Enter the African American Fine arts galleries and you are in for a treat. Here you will encounter something unique — a collection representing the history of African American art from the earliest practitioners to contemporary artists. See Henry O. Tanner’s renowned painting, The Banjo Lesson, together with works by John T. Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Samella Lewis, James Phillips, Michael Platt, and many more.
Africans brought distinctive artistic traditions and skill to the Americas. From the earliest arrivals through generations of their descendants, African Americans persistently engaged in a wide variety of creative activity. In this gallery are excellent examples of paintings by Henry O. Tanner, Joshua Johnson, Edward M. Bannister, some of the most renowned nineteenth and early twentieth-century African American artists. They were true pioneers in their struggles to overcome discrimination in their profession, in opening doors for the generation which followed them and in the excellence they achieved as individual artists.
Perhaps the twentieth century’s most important period of African American cultural exploration was the Harlem Renaissance. Beginning in the 1920s, there was an explosion of poetry, fiction, music, theater and visual art which sought to define and express African American identity. From Augusta Savage to Claude Clark, this gallery presents work ranging from the 1920s to the late 1960s. The majority of works in this gallery were collected and preserved by the Harmon Foundation, a philanthropic organization that provided major support for African American artists from 1926 until 1967
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s inspired a body of art which directly addressed social and political issues. By the late sixties, African American art was becoming more community-centered, more militant, and more African-centered in its politics. After the 1970s, diversity in medium, style, and philosophy characterized African American art. Artist of color, like Margo Humphrey, Whitfield Lovell, and Ron Adams, could not be stereotyped as producing only one type of art or art of lesser quality. Equally important, exhibition and gallery opportunities expanded, both in African American and mainstream institutions. However, until this exhibition at Hampton, no museum in the United States has had on permanent view a show which chronicles the history of African American art.
Art has been an important part of the Hampton environment since the school’s founding. Yet prior to 1941, art instruction was primarily directed to practical, vocational applications. That year, through the efforts of artist, educator, and psychologist Viktor Lowenfeld, Hampton established a unit of fine arts. Traditions of excellence in painting, ceramics, and sculpture were born under Lowenfeld’s guidance. There remains more to learn and there are more artists who deserve inclusion, for Hampton’s faculty fostered the development of many accomplished artists, like John Bigger, Elizabeth Catlett, and Samella Lewis.