Robert Neal, “Rearguard,” 1950 (oil on linen canvas). | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
A STRIKING PORTRAIT of an African American soldier during the Korean War was acquired by the Columbus Museum this month. “Rearguard” by Robert Neal (1916-1987) is the latest in a series works by African American artists to enter the Columbus, Ga., museum’s collection. Born in nearby Atlanta, Neal was a student of Hale Woodruff. He later served as a studio assistant to the elder artist at Spelman College and worked on his Amistad murals for Talladega College.
“We are particularly excited about this work as it speaks to the museum’s dual mission to collect, exhibit, preserve, and educate about regional history and American art,” Jonathan F. Walz, director of curatorial affairs and curator of American art, said in a statment.
In February, the museum also acquired a sculpture by Augusta Savage from Beverly Sacks Fine Art in New York City. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” depicts a succession of singers whose formation resembles a harp. The small-scale work is one of an unknown number of commemorative versions that model the life-sized work Savage was commissioned to create by 1939 New York World’s Fair committee. Her monumental vision was inspired by “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has come to be known as the Black National Anthem. The song originated as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and was set to music by his brother, composer Rosamond Johnson.
SINCE 2017, 15 WORKS OF AFRICAN AMERICAN ART have been acquired by the Columbus Museum through purchases and gifts. The purchases were primarily made possible by the museum’s Fund for African American Art. The dedicated effort was spurred by a generous donation of $100,000 made by Aflac CEO Dan Amos and his wife, Kathelen, in 2014. The gift led to the establishment of the Fund.
The Amos gift was a spearhead, motivating the museum to take steps to sustain its ability to focus on African American art acquisitions by expanding its donor base. Last year, the Alma Thomas Society was formed. The dues-paying collection group is directly involved in selecting works for acquisition. In addition to their museum membership, Society participants contribute $500 annually—80 percent is earmarked for the Fund for African American Art; 20 percent supports Society programming.
“The Alma Thomas Society we are establishing so that we can continue with the generosity of Kathleen and Dan Amos in establishing a fund for acquiring African American art specifically. Though I want to say, we also collect African American art from our general endowment funds for acquisitions as well. This will be a support group, since there was a finite amount in the contribution that they made, so that we can continue it, ideally, in perpetuity,” Columbus Museum Director Marianne Richter told local Ledger-Inquirer.
“We will focus, particularly with that fund, on emerging African American artists and artists who have perhaps flown under the radar for many people in the past.”
Augusta Savage, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” 1939 (cast white metal with original bronze patina). | Courtesy Columbus Museum
The Savage sculpture was purchased through the Fund, as were works by Amy Sherald, Reginald Gammon, Beverly Buchanan and Roberto Lugo. The Neal painting was not.
Neal’s “Rearguard” was among the top 20 lots at Swann Auction Gallery’s April 5 African-American Fine Art Sale. Surpassing its estimate, the vivid image sold for $45,000 including fees. A week later, the Columbus Museum announced the painting had entered its permanent collection. According to Swann, the buyer of the Neal work was a dealer. The museum declined to disclose whether the painting was acquired from the dealer or if the dealer was acting on the museum’s behalf when it made the purchase.
Similar to the Neal painting, a number of the acquisitions resonated with the museum because of their local significance or regional association, including a drawing by Benny Andrews, who hailed from rural Plainview, Ga.; a quilt by Dawn Williams Boyd, who grew up in Atlanta; and a porcelain vase paying homage to artist Alma Thomas, a Columbus native, and Horace King, a pioneering African American bridge builder who worked in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Last year, the museum also purchased a portrait by Sherald, the newly minted art star who painted First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. Like Thomas, Sherald was also born and raised in Columbus and is now a celebrated hometown artist too. It was fitting, therefore, that when the Alma Thomas Society planned its inaugural event last September, Sherald was invited to give the lecture. CT
The full list of 2017-18 acquisitions follows:
“What’s different about Alice is that she has the most incisive way of telling the truth,” 2017 (oil on canvas)
“Mothers (Scottsboro Mothers),” 1970 (oil on canvas)
“Sculpture House,” 2011 (found wood)
“Atlanta Rising,” 2017 (oil on canvas panel)
“Madeline Jones’ Wonderful Garden,” 1977 (collage: various papers with ink, graphite and surface abrasion on fiberboard)
“Whoopi Goldberg,” n.d. (oil on plywood)
“The Center Spot,” 1977 (ink on paper)
“Century Vase with Alma Thomas and Horace King,” 2017 (porcelain, china paint, luster)
Sister Gertrude Morgan
“Untitled (The Madam and the Bride),” 1970-79 (mixed media on card)
“Amalgam (brown),” 2015 (four color lithograph on Somerset Satin paper)
“High Priest of Carnaval,” 2008 (acrylic, ink, paper, colored pencil, collage, iris print in painted frame)
“Snails Trail pattern coverlet hand-woven by enslaved people on Lovelace plantation near LaGrange,” n.d. (coverlet: wool and indigo dye)
Dawn A. Williams Boyd
“Triple Nickles,” 2017 (quilt: assorted fabrics and embroidery floss)
Forthcoming in the fall, “Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman” explores the life and practice of Augusta Savage and features 50 images of her work along with documentary photographs and correspondence. A book for children, “In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage” presents the story of the Florida-born, Harlem Renaissance-era sculptor. “Beverly Buchanan: Shackworks, A 16-Year Survey” was published to coincide with the artist’s 1994 exhibition at the Montclair Art Museum.
REGINALD GAMMON, “Mothers (Scottsboro Mothers),” 1970 (oil on canvas). | Courtesy Columbus Museum
BEVERLY BUCHANAN, “Sculpture House,” 2011 (found wood). | Courtesy Columbus Museum
ROBERTO LUGO, “Century Vase with Alma Thomas and Horace King,” 2017 (porcelain, china paint, luster). | Courtesy Columbus Museum
AMY SHERALD, “What’s Different About Alice Is That She Has The Most Incisive Way Of Telling The Truth,” 2017 (oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches). | Collection of The Columbus Museum, © Amy Sherald, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
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