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A Long Walk Home

Sayif M. Sanyika arrived at the museum October 22nd  as he concluded his walk for Heal Self: Heal America, a project of reconciliation, forgiveness and faith. A native of Roxbury, Sayif walked to Boston from Charlotte, North Carolina. He especially wanted to stop first at the museum because of the critical influence of National Center founder Elma Lewis in his life. While an inmate in Norfolk Correctional Institution at the turn of the 1970s, Sayif was a creative writing student in a program offered by the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts.  He was one of the writers from that program featured in Who Took the Weight, a book of poets and essays published by Little Brown Publishers and the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in 1971.

Photo :  Sayif with Edmund Barry Gaither, Museum Director.

I think it is very like an ear.

Pre-school visitors to the museum play a game inspired by John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816-1887) poem The Blind Men and the Elephant, in which they closed their eyes and felt along Eternal Presence naming its parts. Gail Bos—seen to the left—organized and served their visit. Saxe’s poem is based on an East Indian tale. Eternal Presence, 1987, was commissioned by the National Center of Afro-American Artists for its grounds, and sculpted by Roxbury-born John Wilson (l922-present).

Stone on stone. . .

The ancient puddingstone wall surrounding the Abbotsford Mansion that houses the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists suffered two ugly breaches that are now getting repaired. On the Crawford Street side, a car smashed into the wall but still managed to drive away.  On the Walnut Avenue side seen above, a hundred year-old Oak tree blew down destroying a major portion of the wall. Through the Partners with Non-Profits Programof the City of Boston, a grant was secured to make the necessary repairs. Work began in May and is expected to be completed my mid-summer

Last Mask at last

In 2010, Howard McCalebb conveyed ownership of Last Mask, l987, to the Museum. Since the work has graced our grounds for nearly two decades, many people assumed that we owned it. The truth is that Last Mask came to Boston for an exhibition at City Place in the l980s without a ticket back to Brooklyn. We were happy to offer it a temporary home. Over the years, we periodically repainted and refreshed it, striving always to keep it at its best. Now that we own the sculpture, we will be able to finally give it a permanent site and base.

Howard McCalebb is a graduate of California State University at Heyward and Cornell University, and previously taught at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst College, Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Art. He presents heads DadaPost, a contemporary art project in Berlin, Germany.

A brilliant Juneteenth Celebration

Representative Byron Rushing gave an overflowing crowd a lesson on the importance of memory and celebrations in preserving our story as a people. Focusing on black holidays from colonial times to the present, he provided a frame of understanding Juneteenth and other Emancipation Day celebrations. He challenged the audience to cut through superficialities and reflect on the substance of our history throughout the Americas.

Juneteenth arose as a Texas observance but has more recently gained traction in many nationally, including Massachusetts. In 1997, the U.S. Congress made Juneteenth a Day of Observance. In 2007, as a result of legislation introduced by Representative Gloria Fox, Governor Deval Patrick awarded Juneteenth similar status in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The program features enactors from the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment that was the first troop of black volunteers raised from a northern state. They were part of the 180,000 African Americans soldiers, sailors and scouts who served in the United States military fighting to end slavery and secure the preservation of the union. Their most famous battle was the 1863 assault on Fort Wagner in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The story was told in the movie Glory, and on the monument in their honor opposite the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill.

Poems were read by representatives of two generations. Aaron Bray, a Brandeis University student interested in law, read James Weldon Johnson’s Fifty Years that was written in l913 for the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (insert photo: Aaron Bray). Two Fifth grade students along with their Principal Norman Townsend read Margaret Walker’s For My People bringing a wonderful sentiment to Rushing’s address about memory. Framing the program was music by the Butterfly Project under the choral director of Marilyn Andry and the Performance direction of Milton Wright.

The celebration was another occasion bringing together a wide spectrum of notables, some of whom sat together reflecting on the day.

(Photo: Left to right)

Gloretta Baynes of the African American Master Artists in Residency Program at Northeastern University, Edmund Barry Gaither, Director of the Museum, Sandra Gaither, arts administrator and former director of Urban Gateways in Chicago, Melvin King, long time Boston political and social activist, Deta Galloway, ----- and Napoleon Jones-Henderson (kneeling), all artists. 

Children=Hope reception a delight

Many of the women artists featured in Children=Hope attended it reception, lending their energy and vitality to the day. Among those present were:
(photo: left to right)
Gloretta Baynes, Ekua Holmes, Susan Thompson, Fern Cunningham, Gail Bos, L’Merchie Frazier and Karen Eutemey. At the rear, Lolita Parker, Jr. is represented by her son.

 

 

 

Children=Hope is part of the larger citywide Violence Transformed project founded by Dr. Mary Harvey of Cambridge Hospital. (photo: Dr. Mary Harvey and Edmund Barry Gaither) All of the institutions that participate in Violence Transformed share the belief that the arts are indispensable to social healing and wholeness.

 

 

Museum receives splendid gifts

Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell, distinguished Haitian painter and poet, made a generous gift to the museum of four major paintings from among her recent work. Just Passing through (l996), St. Ursula’s Passion (1999), At the Immaculate’s Shrine (2000) and Teramen (2000) join Quiet, a work already owned by the museum via purchase.

Just Passing ThroughMrs. Phipps-Kettlewell has received a Guggenheim Fellow in painting, Grolier Poetry Prize and a Bunting Fellow in painting at Harvard University. Her exhibitions and poetry—including recent verse in Callalou—continue to draw critical praise.

Just Passing Through was inspired by the tombs and gravestones of Haiti where in the south they may sometimes be seen in people’s front yards. Built of sturdy materials and brightly painted, they sometimes overshadow the house.

Goats, cows and sheep pass by along with peasants all going about the ordinary activities of life. Goats are the totemic animal of the Haitian spirit of death confirming the extent to which Just Passing Through is a comment of our fleeting time on earth. Just Passing Through, acrylic on canvas

 

Pearl AllenNot so fast!

Pearl Allen announced near the end of the 38 th season of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity that this was her last round as organist for the production. Ms. Allen, who joined the staff of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts half a century ago as Wardrobe Mistress in the Sewing and Costuming Department, is a gifted keyboard artist and soon found all of her talents valued by the NCAAA. In l970, our first production of Black Nativity was mounted.

Mrs. Allen joined noted Musical Director John Andrew Ross at the piano and organ. Every season since, except for a short period of illness, Mrs. Allen performed with the show. She gave a decidedly uplifting gospel accent to the sound of Black Nativity, an uplift that evinced her personal warmth and kindness.

I’m not so sure we’re going to let her retire so soon.

The NCAAA will dedicate its 39 th season of performances to Mrs. Allen in appreciation for her enormous contribution to the life of the show, as well as to the larger work of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and the NCAAA.

Black Nativity children in front of Elma Lewis portraitHigh tea for our children

More than thirty children twelve or under who took part in the 38th season of Black Nativity were treated to high tea at the museum. They shared tea and dainty sweets served on china and glass while learning more about Langston Hughes and the meaning of Black Nativity.

Miss Lewis instituted high tea for the youngsters many years ago as a way of acquainting them with the finer points of social etiquette as well as expressing our appreciation for their contribution to the show. In the pass, the tea took place at a downtown hotel, but this year the young people sat surrounded by paintings from their own cultural tradition.

Following the tea, the children were spellbound by the tricks of the magician Bonaparte who pulled rabbits out of hats and birds out of scarves. To say that the youngsters enjoyed his performance would be an understatement. They were amazed and fascinated by Bonaparte, who also mystified and entertained the adults as well.

Black Nativity children under the watchful eye of Elma Lewis

Aspelta gets a visitor

Carlos Stuart with Barry GaitherCarlos Stuart, painter, sculptor and graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, visited King Aspelta recently, reviewing the full scale recreated coffin of the ancient king that he created in 1994 based on a Nubian specimen in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Mr. Stuart found the coffin, which is rendered in gold, in excellent shape. He surely thought “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Aspelta: A Nubian King’s Burial Chamber is presently the only exhibition focusing on this historic civilization of the Nile Valley on view in our region.

Carlos Stuart with Barry Gaither

 

Vivian Cooley-Collier

 

Sharing joy

Vivian Cooley-Collier was feted by family, friends and longtime associates at the museum on the occasion of her sixtieth birthday. A gifted mezzo-soprano, Ms. Cooley-Collier has performed in Voices of Black Persuasion for more than thirty seven years. Her solos have been a regular feature of Black Nativity. Working closely with the late NCAAA Musical Director John Andrew Ross, she performed in the Caribbean, South America, Europe and Africa, as well as throughout the region. Her surprise party brought together many in the family of the NCAAA some of whom had not seen each other for many years. As a highlight of the afternoon, Mrs. Cooley-Collier sang “My Funny Valentine” to rage reviews.

A surprised Vivian Cooley-Collier

 

 

Elder HostelElderhostel visits

In a first collaboration, the museum hosted a series of visits by members of Elderhostel, and international program dedicated to life long learning for seniors. The schedule included lectures as well as gallery tours, and was organized through Discover Roxbury.

A new adventure for seniors

 

Mayor Thomas Menino

 

 

A Mayoral press conference

Mayor Thomas M. Menino speaks at his press conference announcing new initiatives in the Black and Pink Campaign addressing breast cancer.

 

 

 

 


Hope in a wounded world at Episcopal Cathedral

In a collaboration with the PeaceWorks Gallery, the museum opened Hope in a wounded world last September 11 th. The exhibition celebrated the triumph of hope over despair, while also calling attention to the need to actively work to vanquish violence from our society, and indeed from our world. Featured in the exhibition were works by several greater Boston artists, including Fritz Ducheine, Ben Tau, Valentin Iviquel, and Jean Dibner.

The title work by Ducheine is a large unstretched canvas from whose murky grey tonalities emerges a bloody crucifix along with a sacrificial lamb both seen from above. It evokes a specifically Christian vision of hope, perhaps recalling the vital role played by clergy in addressing street violence in Boston’s inner city neighborhoods over the last decade.

Street violence is directly recalled in Ben Tau’s Passage of Memory, which has its genesis in a nearby memorial, erected by friends and family of Yorki Lipscomb , a gang leader whose death led to a truce between gangs in 2006. Tau, responding to the memorial of teddy bears, candles and flowers, came to know the young man’s family, and agreed to sculpt a metal relief image of him that might eventually be placed on the streetlight post around which the present memorial is situated.

Presently, a smaller version of Hope in a wounded world is on display in the Lawrence Room in the Diocesan office of the Episcopal Church adjacent to the Cathedral of St. Paul on Tremont Street in Boston. Photographs from the closing event for the exhibition at the museum—an event of intimate sharing with families directly touched by street violence—are on display in the narthex of St. Paul’s as well.

Still brilliant textile designs of Lois Mailou Jones

After a stunning display in the Grossman Gallery of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in September of 2006, Textile Designs: Lois Mailou Jones continues to draw attention and admiration nationally. Earlier this year, it was presented by the Auburn Avenue Research Library of African American Culture and History, part of the Atlanta-Fulton County Library system, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Edmund Barry Gaither, shown with Sharon Robinson, Director of Public Programs, lead a discussion of the film Fifty years of my art: Lois Mailou Jones, as one of several public programs associated with the exhibition

Jones, born in Boston in 1905, was one of the most important American artists of the 20 th century, pioneering distinctions as both a woman and an African American artist. She was elected to the Royal Academy of Artists and received numerous other national and international honors. Additionally, she was the first African American woman artist to be given a one-person exhibition in a top-tier American museum—Reflective Moments: Lois Mailou Jones at the Museum of Fine Arts, 1973. Prior to the current exhibition, the full richness of her numerous textile designs had never been shown.

Vusumusi Maduna remembered

Vusumusi Maduna, born Dennis Didley, was fondly remembered at a recent memorial service at the Piano Factory Gallery in Boston where his many friends gathered amid a striking installation of his art. The Cambridge born sculptor was known for his highly original African-inspired masks and figures. Drawing on various traditions ranging from Congo Nkisi figures to Western Sudanic Bobo masks, he digested central traits and ideas embodied in African art making them his own. Paquets, nails, bits of metal, scrapes of wood, broken mirrors, all found their way into his art bringing with them suggestions of accumulated power and ancestral wisdom, and evoking relationships of kinship with other shamanic traditions in the Americas.

Essentially creating his art by assembling layers of interesting fragments and sometimes over painting them, “Vusi” built visual structures that were dramatic for their expansiveness, sometimes seeming very wide, or unusually tall. In the case of his standing figures, the bases frequently felt precariously small. In all of these qualities, he harnessed a brilliant creative tension that was visually exciting, thematically intriguing and emotionally powerful.

Visual and performing arts at State House

In collaboration with several arts and educational organizations, the museum participated Violence Transformed, a weeklong cluster of programs at the Massachusetts State House calling attention to the need for greater effort within the Commonwealth to suppress violence. Thursday, April 25 th, featured a panel discussion on the role of artists in society followed by a series of performing arts presentations, including original verse by L’Merchie Frazier and drumming by Stephen O’Neal and Salim Rahman.

These performers were sponsored by the museum. Over the course of the week, an exhibition also under the title Violence Transformed was on display in Doric Hall, including works by Kofi Kayiga, L'Merchie Frazier, Khalid Kodi, Gail Bos and Ben Tau, all under the sponsorship of the NCAAA.

Gail Bos and Ben Tau’s contributions addressed street violence in Boston, whereas Khalid Kodi commented on the ongoing strife in his native Sudan. Frazier’s hanging paper tapestries and Kayiga’s gentler pastel drawings call attention in more general terms to the need to refocus attention toward community affirmation.

Along with Hope in a wounded world, participation in Violence Transformed is part of an extended series of collaborations between the museum and others around issues of positive community reconstruction, reaching back to the exhibitions The Beaded Prayer Project and the Faith Quilts Project (see exhibition archives).

A new adventure with Shattuck Hospital

The museum and the Lemeul Shattuck Hospital, with support from the Society of the Arts in Health, have launched a new year-long program wherein artists work with chronically ill patients to help them capture creative aspects of themselves that they can share and pass along to their family and friends.

Several patients have already begun working with Kofi Kayiga—regularly a Professor of Art as the Massachusetts College of Art—to produce small pastel and acrylic works that will be exhibited near the end of the project.

The new artists are already feeling empowered by and protective of their recently discovered avenue to personhood. Later, other patients will have the opportunity to work with noted educator L’Merchie Frazier writing poetry and prose which will ultimately be edited and committed to DVDs that the patient may distribute widely.

This project grows out of a sustained conversation between the Shattuck Hospital and the museum that earlier produced an exhibition of the art of George Hunt that is still on display in the hospital lobby. Pursuant to this standing interest in the arts and mental health, the museum recently hosted a stimulating morning of discussion with Boston University graduate students in medical and mental health studies during which many ideas were explored, and from which several students from other countries gain useful insights into black American culture.

 

Spring brings smiling faces

With the end of winter, school tours to the museum rebound. Although it serves a steady stream of school groups year round, as the grass sprouts and the leaf cover appears, suburban schools that traditionally visit in late spring also reappear; bring smiling faces and curious minds. These tours keep the museum’s small staff of educators busy, sometimes evening drawing the director into the fray.

 

Dinner with Danny Glover

During the African Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, Gaither found the opportunity to dine with the noted actor, director and humanist Danny Glover, sharing conversation regarding a range of subjects for how to foster peace in Africa to where to find good fried fish in Boston late on a Friday night.

Wow!

Since Enter-ACTION: Recent work of Maya Freelon opened, viewers have walked into the gallery and exclaiming “Wow!”

That’s because Freelon, a recent graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, has transformed the 32 x 24 foot room with 14-foot ceilings into a cathedral of color, covering three-quarters of each wall with colorful, variegated tissue paper quilting. The overall effect is a burst of color that lifts the eyes upward, and evokes a feeling of intense joy.

Titled I am because you are, the room was filled to overflowing during a recent gallery talk by the artist in which she explained the genesis of the work. Sheets of tissue paper that she discovered in her grandmother’s basement where they had got wet and their colors had bled together in a fascinating way inspired her.

As second room sized work brings together the unlikely combination of politics, tissue paper and video. To the refrain of “we’re not free until we’re all free”, Freelon calls attention to the continued detention on death row of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia journalist accused of killing a policeman despite much evidence to the contrary. The theme underlying both works is that fragmentation equals fragility whereas unity (community) presents the possibility of transforming power.

Annette Brown, Dancer-in-Residence

The National Center of Afro-American Artists is pleased to announce the appointment of Annette Brown as its Dancer-in-Residence. Brown will be available for dance education and instruction arranged via the NCAAA.

While on the faculty of the famed Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, Brown taught dance for children, teenagers and adults. Knowledgeable of both ballet and modern techniques, she was an effective teacher balancing discipline and inspiration for the benefit and growth of her students. She has continued teaching dance both independently and within college settings.

As a member of the National Center of Afro-American Artists’ dance troupe, Brown performed widely across the region including appearances at Jacob’s Pillar. Under ballet master Billy Wilson—originator of Bubbling Brown Sugar on Broadway—and master choreographer Talley Beatty—famous for his Southern Suite, she performed the choreography of Geoffrey Holder and Alvin Ailey as well as that of the aforementioned Wilson and Beatty. She was especially memorable in the East Indian inflected “Dougla” and in the spirituals from Beatty’s Southern Suite.

Over the many years of the NCAAA’s production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity, she has preserved the choreography that was originally set by George Howard, former Dance Master of the Ethnic Dance Company of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, and practitioner of the dance technique pioneered by Katherine Dunham. Of course, with so much experience, Brown has also produced her own choreography and has designed movement for many theatrical programs and dance concerts, for which she has received various recognitions and honors.

Brown will be available for dance and movement related services by way of the NCAAA for competitive fees.

A big vision for Roxbury’s Parcel Three

In the tradition of founder Elma Lewis, Ruggles Place—as the NCAAA’s proposal is known—presents a bold vision for Roxbury as it seeks designation as developer of Parcel Three opposite Boston Police Headquarters. Ruggles Place is visualized as an urban arts and cultural destination anchored by our museum and the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts.
A mixed-use development, Ruggles Place would also include housing, office, educational and research space, a parking garage, and retail opportunities for restaurants, nightspots, boutiques and a food market.Whittier Street Health Center would again be present near its old site. At the heart of Ruggles Place are collaborations with major medical, cultural and educational institutions that assure the creation of a substantial number of news jobs as well as career ladders for Roxbury residents.

One of 100

Edmund Barry Gaither was honored as one of the 100 most important museum professionals of the 20 th century during the 100 th annual convention of the American Association of Museums (AAM).

Gaither entered the museum field as an intern at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design in the summer of l967 while still a graduate student at Brown University. He joined the staffs of the Museum of Fine Arts and the NCAAA in l969. Subsequently he was curator of ten exhibition co-presented at the MFA, while simultaneously developing the NCAAA’s museum from a concept to a respected institution.

Along the way, he twice served on the governing council of the AAM and was appointed to its Commission on Museums for a New Century, testified before the U. S. Congress in favor of legislation establishing the Institute for Museum Services, and was co-founder and first president of the African American Museums Association.

Internationally, Barry was part of a five-member group of American museum professionals that toured Germany studying museum pedagogy, and he consulted for museums in Jamaica and Canada. His articles appear in two publications of the AAM and are widely used in museology studies programs.

National museum gathering feted

Galleries of the Museum were abuzz with museum professionals from across the nation as it co-hosted a reception with the African American Association of Museums (AAAM) and the Diversity Committee of the American Association of Museums (AAM) that was holding its 100 th annual convention in Boston.

AAAM is the organization of black museums from across the country and is the linear descendent of the Association of African American Museums co-founded by Edmund Barry Gaither in l978. AAM represents American museums, zoological and botanical gardens and is the nation’s largest cultural organization.

Museum pioneer makes gift

Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum and a pioneer in the field of black museums, spent her recent Saturday enjoying our museum and public art by African Americans in Boston.

Dr. Burroughs, who is a poet, visual artist, educator and visionary, started the DuSable Museum, oldest of the African American museums outside of the context of historically black colleges and universities, in her Chicago home in l960.

Named in honor of Jean-Baptist DuSable, the black fur trader whose camp became Chicago, the DuSable Museum has a distinguished record of service in both the arts and history.

Accompanied by Barry Gaither, she visited Meta Warrick Fuller’s Emancipation, John Wilson’s Father Reading and Eternal Presence, Vusimusi Madona’s The Judge, Gary Rickson’s African is the Beginning, and Fern Cunningham’s Family Unity and Step On Board, as well as Cunningham and Karen Eutemey’s Rise at the entrance to Boston via Mattapan Square.

Reviewing the welded iron sculptures of Ben Tau at his studio in the basement of the Museum, Dr. Burroughs was so impressed that she made a contribution to him to help support his art making. At the end of her stay, she made a gift to the museum of Woman, one of her recent prints

JOHN ANDREW ROSS 1940-2006

John Andrew Ross received the Arts and Humanities Award for his work in music at the Annual President’s Luncheon of the Urban League Guild of Eastern Massachusetts.

On May 21 st with gifted media personality Delores Handy Brown as Mistress of Ceremonies, Sylvia Garnett presented the award to Paula Ross, John’s sister. Miss Ross said that her brother who could not attend wanted to thank “the village that raised the child”.

Songs by Black Nativity cast members Debra Johnson Peters and Dr. Joseph Warren, accompanied by Paul White and Steven Hunter respectively, evoked deep emotions from the audience of more than two-hundred fifty. Other honorees included John Garvey Bynoe (former treasurer of the NCAAA’s Board of Directors), Honorable Joyce London Alexander, Dr. J. Keith Motley, Representative Shirley Owens-Hicks and Rev. Dr. Gregory G. Groover, Sr.

Singing for a good cause

Thomas Farrington, former chairman of the Board of Directors of the NCAAA and head of the Prostate Health Education Network, had great praise for the performance of Voices of Black Persuasion (VBP) at the May 15 th luncheon of the Massachusetts Prostate Cancer Coalition.

VBP was very pleased to sing in recognition of Charles Austin who was for many year part of the cast of NCAAA’s Black Nativity. The singers and musicians of VBP also perform in Black Nativity.


Arborist at work

With a grant from the Small Changes Program of the City of Boston, the Museum’s hundred year-old trees are getting some attention.

Under the auspices of HighMark Land Design, the grounds of Abbotsford Mansion that houses the museum are being redesigned with an eye toward new lighting, better signage and plantings.

But ahead of all of these improvements is restoring the health of the oaks, corkwood and maple trees.

On a recent early spring morning, a team of arborists came and conducted a tree survey that will guide the care program for the towering trees. The present grant supports the survey as well as necessary pruning and feeding of the trees.

As a bonus, the arborists met with science students from the David A. Ellis Elementary School, who, along with their teacher Mrs. Teleau, had many questions about the life and care of trees. The Museum and the David A. Ellis School have a close working relationship in which harnessing this opportunity to learn was typical.

Yale Professor Robert Ferris Thompson at the museum

Dr. Robert Ferris Thompson has been at the forefront of the study of African-American and African Diasporan art with seminal books such as The Flash of the Spirit.

His scholarship has made Yale University a noted center for the study of the African legacy in the art of the black world.

Dr. Thompson really enjoyed his recent stop at the museum during the exhibition “Rhythmic Brushwork” which featured artists from the United States, Jamaica and Ghana.

Barry Gaither and Robert Thompson

Aspelta loans renewed

Aspelta: A Nubian King’s Burial Chamber has become one of the museum’s most popular exhibitions. Since it opened in l994, the tomb and the nearly fifty 2600-year-old objects that introduce it have stirred the imagination of many.

School children still want to know if his mummy is in the coffin, and if the dried crud is still in the canopic jar. Older folk take away a sense of the grandeur of ancient Nubia or Kush whether they read all of the labels or not.

Yet this presentation, a first in the community of black museums, depends heavily on annually renewed loans from the rich holdings of the Museum of Fine Arts where the largest collection of Nubian objects outside of the Sudan reside. It is unusual for a small museum to have such extended access to ancient treasures. It is even more unusual for two American cultural institutions of such disparate scale to have enjoyed such an extraordinary collaborative relationship as the MFA and the NCAAA have shared since l969. Each year when the object loans are renewed, the relationship grows more remarkable.

Gaither in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia African American Museum presented a spring symposium coinciding with its presentation of Walls of Heritage: Walls of Pride.

Boston and Philadelphia, like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, are communities where urban muralists still flourish, and where earlier mural production has created a heritage to preserve.

Dr.Floyd Coleman, Head of Art Dept., Howard Univ., Jim Prigoff, and Barry Gaither

The symposium, which was moderated by Edmund Barry Gaither, brought together a number of national figures that have contributed to establishing the importance of urban murals, including Jim Prigoff who assembled the exhibition and compiled the book of the same name.

Our Recent History back to top

McCluney makes new prints

For two weeks, the noted artist Edward McCluney has been resident at the Museum where he has made new prints from his Nine American Masters Series.

Visitors have enjoyed watching him at work, and during short breaks, talking with him.Mr. McCluney has a long history with the National Center of Afro-American Artists despite having relocated to California a decade ago.

Edward McCluney at work


In the early 70s, he taught drawing and printmaking for the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. At the same time, he was also an instructor in printmaking at the Massachusetts College of Art.

Following a one-person exhibition at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in l973, the museum acquired a collection of Mr. McCluney’s prints including his remarkable Attic Series in which he depicted the horrors of that upstate prison rebellion.

 

Some year later, following the closing of Massachusetts Masters: Afro-American Artists at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum, NCAAA, purchased “The Composer”, an extraordinarily handsome pencil drawing in which his command of silvery-gray tonalities is evident.

In l988, the Museum assisted Mr. McCluney in receiving a grant from the Massachusetts Council for the Arts that supported the creation of the Nine American Masters Series, in which he created large scale portraits of African American figures in the arts who are distinguished not just by their artistic gifts, but also by their humanitarian and social values. The subjects portrayed are visual artists Romare Bearden and Benny Andrews, writers James Baldwin, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, singers Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne, actor James Early Jones, and actor/comic/educator Bill Cosby.

In addition to his continuing work in the visual arts, Mr. McCluney is also an actor and voice-over artist whose voice may be heard in many radio and television commercials and ads.

Archeologist visits Museum

Dr. Cheryl Janison LaRoche, an archeologist and professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, recently visited the Museum in the company of artist/educator L’Merchie Frazier.

Dr. LaRoche expressed great excitement and pleasure with her stay during conversation with Mr. Gaither—the Museum’s director—while viewing Aspelta: A Nubian King’s Burial Chamber, one of few long-term exhibitions of ancient artifacts in a black museum.

L’Merchie Frazier and Cheryl LaRoche

Also of great interest to her was the beadwork of L’Merchie Frazier and her mother Theresa that was also on display. Before completing her visit, Dr. LaRoche chatted briefly with Edward McCluney who was—by special arrangement—making new original prints in a nearby gallery.

“Lion King” Balaphonist at work

Christopher Doozie is a musical performer, instructor and managing director of Dagarti Arts in Accra, Ghana.

Descending from a family of makers and players of gyils (sacred xylophones of the Degaaba and Sisaala peoples of Ghana), Mr. Doozie is associated with the Institute of African Studies, and the Music and Performing Arts Departments of the University of Ghana, as well as to the Ghanaian National Symphony.

American audiences will be pleased to learn that he made the xylophones used in the Broadway production of The Lion King.

While in the Boston area recently conducting workshops at public and private schools, the Museum engaged him to repair several of its balaphons, as West African xylophones are often called. The Museum holds nearly a hundred African musical instruments in its collection including seven xylophones. Among them is one grand balaphon that Mr. Doozie identified as originally very well made for kingly ceremonial use quite a long time ago.

Over three days, Mr. Doozie re-strung the keyboard of one instrument, repaired the calabash sound resonators on two, and also made repairs to the frames of others. He commented that traditional builders “. . . spend the most time making the frames and keyboards of hardwood, because everyone expects to often replace the calabashes anyhow.”

For the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus

The wonderful Voices of Black Persuasion lifted the Great Hall of the State House—as singers of Black Nativity are sometimes known off-season—during a February 21 st celebration of Black History Month sponsored by the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus that is chaired by Representative William Lantigua.

Rep. William Langitua with Black Persuation

Prior to remarks by Representatives Gloria Fox, Shirley Owen-Hicks, Marie St-Fleur and Linda Dorcena-Forry, Representative Byron Rushing introduced the occasion pointing out the history of the evolution of Negro History Week into Black History Month, and reminding all present that the goal was not to “stuff” Black history into twenty-eight days, but rather to especially display in that month what had been learned about Black history over the rest of the year.

The program presented by the NCAAA featured a narrative history of the Civil Rights Era written and performed by Edmund B. Gaither, and supported by related musical selections performed by Celestine Cox, Marilyn Andry, Deborah Johnson-Peters, Buddy Hughes, Vivian Cooley-Collier, Vanessa Hunter, Fred Hayes and Joseph Warren. Joining the adults singers were Jasmine and Star Reed. Stephen Hunter provided accompaniment on keyboards. The program was under the musical direction of John A. Ross with administrative assistance from Doris Richardson.

Everyone sharing singing “We shall overcome” to conclude the program, and prepare for the rigors of another year of work.

Roxbury writer thanks his community

Sayif M. Sanyika grew up in Roxbury where many of his friends and much of his family still live, and where he an adjunct creative writer and theater director at Roxbury Community College.

Although now a resident of North Carolina, he held a literary reception at the Museum to thank all of those here in his home community whose faith and love made his success possible despite his early misdirection. As a young man, Sayif’s serious missteps landed him in Norfolk Correctional Institution where he discovered writing in a program operated by the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts.

In the late l960s, inmates at Norfolk wrote Elma Lewis asking for courses in the arts, and she was responded by assembling a dynamic staff of artists and persuading Governor Sargent to let her launch a program there. Anchored by technical theater offerings leading toward applied skills, the program put forth by the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and managed by Larry Blumsack also included dance, music, visual arts, theater and creative writing.

For many of the men, it offered a transformative experience that allowed them to discover and harness their spiritual and artistic selves. Among the remarkable dividends of the program were a musical theater piece entirely written and produced by the men for an outside audience, and a wonderful volume of poetry, essays and creative writing titled Who Took the Weigh published by the prestigious Little Brown Company. Sayif, a leading writer of the theatrical production as well as a featured writer in Who Took the Weigh, has continued his deep commitment to written and dramatic expression. Since his early musical play Cadillac Alley, he has directed and produced many dramatic works, along with a great number of published poem and other writings.

Through his creative work, Sayif has grown profoundly in his understanding of human relationships, as is evident in Pieces of My Soul: A Poetic Spiritual Path into Healthy Relationships which he autographed during the event at the Museum. In June of this year, he expects to release his newest book. More can be found about his work at www.conqueringbooks.com.

Egyptian Director calls

On a crisp December morning, Ossama Hassoun, Director of the Nubia Museum in Egypt, visited the museum to talk with Barry Gaither and gain a better appreciation of the role of black museums in African American communities.

Ossama Hassoun with Barry Gaither
Gaither and Hassoun had met before during the Nubia Conference at the Museum of Fine Arts a few years ago, and both had expressed a desire to get to know each other better. The Nubia Museum shares with black American museums the desire for an intimate relationship with its community. This shared goal made for productive exchanges between the two directors.

Monumental sculpture unveiled in Mattapan

Edmund Barry Gaither, Director/Curator of the museum,
was pleased to address the many excited city officials and residents of Mattapan community at the recent unveiling of Rise, a two-part monumental sculpture created by Fern Cunningham and Karen Eutemey.

Both Cunningham and Eutemey formerly taught at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts.

Rise is stationed, like elegant pillars, flanking Blue Hill Avenue creating a new gateway into the city from the south. Gaither observed that Rise evoked “ . . . the many meanings of the common verb, to rise: calling to mind the rising of the sun with its promise of a new day; the rising aspirations of all of those who visualize higher goals for themselves, their children, and their community; the rising of dancers who spiral heavenward in a spin of exhilaration; and the rising of this famous thoroughfare from a long period of abandonment toward a fresh blossoming as a renewed artery of the city.”

He continued, “Borders have a history in human experience. They are places of transaction, and sometimes of peril. Sometimes they are at the center of heated differences and they are often sites where creativity and invention thrive. But Rise forcefully brings to our attention another opportunity presented by borders—the opportunity to welcome.”

 

Museum launches new teen project

The Museum is pleased to announce that it has received a grant from the Fellowes Athenaeum Fund of the Dudley Branch Library for The NCAAA: A Vision for Cultural Empowerment, a project that examines how the ideas and vision of Elma Lewis directly impacted the lives of tens of thousands of ordinary people in Roxbury and the city of Boston over the second half of the twentieth century.

One of Boston’s greatest cultural figures and educators, Elma Lewis never held public office nor was she a child of privilege, but through the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, the Elma Lewis Playhouse-in-the-Park, and National Center of Afro-American Artists—all founded by her--she served ordinary black people bringing them personal and professional growth and giving them a sense of creative greatness and limitless possibilities. Her vision guides the NCAAA today.

The project will engage twelve youth in researching the impact of Miss Lewis through the collection oral histories, and examination of the various documents held by Special Collections at Northeastern University where the NCAAA has placed its archives. The project will be directed by L’Merchie Frazier and participants will be mentored by Representative Byron Rushing, retired television host Sarah Ann Shaw, Professor Emeritus of Simmons College Dr. Reginald Jackson and head of Special Collections Joan Krisack. The end product of the project will be an exhibition that the museum will present and which will be available to other institutions throughout the community.


New acquisitions

The Museum added more than one hundred new works to its collection over 2004. Among the gifts were many pen and ink illustrations by the noted Boston-born Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998).

The illustrations, executed in the mid-l930s for a book of poems published by Negro Associates Press, were given by the Trustees of the Lois Mailou Jones Trust in Washington, D.C.

Through a continuing relationship, Daniel Lecht, a Rhode Island donor, contributed two delightful small drawings by the emerging Colombian artist Flor Lopez. And a first time donor, Byron Harvey, donated more than sixty African objects, many of which will be excellent for use with students.

Ross honored widely

John Andrew Ross, who was celebrated at a delightful reception at the Boston Athenaeum in December, will be honored at From Gospel to Hip Hop: And All in Between where the first annual John Andrew Ross Award for Theater Excellence will be give on February 28th. The award has been inspired by Ross’ life long commitment to education in the performing arts—especially music and musical theater.

Remembering Elma Lewis with Pearl Allen and Gus Bowen
A conversation hosted by Edmund Barry Gaither
February 4, 2005, from 4 - 6 p.m.Albert O’Neill Room, #801, 8th floor, Boston City Hall.

Randy Weston and Andrea Wood:
A concert in tribute to Elma Lewis
February 5, 2005

Remis Auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston.

An Evening with Hugh Masekela
February 11, 2005

In commemoration of the 15th anniversary of President Nelson Mandela's historic walk to freedom on February 11, 1990 and in observance of Black History Month, sondela, and the UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights in partnership with the Museum of the NCAAA present a reception and dinner with Hugh Masekela

@ Double Tree Guest Suites 400 Soldiers Field RD, Boston

Discover Roxbury NCAAA Museum tour
February 12, 2005, from 9:30-1:30 p.m. (Registration required)

A tour of the museum hosted by Director/Curator Edmund Barry Gaither will be presented by Discover Roxbury for the enjoyment of registered guests. The event will explore the history of Abbotsford Mansion which houses the Museum, and it will view current exhibitions. To register for the tour, contact www.discoverroxbury.org or call 617-861-8893.

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