A Woman With a Vision
The images haunt and inspire. One work of art honors an African American soldier, who stands with his head bowed and eyes downcast. Another painting probes the emotional sting of racial segregation with a sign that reads “Whites Only.”
These are two of the poignant treasures found in the upcoming exhibition African American Visions: Selections from the Samella Lewis Collections, which will be on view at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery from September 1 through October 14. The exhibition is free to the public.
For the first time, this exhibition presents works from both the Samella Lewis Contemporary Art Collection at Scripps College and Samella Lewis’s personal collection. The exhibition features many of the most commanding African American artists of the 20th century, including Elizabeth Catlett, Richmond Barthé, John Biggers, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, John T. Scott, and Lewis.
Lewis, professor emerita of art at Scripps College, is an award-winning author, accomplished visual artist, and internationally recognized historian of African American and African art. Lewis was the College’s first African American tenured professor.
Mary MacNaughton, director of the Gallery and associate professor of art history at Scripps, says Lewis’s work has “long addressed issues of inequality and segregation.” In a 1999 interview with Richard Candida Smith for Image and Belief: Samella Lewis, Lewis says her life experiences have inspired her.
“In the forties,” Lewis explains, “art had to do…with my deep concern for the injustice that people were suffering all around me. And I, being black in New Orleans…suffered in an empathetic manner. I never had anybody brutalize me, but I have seen other people brutalized and treated in a manner that affected me.”
Lewis’s collection of African American art is extraordinary, as the artists she collected were not only leading figures, they were her colleagues and friends. African American Visions, which highlights some of her most important pieces, provides a rare opportunity to see this collection. In recognition of Samella Lewis’s long association with the College and her many contributions to the field of African American art, the Williamson Gallery is honored to display these works.
“This project also pays homage to Dr. Lewis’s legacy as an educator. From 1970 to 1984, she taught art history at Scripps, where she widened the curriculum beyond the traditional European focus to include courses in the history of Asian, African, and African American art,” MacNaughton says.
“Ultimately, Dr. Lewis’s paintings and prints affirm human dignity and convey her strength, kindness, and generosity of spirit,” MacNaughton says.
On September 22 from 7 to 9 p.m., the Gallery will host an opening reception for the exhibition. On the same day, from 4 to 5 p.m., a panel discussion, “Education through the Arts,” co-sponsored by the Gallery and the Clark Lecture Fund, will take place at the Performing Arts Center on the Scripps College campus. The events and the exhibition are free and open to the public.
More information may be found online or by calling (909)-607-4690.