Two Works of African-American Art Arrive at the White House
Find out which artists the Obamas chose for the nation's most prestigious art collection.
Buying an Elizabeth Catlett sculpture turned Helen Forbes-Fields and her husband, Darrell, into collectors in 1986. They then gravitated to the Cleveland's black-owned Malcolm Brown Gallery and decided to focus on early black masters. Before long they acquired a sculpture by Selma Burke, and today they own about 40 first-rate works.
"Collectors don't so much think in terms of good and bad times to buy," Forbes-Fields says. "I bought that first Catlett on layaway. Maybe I can't afford a William H. Johnson, but there may be a young artist that I can."
A Buzz About African American Art
Kinshasha Holman Conwill, deputy director of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, is optimistic about the trend. She cites increased interest in black art among mainstream museums and collectors. For example, retrospective shows have been held, respectively, of the work of lyrical abstractionist and color field painter Sam Gilliam in 2005 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and sculptor Martin Puryear at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2007. "I believe African-American art will only become more appreciated and valued in the years to come," says Conwill.
As director of the Studio Museum in Harlem in the 1970s, she recalls that there was a course called "The Fine Art of Collecting." "It's really not that mysterious," she says. "It's a way of becoming a good cultural citizen. You get so much back living with art that you love. What would happen to museums if not for the passion, foresight and generosity of collectors?"
Valerie Gladstone, who writes about the arts for many publications, including The New York Times, recently co-authored a children's book with Jose Ivey, A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student.