Research Symposium: Art by African Americans
On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Lunder Institute for American Art hosted a research symposium on art by African Americans. Originally intended to be an in-person program, this live-streamed, daylong event featured work-in-progress presentations by the six 2019–20 Lunder Institute Research Fellows, discussions moderated by Distinguished Scholar Tanya Sheehan, and a roundtable with leading scholars focused on questions about the state of the field.
The Lunder Institute will host annually a Distinguished Scholar and a group of Research Fellows at varying stages of their careers to pursue original scholarship around a topic of particular concern to the field of American art. The Research Fellows program aims to deepen original research into works of art in the Colby College Museum of Art and expand the community of scholars engaged with the collection.
As the Lunder Institute Distinguished Scholar and Director of Research, Tanya Sheehan (William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Art, Colby College) oversaw the inaugural program in 2019–20, which focused on work by African American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Research Fellows included Anna Arabindan-Kesson (Assistant Professor, Princeton University), Adrienne L. Childs (Research Associate, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University), Tess Korobkin (Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park), Key Jo Lee (Assistant Director of Academic Outreach, Cleveland Museum of Art), John Ott (Professor, James Madison University), and Rebecca VanDiver (Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University).
The Research Fellows put their current research into conversation with artworks in the Museum’s collection by landscape painter Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828–1901), multimedia artist Romare Bearden (1911–1988), figurative painter Bob Thompson (1937–1966) around whom the Museum is organizing a major exhibition in 2021, and contemporary artist–scholar David C. Driskell (b. 1931). Two additional artworks—an abstract painting by Norman Lewis (1909–1979) and a sculpture by Marion Perkins (1908–1961)—have been loaned to the Museum from the Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art based in Austin, Texas.
The group convened on the Colby College campus in November 2019 to study their selected artworks, and met with area artists and curators to enhance their research. They also participated in high-level discussions on the state and parameters of the field we call African American art history; what constitutes its canon at this moment; and how and why academic scholars, curators, and artists distinguish art by African Americans from the broader field of American art.
The Fellows’ research developed throughout the academic year, assisted by four Colby students: Katie Herzig ’20, Olivia Hochstadt ’21, Jane MacKerron ’20, and Carter Wynne ’20. Those research assistants later shared their experiences of working for the Research Fellows in a virtual roundtable discussion.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute was also able to support work related to African American artists by three Colby faculty members. AB Brown (theater and dance), Erin Murphy (cinema studies), and Juliet Sperling (art) shared their grant-funded projects with the Colby community. While Professors Brown and Sterling spoke of traveling to exhibitions in Los Angeles and London that they plan to integrate into their Colby courses and their own scholarship, Professor Murphy used the grant to develop a video installation project in collaboration with her student Kaliyah Bennett ’22.
Welcome, Lee Glazer, Director, Lunder Institute
Introduction, Tanya Sheehan, Distinguished Scholar and Director of Research, Lunder Institute
- Norman Lewis, 1946: Heliotrope – John Ott, James Madison University
- Turbulent States: Strategies of Crisis Mediation in David Driskell’s 1968 Of Thee I Weep and Soul X – Rebecca VanDiver, Vanderbilt University
Roundtable: State of the Field
Moderated by Adrienne L. Childs, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University
- Tuliza Fleming, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution
- Jacqueline Francis, California College of the Arts
- Melanee C. Harvey, Howard University
- James Smalls, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
- Local and Littoral: Reflecting on the Landscapes of Edward Mitchell Bannister – Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Princeton University
- Bob Thompson, Goya, and the Caprice of Art History – Adrienne L. Childs, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University
- Sculpture’s Touch: Haptic Intimacies in Marion Perkins’s Mother and Child – Tess Korobkin, University of Maryland, College Park
- Perceptual Drift: Hank Willis Thomas’s Blow the Man Down and Romare Bearden’s Cotton – Key Jo Lee, Cleveland Museum of Art
The Lunder Institute Research Fellows program was funded, in part, by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Research Symposium was cosponsored by the Colby College Museum of Art, the Department of Art, the American Studies Program, and the African American Studies Program at Colby College.
The archived symposium proceedings are dedicated to the memory of David C. Driskell (1931–2020) in recognition of his groundbreaking scholarship in the field of American art and his extraordinary contributions as a teacher, curator, and artist.
A digital event program, including abstracts and presenter bios, is available for download here.
Image: David Clyde Driskell, Of Thee I Weep, 1968. Acrylic and collage on fiberboard, 12 x 11 3/4 in. (30 x 30 cm). Colby College Museum of Art purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund. Accession Number: 2018.012