The Bessie Smith Cultural Center is currently exhibiting “Southern Journeys, African American Artists of the South” a traveling collection which will remain in Chattanooga through August 11, 2010. This exhibit contains the work of many significant African American Artists works in multiple mediums ranging from 1941 through 2009.
BSCC is open 10am to 5pm Monday through Friday and noon to 4pm on Saturday. For more information, call 423-266-8658 or visit the Chattanooga African American History Museum website. There is also a video online made by BSCC using pieces from the “Southern Journeys” collection along with traditional banjo music.
Carmen Davis, Curator for the BSCC says this exhibit is on loan from Stella Jones, a doctor with a gallery in New Orleans who has collected these pieces over many years, including ones from famous artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Hughie Lee Smith and Romare Bearden. Here is artist Elizabeth Catlett’s Block Print of a Sharecropper:
PBS.org writes about Elizabeth Catlett:
“Catlett is best known for her work during the 1960s and 70s, when she created politically charged, black expressionistic sculptures and prints. Catlett, a sculptor and graphic artist, was born in Washington, D.C. in 1919. She attended Howard University where she studied design, printmaking and drawing. In 1940 Catlett became the first student to receive a Master’s degree in sculpture at the University of Iowa. In 1946 Catlett received a fellowship that allowed her to travel to Mexico City where she studied painting, sculpture and lithography. There, she worked with the People’s Graphic Arts Workshop, a group of printmakers dedicated to using their art to promote social change. After settling in Mexico and later becoming a Mexican citizen, she taught sculpture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City until retiring in 1975.”
I found this Romare Beardon’s painting called “Couple” on the University of Pennsylvania website:
The following is taken from a short biography of Bearden at the National Gallery of Art website.
“The complex and colorful art of Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is autobiographical and metaphorical. Rooted in the history of western, African, and Asian art, as well as in literature and music, Bearden found his primary motifs in personal experiences and the life of his community. Born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Bearden moved as a toddler to New York City, participating with his parents in the Great Migration of African Americans to states both north and west. The Bearden home became a meeting place for Harlem Renaissance luminaries including writer Langston Hughes, painter Aaron Douglas, and musician Duke Ellington, all of whom undoubtedly would have stimulated the young artist’s imagination.”
Carmen Davis spoke about the locally crafted “topsy turvy” doll which was made for and added to the BSCC’s exhibit. An article written by Valerie Borey on Suite101 describes this historical doll:
The Topsy-Turvy design dates back to before the American Civil War, when many of these dolls were actually mixed race – white on one side, black on the other. Often they featured a well-turned mistress of the house, backed by a raggedly dressed black servant. According to expert collector Jamila Jones, some of these dolls were sold with the slogan, “Turn me up and turn me back, first I’m white, and then I’m black.” (Siek, 2003)
Reporting: Monessa Guilfoil
Listen to the Story: