Jefferson City, MO–The Arts At Page Library – Online Exhibition Space presents a unique up close and personal exhibition featuring the photography of Berenice Abbott – a critically acclaimed photographer on December 19, 2016, on view until January 30, 2017. The Photography of Berenice Abbott, The Harlem Community Art Center, Changing New York will feature nearly 20 images taken by the artist during the Great Depression. In addition, the exhibition will feature public domain archival materials, including a book excerpt, a video documentary created by an independent artist, a cumulative report about the center by Gwendolyn Bennett, and posters from the Harlem Renaissance, Federal Arts Project (FAP). Berenice Abbott’s photography empowered people; she was coined with the adage, “Feminist Pioneer of NYC Photography” and “The Photographer of New York” by her peers.
Born in 1898 in Springfield, Ohio, Berenice Abbott was one of the first American photographers to have the opportunity to document the Great Depression as an artist project supervisor for the Federal Art Project (FAP). The artist’s journey began at the University of Ohio, where she studied theater and sculpture. She left the university in 1918 to pursue her full-time career as an artist. In 1921, she sailed to France and lived abroad for two years, where she was hired to work for the famous French photographer Man Ray, as his darkroom assistant. Thereafter, she branched out on her own, and in 1929, Berenice Abbott moved back to New York and began producing a photo project, Changing New York, hired by the Federal Art Project to complete the documentary. The photographer captured a segment about black life and the community arts in Harlem, New York in her body of work.
Berenice Abbott’s work focused mainly on urban architecture; she produced 305 images for the photo documentary project. Her methodology regarding the project included it being a sociological study embedded within the modernist aesthetic process. The artist wanted to capture three things in her photos: the diverse people of the city, the places they lived, worked, and played and daily activities. Her images of Harlem, New York take the audience on an intricate journey depicting African American life during the Great Depression and as a community of artistic dwellers. The Harlem Community Arts Center was a federally funded community center, sponsored by the Federal Arts Project (FAP), led first by Augusta Savage, and Gwendolyn Bennett assumed the role afterward.
The idea to start the Harlem Community Art Center formed amongst African American group members of the Harlem Arts Guild. Their mission was to provide a community space free to all, making art instruction accessible – art central to the community. From 1937-1942 the community arts center collaborated with the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library on community workshops and with the Harlem YMCA, where they offered free art classes. Artists who taught or studied at the center include Charles Alston, Henry Bannarn, Romare Bearden, Selma Burke, Ernest Crichlow, Aaron Douglas, Elton Fax, Sargent Johnson, William Henry Johnson, Langston Hughes, Ronald Joseph, Robert Blackburn, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, and Claude McKay. According to Wikipedia, “The Harlem Community Art Center had a multiethnic faculty and a diverse student population was also diverse. Students ranged from established Harlem artists to children from New York psychiatric hospitals who benefitted from creative activities.”
Each photo taken by Berenice Abbott regarding the cultural arts renaissance at the center features a young student working in his or her medium in that moment. All of her images show strong contrasts and dramatic angles.
The Photography of Berenice Abbott, The Harlem Community Art Center, Changing New York is an impressive body of work that provides the audience with an opportunity to go back in time and view young artists in training during a major African American cultural arts movement. In addition, the photographer went to the streets of Harlem, where she captured photos about African American life on an average day. There are enough images and archival materials to keep art enthusiasts, photographers, and the like engaged for days.
Highlights of the exhibition include, an exclusive cumulative report entitled, The Harlem Community Art Center, by Gwendolyn Bennett, Director from 1938-1941, of the Harlem Community Art Center.
A bonus of the show, download a vintage Harlem Community Art Center (FAP) poster – free without restrictions.
This exhibition is organized by The Arts At Page Library and supported by the New York Public Library Domain.
View Online: December 19, 2016, thru January 30, 2017
Part 1: Acts of Seated Experience Online Exhibition—Join The Arts At Page Library for an exclusive look at African American artwork by artists that participated in the Federal Art Project, the visual arm of the Great Depression-era The Works Progress Administration that lasted from 1935-1943. It was created to help artists with relief who were suffering during the Great Depression. These artists were from various backgrounds in the visual arts with different skill levels. Funded under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, The Federal Art Project operated from August 29, 1935, until June 30, 1943. The Federal Art Project became a cultural and educational network for African American artists, writers, literary gurus, and scholars.
The majority of artists given assignments or jobs were from the northern region of the United States. The African American Registry states on its website, “An editorial in Opportunity Magazine in 1939 credited the WPA in northern cities with giving qualified Blacks their first chance at employment in white-collar positions. Alain Locke, an early chronicler of the Harlem Renaissance, attributed its survival during the 1930’s to the WPA. The WPA also funded Black acting troupes. The Negro Theatre Project staged Walk Together Chillun by Frank Wilson at the Lafayette Theatre through the WPA.”
The Arts At Page Library Coordinator researched numerous art pieces through the New York Public Library’s Public Domain Collection and works featured in this exhibition have been selected for the first time to be shown to the general public by an arts institution or library. Part 1: Acts of Seated Experience pays homage to the Federal Art Project artists that received little to no exposure or notoriety as contributors to the art world when they were alive. Each piece tells a story without words, they draw you in and provide you with the opportunity to step back in time and become engaged with history.
Part 1: Acts of Seated Experience will go on view beginning September 22 thru November 30, 2016 | View Online Exhibit