Museum to showcase works of 'Harlem Renaissance' artists
The artists came from the South and formed the community in the 1920s and '30s.
By L. CROW
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- The Hoyt Institute will begin a yearlong celebration of works by black artists when it opens "Harlem Renaissance" on Sunday.
The exhibit will primarily feature the works of two artists from the early 1900s. The title does not refer to a rebirth of Harlem, but to the black Americans who came up from the South, and actually founded the Harlem community, in the 1920s and '30s.
Kimberly Koller-Jones, executive director of the Hoyt, and curator of this exhibit, explains how it came about: "Last year, we began with the Schindler exhibit about the Holocaust, because we were looking for exhibitions that had human relevance," she said. "We are trying to build audience interest specific to different sections or regions. Roger Smith, one of our board members, had an idea to reach out to members of the black community."
The Hoyt Institute has been doing a Soul Food dinner for the last four years in celebration of Black History Month (February), and the Harlem collection will also tie into that event.
"Unlike the Schindler exhibit, we wanted to focus on positive aspects," said Koller-Jones. "In the early 1900s, Southern blacks began migrating northward to escape prejudice and the Ku Klux Klan. Plus, with World War I approaching and immigrants no longer pouring in, Northerners started recruiting blacks from the South to work in factories, especially in New York City, which was the hub of activity. Many blacks got together and purchased large quantities of land along 135th Street and Fifth Avenue, which became known as Harlem, and the arts flourished in what is known as the Age of the Modern Negro, or the New Negro Movement. People began exploring their identity as African-Americans."
The Harlem Renaissance exhibit is a two-part series that will open Saturday with a private reception (optional black tie). It will open to the public Sunday.
It features the works of Jacob Lawrence, including the 22-panel "The Legend of John Brown," plus 10 other works (John Brown was a white American abolitionist).
To complement this exhibit, there will also be on display the African artifact collection of David E. Henderson. Henderson spent five years in West Africa in the 1970s collecting textiles, sculptures and other items.
"Most of the Harlem artists had never been to Africa, so they used artifacts to create their works" said Koller-Jones. "In the artifact collection, we have examples of clothing, totems and masks, fertility dolls, several forms of African currency, and even hair picks."
Koller-Jones said that the "John Brown" series is one of her favorites, and that she likes the way the artifacts have been juxtaposed along with the paintings. "We have an example of a West African nomadic blanket, which hangs next to one of the John Brown battle scenes, and it is obvious that a cloth like this influenced the painting by the colors and patterns," she said. "We also have a case holding two knives, and a bronze statue of a person holding a knife. The artifacts help accentuate the paintings and strengthen the story. I love how it all ties together."
Koller-Jones said that the "Harlem Renaissance" works were a first interpretation of black identity, and to contrast, the museum is also exhibiting a modern ceramic collection called "Black Ice," by artist Sherif Bey. "This is a modern interpretation of African-American identity," she said. "Like the Harlem collection, it reflects the struggle of black Americans, but society has changed, so Bey represents the struggle in a modern interpretation. Because society has changed, black identity has changed, but it is still rooted in tradition. One example of Bey's works is an oversized necklace [5 feet] made of ceramic beads, called 'Bling.'"
The second exhibit of "Harlem Renaissance" will open Feb. 10, with the works of Romare Bearden, who came to New York City in 1914 at age 3. He also lived with his grandparents in Pittsburgh for several years, where he graduated from high school. He received the National Medal of Arts in 1987. His works include oils, watercolors, photomontages and prints.