- Reading the Art of DC-MD
The notes that follow might serve, I hope, as a kind of preface to the four issues of Callaloo• Art that are devoted to the visual art produced by native-born Washingtonians, Marylanders, and other persons living in southern Maryland, including Baltimore, and in the District of Columbia. Originally, I had planned to cover this subject in two different installments of Callaloo • Art, an annual publication. However, not long after the publication of the 2015 issue devoted to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and to contemporary art of the DC-MD region, I discovered that only one more single issue could not accommodate my plans. That is, my hope to represent significant persons, events, and circumstances that occasioned or informed the production of extraordinary African American art for fifty or more years was thwarted when I began to realize that one issue of Callaloo • Art could not, in any way, contain my "grand design." How could an important but long-neglected subject be adequately introduced in a 200 to 300-page journal publication? How could a sampling of the work of more than thirty artists—along with biographical notes and photographs, selective interviews, critical notes, articles, etc., forced into a limited space—do justice to eighty years of twentieth-century visual art produced by natives of and new-comers to the region? That such a project would demand more space did not, however, come as a surprise to me. Hence four installments (2015, 2016, 2017, & 2018) for this DC-MD focused visual art project.
Let us make clear that these installments of Callaloo • Art are not offered as a definitive history of the African American visual art of DC-MD. Instead this project is intended simply as an introduction to a very significant but unexamined past: the dramatic rise and development of the vision of a Howard University architecture professor, James V. Herring, a native of Clio, South Carolina, who dared to campaign for and found the Department of Art at Howard in 1922. What resulted was not only the establishment of a department, but also the creation of the first academic space in racially segregated North America where aspiring African Americans and other people of color around the world could be educated to become visual artists, art historians, curators, art critics, and teachers in related professions. In other words, my not-so-subtle aim here is two-fold: to encourage the production of intellectual, social, and political histories on the roles that Howard University, Barnett-Aden Gallery, and communities in the District and Maryland played in developing and expanding the scope of American art, especially that produced by African American artists; and to look back and critically examine the aesthetics and the work of different artists (and that of their colleagues), lost or revered. Morever, the 2016 issue of Callaloo • Art will not only publish critical and history-based readings of the artistic, cultural, intellectual, political, and social landscapes against which contemporary artists and intellectuals worked. In addition to providing articles and interviews as critical readings of the place and time during which these artists produced their work, this issue of Callaloo • Art is an introductory anthology, presenting images of selected work by DC-MD artists who created various forms of art between the 1920s and, some few, into the 1960s and 1970s. James V. Herring, James A. Porter, Loïs Mailou Jones, James L. Wells, Alma Woodsey Thomas, Elizabeth Catlett, Joshua Johnson, and Delilah W. Pierce—these are the artists whose profiles and portfolios we intend simply to introduce the subject. The intention here is to offer the reader a survey of some of the artists and educators [End Page 979] who taught a number of the artists, educators, curators, and fine arts administrators of the next generation, the focus of the third issue of Callaloo • Art (fall 2017); the issue which follows (fall 2018) will conclude the DC-MD project.
Our aim is simple: it is my hope that many of the art historians and theorists among us will begin to read critically the oscillating aesthetics and subject selections of these visual artists, as...