El Dorado News-Times
Black history on display at UCA’s Baum Gallery
CONWAY — It’s apt that an art exhibit during Black History Month would include 16 paintings described as “works by four historic African-American painters dating back to the 19th century.”
Those long-ago artists did mostly landscapes and still-life tableaux. Their paintings fill the first of three rooms showing “Source of Light: The Hearne Collection,” in Baum Gallery at the University of Central Arkansas through Feb. 24. Their art flowed in the stylistic mainstream, during a long era when Black Americans in most endeavors were relegated to outsider status. That was even more the case in the Jim Crow South.
The second gallery, the largest Baum exhibit space, displays a cornucopia of 48 paintings and 18 sculptures. Part of Garbo and Archie Hearnes’ private collection, these works include many from artists represented by the couple’s widely admired Hearne Fine Arts gallery in Little Rock. The Hearnes served as the show’s curators, along with Brian Young, director of Baum Gallery.
A smaller third gallery contains a dozen paintings by Louise Mandumbwa, a 2020 UCA graduate working toward her master’s degree at Yale. Born in the African nation of Botswana, she is described as aiming to humanize her subjects. In her 2017 “Of the Sun,” a young Black man’s face stands out from his white head wrapping.
Of the four pioneering Black artists on display, the earliest was Robert Scott Duncanson (1821-1872). Considered the first Black American professional painter, he studied in Europe in 1853 thanks to a grant from the Anti-Slavery League.
Edward Mitchell Bannister (18281901) was a prominent Rhode Island landscape artist. It created some controversy when one of his paintings won a first prize at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.
Charles Ethan Porter (1847-1923) raised $1,000 by auctioning off his work so he could travel to Paris, where there was less racial discrimination. After Porter’s funds ran out, Mark Twain donated money so he could continue studying in France.
Henry Ossana Tanner (1859-1937) became the first Black artist to be included in the White House permanent collection. He was honored in a 1996 ceremony led by President Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The 66 works in the largest gallery include oil paintings, pastels, watercolors and acrylics. There are sculptures in bronze, alabaster and clay. Other genres include photography, printmaking and fiber art.
Michael Hughes’ oil “American Beauty” uses overlaid words to make a point about the evolution of racial terms. In the foreground is “African-American,” which partly covers “Black,” behind which come “Negro” and then “Colored.”
Bronze sculptures crafted in 1990 by Ed Dwight offer partial images of two legendary musicians. His portrayal of Charlie “Bird” Parker shows just the saxophonist’s head and jacket lapels along with his signature instrument. “Eubie’s Boogie” includes only the long-fingered hands of ragtime virtuoso Eubie Blake poised on part of his piano keyboard.
A posting explains that the Hearnes, since opening their Little Rock gallery in 1988, “have embraced the idea that their relationship with art extended to their personal relationship with artists, the need to educate the public, and their desire to create a premier cultural hub for African-American art in Arkansas.”
That mission echoes through the three Baum galleries, stretching from the final decades of slavery in America to today’s panoply of Black artists working in an array of media and styles.