continue to build upon it as we introduce more products and as we build lifestyle programs around them to help people understand what the offering is.

Michelle O. New Yorker Cover

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Black Womanhood" at San Diego Museum of Art

The sight of Jamaican-American artist RenĂ©e Cox's bare buttocks in her self-portrait "Baby Black" (2001) is an unexpected beginning to an art exhibit. "Baby Black" is a hugely scaled photograph depicting Cox wearing nothing but scarlet-red patent leather pumps and holding a threatening silk black and gray cat-o'-nine-tails while reclining on a lemon-yellow neo-classical couch. Ms. Cox's pose in this photo intentionally echoes that of artist J.A.D. Ingres's famed recumbent and overly romanticized 1814 harem girl painting "Grande Odalisque." While Ingres’s painting projects passivity, Ms. Cox’s photograph projects power. The huge photo's placement in a narrow red-painted corridor is also an intriguing beginning to an exhibition documenting both affirmative and toxically negative representations of black women's bodies.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Imagining Identity at the Hunter Museum of American Art

The Un-Brandywine Exhibit

CHADDS FORD, Pa. -- A groundbreaking exhibit of African American art at the Chadds Ford Gallery has been held over by popular demand.
The gallery, a longtime bastion for art by the Wyeths and others steeped in the Brandywine tradition, opened "Through a Different Prism: African American Art" on Feb. 13. The exhibit, which was to have ended March 1, has been extended through March 15.
"The show has been incredibly well-received, " said gallery director Barbara Moore. "The quality and uniqueness of the art has people amazed at what they're seeing, and many said it's long overdue."
The show features the work of 14 African American artists, including Ed Loper Sr. and K.O. Simms, both from Wilmington.
Gallery owner Jackie Winther said she got the idea for the exhibit last spring, while attending a birthday party at the Brandywine River Museum. "Just mingling I got the feeling that people wanted to see something different, something not as traditional," Winther said.
Winther discussed the idea with Moore, and the two eventually contacted Harmon Carey, founder of the African American Art Alliance, in Wilmington, who helped coordinate getting several of the artists for the show.

Amon Carter Museum: Kelley Collection

FORT WORTH, TX.- The works of more than 50 African-American artists from the late 1800s to the early years of this century will be on view at the Amon Carter Museum from June 6 through August 23, 2009, in the special exhibition The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art: Works on Paper. The Kelley collection is one of the most esteemed private collections of African-American art, and the special exhibition features more than 90 works on paper by artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, William H. Johnson, Alison Saar and Charles White. Two significant eras are represented in the exhibition: the 1930s and 1940s, a period which saw the birth of African-American regionalism, and the 1960s and 1970s, which saw the rise of politically motivated and African-inspired themes; subjects range from racism and its related hardships to family, music and religion. “An array of fascinating, vivid imagery makes this exhibition particularly compelling,” Myers says. “Virtually every work clearly emanates from the artists’ own powerful, personal narrative.” The Kelleys have been collecting art since the mid-1980s, when they saw the exhibition Hidden Heritage: Afro-American Art, 1800–1950 at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Realizing they did not recognize any of the artists’ names, they vowed to educate themselves about this aspect of their heritage and built a collection to advance the legacy of African-American art. “We are delighted the Amon Carter Museum has chosen to host this exhibition,” Harmon Kelley says. “Placing our drawings and prints in the context of the museum’s rich holdings of American art is a wonderful and unique opportunity.”