News Release: “Portrait & Text” Brings Collections to Life
Feb. 4, 2011
***CLOSING SATURDAY, JAN. 21, 2012***
Van Vechten portraits, connections add dimension to African American artists
A colorfully illustrated children’s book written by Josephine Baker. Photos of dancer Pearl Primus in flight. A caricature of Chester Himes. A copy of Richard Wright’s book “12 Million Black Voices” inscribed to Owen Dodson, alongside Dodson’s plans to make the book into a movie.
These are just a few of the fascinating items on display in “Portrait & Text: African American Artists of Dance, Music, and the Written Word,” an exhibition at the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), on Level 10 of the Woodruff Library at Emory University. The exhibition is curated by Randall K. Burkett, curator of MARBL’s African American collections, and Kelly Erby, a visiting lecturer at Georgia State University who recently earned her doctorate in history at Emory. The exhibition opened Jan. 24, 2011 and will run through June 30, 2011.
An opening reception will be held Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in MARBL’s Woodruff Room. The event will include refreshments and a short performance by senior Garrett Turner, a music and creative writing major who will debut his own original theatrical production about Langston Hughes Feb. 11 and 12, based on his research from MARBL materials.
Portraits by Harlem arts patron and photographer Carl Van Vechten and from MARBL’s exceptional African American collection are paired with original documents from MARBL collections. The materials reveal the artists’ work or life and demonstrate the social, political, and professional networks that existed among these creative individuals, many of them significant figures during the Harlem Renaissance. Twenty-one artists are featured, including writers Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright; entertainer Harry Belafonte, opera singer Marian Anderson, dancers Carmen de Lavallade and Pearl Primus, poet Countee Cullen, singer/dancer Josephine Baker, and singer/actor Paul Robeson.
“Our goal was to use these photographs to showcase the range of MARBL’s holdings in African American literature, arts, dance, and music,” co-curator Burkett says.
The exhibition includes correspondence, movie house lobby cards, concert posters and programs and book inscriptions. Among other interesting items:
- “La Tribu Arch-en-Ciel,” (“The Rainbow Tribe”), a children’s book written by Josephine Baker in 1957 to raise money for Les Milandes, an estate in the south of France for her 12 adopted children, each from a different country. Baker wanted them to be nurtured in their own languages and religions, yet to know and respect one another, Burkett says.
- A concert program from a performance given by opera singer Marian Anderson at Tuskegee Institute in 1936, as well as a signed photograph from the same year.
- Novelist Richard Wright’s ticket stub from the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling boxing match in 1938, when Louis knocked out Schmeling.
- An exaggerated sketch of novelist Chester Himes titled “An American Zoot Suiter,” drawn by an ex-lover.
Collaborations and friendships are apparent through letters, inscriptions in books, and other materials throughout the exhibition. “All of these artists are interacting with one another on a whole range of political and cultural and artistic endeavors,” Burkett says.
The curators hope the exhibition sparks both community and student interest in the types of research that can be done on 20th-century African American literary and cultural figures using the MARBL collections.
“We’re hoping students not familiar with archival research will realize that not only does MARBL have the Josephine Baker papers, but you can also find documents that relate to her in other collections like the Bricktop papers and the Billops/Hatch archives,” co-curator Erby says. “The MARBL collections are really amazing.”
A kiosk in the exhibit allows visitors to click on an image of one of the 21 featured artists, and the database will pull up every MARBL collection that contains material pertaining to that individual. “People will not only see some original materials, but they will also be able to go to the online finding aids and see exactly what collections have what kinds of materials,” Burkett says. “It’s really an opportunity to show the breadth of our holdings.”
Exhibition location: MARBL, Level 10, Robert W. Woodruff Library, 540 Asbury Cir., Atlanta, GA 30322. Free and open to the public during regular MARBL hours.
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The Emory University Libraries (http://web.library.emory.edu/) in Atlanta and Oxford, Ga., are an intellectual commons for Emory University, Atlanta and the world. The nine libraries’ holdings include more than 3.4 million print and electronic volumes, 56,000-plus electronic journals, and internationally renowned special collections.
Emory University (http://www.emory.edu) is known for its demanding academics, outstanding undergraduate experience, highly ranked professional schools and state-of-the-art research facilities. Perennially ranked as one of the country’s top 20 national universities by U.S. News & World Report, Emory encompasses nine academic divisions as well as the Carlos Museum, The Carter Center, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Emory Healthcare, Georgia’s largest and most comprehensive health care system.