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.
Mrs. 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
Not 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.
High 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, 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 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
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
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.
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.
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 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.