The Baltimore Museum of Art is home to 95,000 works of art, including a small number by African American artists. It famously houses the Cone Collection of European modern art, built by two remarkable sisters from a local Jewish family in the early twentieth century. More exceptional still is its collection of African art and its extensive holdings in works on paper.
The first pieces by African American artists to enter the collection came under varied circumstances in the 1940s. Vivian Cook of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League organized the acquisitions of a water color painting by Dox Thrash in 1941 and one by Jacob Lawrence in 1946. The Federal Works Progress Administration gave the BMA prints by Samuel J. Brown, Sargent Johnson, Charles L. Sallee Jr. and Dox Thrash on long-term loan in 1943, part of a larger scale distribution of its holdings to public institutions. BMA Director Adelyn Breeskin orchestrated the purchase of three paintings by Haywood Bill Rivers in 1948.
Dox Thrash, Griffin Hills, 1940. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Presented to The Baltimore Museum of Art, November 14, 1941, on behalf of the colored citizens of Baltimore, through offices of the Art Committee of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League of Baltimore. The following persons contributed to the gift: Willard W. Allen; William Anderson; Courtland L. Brown; Marse O. Calloway; Mrs. R. Garland Chissell; Dr. John R. Coasey; Coppin Teachers College, Demonstration School; William B. Dixon; Dr. Mason A. Hawkins; Dr. I. Bradshaw Higgins; Dr. D.O.W. Holmes; Dr. Robert L. Jackson; Mr. and Mrs. J. Logan Jenkins, Jr.; Dr. Y. Henderson Kerr; Mollie L. Killion; Edward S. Lewis; William H. McAbee; George W. McMechen; Dr. and Mrs. George B. Murphy; Marion S. Pollett; Furman L. Templeton; Rev. C.J. Trigg; Lillian H. Trusty; Dr. H. Maceo Williams; Dr. Isaac H. Young., BMA 1942.35. © Estate of Dox Thrash. Image used with permission of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Jacob Lawrence. Lifeboat. 1945. Opaque watercolor over graphite. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of the Art Committee of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League, BMA 1946.135. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
A small spike in acquisitions in the 1970s was followed by a larger one in the 1990s.
James Lesesne Wells. Looking Upward. 1928, printed later. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Ruth and Jacob Kainen, Chevy Chase, Maryland, BMA 1992.151. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Hale Woodruff. African Headdress. c. 1931 1946, printed 1996. From the portfolio “Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1931 1946”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Auldlyn Higgins Williams and Ivan B. Higgins, Jr., M.D., in Memory of their Parents, Dr. I. Bradshaw Higgins and Hilda Moseley Higgins, BMA 1997.302. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Concerted efforts to build the collection in this area have grown since 2010, and it is a priority for Christopher Bedford, Director of the BMA since 2016.
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