Art for America’s sake
public resource that would educate and engage others to appreciate and collect art,” said Annie Segan, a scholar and oral historian.
Their collecting was casual and eclectic at first, but eventually they decided to focus on work by African-American artists whom they noticed were underrepresented in the museum and gallery exhibitions they frequented.
Each artwork is reproduced in full color. Among the artists are several prominent in the art historical canon, including Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Elizabeth Catlett, whom Mrs. Hewitt met while on assignment in Mexico with the Rockefeller Foundation.
Others are less known in the larger art world, a status the Hewitts hoped would correct as exposure “instilled” a love of art in viewers and “inspired” a passion to collect.
Vivian Ann Davidson was born in New Castle, Lawrence County, in 1920. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Geneva College and a master’s in library science from the Carnegie Library School, then affiliated with Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), and later assumed by the University of Pittsburgh.
Ms. Davidson was the first African-American librarian employed by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She was faculty at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) when she met John Hewitt, who was humanities dean and English professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Mr. Hewitt was born in 1924 into a middle class family in Renaissance Harlem. After two years at Harvard, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University.
The book outlines the couple’s rich cultural life and includes reflections by three other influential collector couples including Nancy and Milton Washington of Pittsburgh.
A thorough and insightful essay by Grace Stanislaus, director of the National Black Arts Festival, establishes the significance of the Hewitts’ contribution — and that of African-American artists in general —– within the context of American cultural, art and political history.
Missing are artist biographies, and one wishes for more about the couple’s engagement with a rich cultural scene that operated outside the mainstream. A timeline would be informative as well as an index, an aid that appears to be going the way of the passenger pigeon even at academic presses.
The book isn’t the definitive work on the Hewitt collection, but it is a major step toward ensuring the legacy of the artists presented and toward encouraging additional research and collecting. As such, it also honors the Hewitts’ legacy.