Through focused efforts that fostered a series of generous gifts and important purchases, the Philadelphia Museum of Art increased its collection of works of art on paper by African American artists by more than one-third during the 1990s. An Exuberant Bounty: Prints and Drawings by African Americans, on view in the Museum's Berman Gallery from February 5 through April 16, 2000, will present a chronological survey of some 70 pieces selected from the Museum's holdings of over 200 works of art on paper by 20th-century African Americans.
To illustrate the collection's beginnings, Exuberant Bounty will include the Museum's earliest acquisitions in this area: five spectacular watercolors by the Philadelphia-based artist Sam Brown (1907-94), which were received in 1934 on deposit from the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. The Museum and its staff, including the director Fiske Kimball, took an active role in WPA efforts in Philadelphia. Kimball admired Brown, and selected his work for the Museum.
A significant number of works in the Museum's collection are by artists born or active in Philadelphia. Prints and drawings by contemporary artists Charles Burwell, Quentin Morris, Howardena Pindell, and Charles Searles will be joined by earlier work by locally based creative pioneers such as Humbert Howard (1915-90), Raymond Steth (1917-97), and Dox Thrash (1892-1965). A stunning group of vigorously drafted, representational pencil-drawings by the late Philadelphia artist Ellen Powell Tiberino (1937-1992) will be shown, two of which have never before been exhibited: Ethiopian Dancer (c. 1976), and Farewell to Uncle Cliff (c. 1973). A selection of prints produced at Philadelphia's Brandywine Workshop includes work by John Biggers, Margo Humphrey and Alvin Loving.
Exuberant Bounty showcases many recent acquisitions of both early and contemporary work. Two rare watercolors from the 1940s by Romare Bearden (1914-88) will be shown for the first time, as will prints and drawings from the 1940s and 1950s by Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White (1918-79), and John Wilson.
Also featured in the exhibition are important works by established contemporary artists. A luminous, symbol-laden field bordered with dime-store trinkets, Betye Saar's Ball of Fire (1985) suggests both African cultural inheritance and relations between the sexes. Lorna Simpson's Counting (1986) links words and images to evoke the experiences of contemporary African American women. The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles (1996) by Faith Ringgold, based upon a series of her celebrated quilts, is the artist's first editioned print. Among the most recent acquisitions in Exuberant Bounty are a watercolor with computer-generated imagery by John Dowell, and a linocut by the Baltimore printmaker Juan Logan (both 1998). Several adventurous acquisitions of contemporary art, including works by Betye Saar, Alison Saar and Willie Cole featured in Exuberant Bounty, were made possible by a series of grants from the Hunt Corporation.
The exhibition is organized by Innis Howe Shoemaker, the Audrey and William H. Helfand Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.