Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists

By Jontyle Theresa Robinson | Go to book overview

1921. Rose Standish, of New York's Cooper Union Art School and the Art Students League, was the Instructor of Fine and Industrial Arts for nearly a decade. During her term at the institution, she offered an art and design course through the home economics department, a mechanical drawing class as a part of the industrial arts program, and a course in "drawing free-hand" for those whose sole concern was the study of art. 7

The gradual shift to a more fully developed liberal arts curriculum favored fine arts instruction over industrial arts training. However, the school's full commitment to the arts was not realized until 1931 when Hale Aspacio Woodruff ( 1900-1980), an African American painter, was hired to establish an art department in the Atlanta University Center (AUC). 8 Dr. John Hope, president of Atlanta University, and Florence Reed, president of Spelman College, believed that in order to build a well- rounded liberal arts program, a fine arts component emphasizing painting, sculpture, and architecture had to be included. Woodruff was given the task of providing interested AUC students with the opportunity to study painting on Spelman's campus because of his superior training at the Herron Art School in Indianapolis, Indiana, and his experience abroad. Three years later, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet was hired to teach sculpture, art history, and architecture. As a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Prophet became the first African American woman to teach art at the college. Her experience as an internationally exhibited artist and her success as the winner of the 1930 Harmon Foundation prize for sculpture made her a role model for Spelman students, especially those interested in becoming artists. 9 In order to provide proper aesthetic training for these women, the Department of Art was established in the mid-thirties, making it easier for students who chose to become artists or art educators to identify with the discipline directly, rather than through education or home economics courses. Courses designed specifically for the artistic education of Spelman women by Woodruff and Prophet during their tenure at the college provided a foundation for faculty who followed.

The museum that was established in 1899 disappeared during the industrial arts phase of the college's history. However, Hale Woodruff continued exhibiting works of art and using them as teaching tools. Through his efforts and the endeavors of others, Spelman College has amassed an internationally recognized collection of paintings, prints, and photographs as well as an impressive body of African sculptures and textiles. With the founding of the new Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, located in the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center, the college has made certain that the arts will continue to play an integral part in the education of African American women well into the next century. As we enter this new phase, Spelman will surely play a pivotal role in providing the nation with future generations of artists/scholars, art historians, critics, and museum professionals.


NOTES
1.
12th Annual Circular & Catalogue of Spelman Seminary for Women and Girls 1892-93 ( Atlanta: Spelman Seminary, 1892), p. 12.
2.
J. A. Green, The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi ( London: W. B. Clive, 1914; reprint, New York: Green Press, 1969), p. 119.
3.
18tb Annual Circular & Catalogue of Spelman Seminary for Women and Girls 1899-1900 ( Atlanta: Spelman Seminary, 1899), p. 45.
4.
12th Annual Circular & Catalogue, p. 45.
5.
Florence Matilda Read, The Story of Spelman College ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), pp. 191-95.
6.
Florence Fleming Corley, "Higher Education for Southern Women: Four Church-related Women's Colleges in Georgia, Agnes Scott, Shorter, Spelman, and Wesleyan, 1900-1920" (Ph.D. diss., Georgia State University, 1985), p. 240.
7.
45th Annual Circular & Catalogue of Spelman Seminary for Women and Girls 1926-27 ( Atlanta: Spelman Seminary, 1926), pp. 11, 28, 36.
8.
Winifred L. Stoelting, "Hale Woodruff, Artist and Teacher: Through the Atlanta Years" (Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1978), p. 56. To reach this goal, Hope hired Woodruff to implement a six year arts plan for the Atlanta University Center which included Spelman College, Morehouse College, the Atlanta University graduate school, laboratory high school, and the elementary school.
9.
Blossom S. Kirschenbaum, "Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Sculptor", Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, 4, no. 1 ( Spring 1987): 47. Prophet's work was shown in the Salon d'Automne and the Paris August Salon in 1924-27 and in the Salon of the Société des Artistes Français in 1929. She was also befriended by Henry O. Tanner, who personally recommended her for the 1930 Harmon Prize.

-13-

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Bearing Witness: Contemporary Works by African American Women Artists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Dedication 5
  • Acknowledgments 5
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Foreword 11
  • The Visual Education of Spelman Women 12
  • Notes 13
  • Passages - A Curatorial Viewpoint 15
  • Notes 36
  • Warrior Women: Art as Resistance 39
  • Notes 47
  • Triumphant Determination: the Legacy of African American Women Artists 49
  • Notes 78
  • African American Women Artists - Into the Twenty-First Century 83
  • Notes 93
  • Hagar's Daughters: Social History, Cultural Heritage, and Afro-U.S. Women's Art 95
  • Notes 108
  • Illustrations and Biographies 113
  • Afterword 161
  • Chronology 162
  • Selected Bibliography 165
  • List of Illustrations 172
  • Index 174
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