- Two Galleries, Engaging Art, Great Talents, and Challenging MindsThe Howard University Gallery of Art, the Little Paris Group, and the Barnett-Aden Gallery
In December of 2008, Janet Gail Abbott submitted a 219-page text entitled The Barnett Aden Gallery: A Home for Diversity in a Segregated City as her final requirement for the PhD degree at Pennsylvania State University. Whether her professors and her fellow graduate students fully understood or acknowledged the importance of what Janet Abbott had done, we do not know; however, we, her readers, know that what Abbott offers in The Barnett Aden Gallery is invaluable information on and judicious commentary on a long-ignored period in American art history. While recreating major moments in the founding and services of the first privately-owned gallery by African Americans, Abbott also discusses for us the importance of the gallery for the lives and careers of both black and white artists in and beyond its immediate racially segregated location, Washington, DC, the nation's capital. Abbott's research not only helps us to review the past, but also demonstrates how individual courage, perseverance, and dedication to a project that supports what is positive for all people—regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or national origin—can bring changes for the good of individuals and the nation. Defying and subverting the Jim Crow laws of the nation's capital, the Barnett-Aden Gallery, however small its site and particular its services, we now know was such an institution, which made an indelible impact on the lives and careers of individual artists, black and white alike. Through its inclusiveness, its high standards, its equal treatment of its participating artists, and its diverse visitors, the Barnett-Aden Gallery, as Janet Abbott demonstrates, was a living model of what was possible in the larger social, political, and cultural lives within Washington, DC, and across the United States of America.
Before we move ahead of ourselves, allow me to turn back to look at two other institutions which served the good of Washington, DC, and, ultimately, America at large. I am thinking about the Howard University Gallery of Art and the Little Paris Group—both of which provided important new services for black people in DC and its environs. These needed services were available across the USA for white people, but, by Jim Crow laws and white racist practices or customs, were not likewise granted to African Americans across the USA.
Many of us here in the twenty-first century know that Washington, DC, and Maryland were important sites that contributed immensely to the development, preservation, and promotion of American art, but very few of us have written about how African American artists, educators, collectors, promoters, and institutions in the same location were equally important in that American cultural development. Of DC, for example, too many "serious art critics and art historians" blindly assume that the only engaging and productive visual arts activities were those staged and directed by the 1950s group called the Washington Color School, founded and operated by a group of white men. As this special focus of Callaloo • Art attempts to demonstrate, three other institutions, which preceded the Washington Color School by at least three decades, were African American establishments. And these three [End Page 1163] intellectual entities were in origin, development, and service interrelated, yet different in the particularities of their purposes and services.
The three institutions I refer to here are the Howard University Gallery of Art, founded in 1928, along with its Department of Art, which was founded in 1921 and chaired by James V. Herring; the Barnett-Aden Gallery, founded in 1947, in the private home of two life-long partners, James V. Herring and Alonzo Aden; and the short-lived but very important "workshop" called the Little Paris Group that served artists employed in federal government jobs and, especially, teachers who taught art in the DC public schools. The Little Paris Group of local practicing artists was founded in the private studio of artist Loïs Mailou Jones in 1948. Each of these three important institutions, including Howard University (1867) itself, operated against the backdrop of a racially...