The purpose of the University Museum is to collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and interpret artifacts and works of traditional art which illustrate the cultures, heritages and histories of African, Native American, Oceanic and Asian peoples, as well as the works of contemporary African American, African and American Indian artists and three-dimensional objects which relate to the history and significance of Hampton University.
ADMISSION IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
The Museum is composed of the world’s first collection of African American fine art, which began with the 1894 acquisition of two paintings by Henry O. Tanner. One of these paintings, The Banjo Lesson, is acknowledged as the most admired work by an African American artist. Hampton was the recipient of a gift of hundreds of artworks from the Harmon Foundation in 1967, which includes representation of most of the important artists from the Harlem Renaissance into the early 1960s. The museum also houses the Countee and Ida Cullen Art Collection; a group of 29 works of art acquired from the widow of the famed Harlem Renaissance poet. Among the most outstanding holdings are works by three important figures connected to the visual arts at Hampton: John T. Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, and Samella S. Lewis. In addition to the African American Fine Art Collection, the Museum features African, Native American, and the Hampton History Galleries as permanent exhibitions. To learn more, please see our Collection History!
The Banjo Lesson is Tanner’s most famous painting. It reflects Tanner’s conscious commitment to depicting African American in a compassionate manner. A favorite of visitors to the Museum today, the painting was also well received in its time. In 1894, The Banjo Lesson was admitted into the Paris Salon, the most prestigious annual juried exhibition in the city. Robert C. Ogden, a philanthropist and chair of the then Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute’s Board of Trustees, bought the painting and donated it to Hampton in November of 1894. The Banjo Lesson and another Tanner piece, The Lion’s Head (also owned by the Hampton University Museum), represent the first works of African Americans art to be collected by an American institution and form the cornerstone of Hampton’s outstanding fine arts collection.
The International Review of African American Art (IRAAA) is the ONLY periodical spanning the history of African American art and covering contemporary art, design and visual culture! Cross-disciplinary with a nexus in African American art, IRAAA deepens insight into numerous things while offering visual pleasure and stimulation. It is a window into all realms, real and imaginary; present, past and future. ART IS ALL!
IRAAA was formally known as Black Art: An International Quarterly and made its debut in 1976. It was published by Samella Lewis and two associates. It included an article on Elizabeth Catlett with a four-page color pull-out reproduction of a Catlett print titled Boys. The involvement of Lewis and Catlett in this important venture was the flowering of a long association. Lewis, the first African American woman to earn a PH.D. in art history (Ohio State, 1951), had been encouraged to pursue a career in art by Catlett. Catlett was the first college art teacher of Luis and became a lifelong friend. Black Art: An International Quarterly primarily covered the visual expression of black people in the United States and Africa.
In 1984, Black Art became The International Review of African American Art (IRAAA), as the publication was broadening its focus to include the visual art of African-descended people throughout the Americas. One of the special issues produced during this period was “Bahia: The Power of Tradition.” Its focus was on the visual arts of African-descended people in Brazil. In 1992, the operations of the IRAAA were transferred to Hampton University, Samella Lewis’ undergraduate alma mater.
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Deanna Brooks, Administrative Assistant
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The University Archives officially opened its doors in 1972. The importance of establishing an archives was to prepare and make available for research the various papers and the impressive number of records documenting the history of Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. To learn more, please visit our University Archives!