All posts in “Martin Luther King Jr Day”

Object of the Week: Veronica Smith, Phillip Hunter Jr., and Kent Carrington, at the City of St. Jude staging area, March 25th, 1965

The concepts contained in words like ‘freedom’, ‘justice’, ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.

– James Baldwin, “The Crusade of Indignation,” The Nation, July 7, 1956

This black and white photograph, taken by photojournalist Dan Budnick in 1965, is one of a series that Budnick had hoped to publish in a Life magazine photo-essay. Taken during critical events of the civil rights movement, the photographic series captures such moments as the 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools, the 1963 March on Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech delivered that same day.

This image in particular depicts three young activists—Veronica Smith, Phillip Hunter, Jr., and Kent Carrington—holding the American flag while participating in the famous five-day march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Led by Dr. King, the march protested the discriminatory laws suppressing black voters’ rights in the South and would eventually lead to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Stoic, calm, and courageous, Smith, Hunter, and Carrington are engulfed in a sea of stars and stripes—symbols of the freedom and equality for which they were fighting. The flags, acting as a visual barrier separating them from their fellow marchers, can perhaps be read as a metaphor for the segregation these activists sought to end.

While the civil rights movement often conjures struggles faced in the past, Dr. King’s call for racial equity, social justice, and religious tolerance is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. Progress has no doubt been made since the 1960s, but it is also important to acknowledge that the fight against racism—in all its insidious and systemic forms—is not a past but current event. Many of us will celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by observing his birthday on Monday, January 15, but our individual efforts to achieve equal rights—for all marginalized communities—is an ongoing project that transcends a single day.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Veronica Smith, Phillip Hunter Jr., and Kent Carrington, at the City of St. Jude staging area, March 25th, 1965, 1965, Dan Budnik, Gelatin silver photograph, 14 x 11 in., Gift of Getty Images, 2000.43, © Artist or Artist’s Estate
Share

Object of the Week: Gwendolyn Knight

When Jacob Lawrence was just a teenager in Harlem beginning to explore visual art as a way of commenting on the world around him, a local art teacher walked him straight into the local offices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to apply for an art project. The boy was too young, they were told, but he would be welcome to re-apply when he met the age requirement. Lawrence himself all but forgot about that invitation. His teacher, though, made sure he followed through, and one imagines the two were almost equally excited when Lawrence secured a project—his first paying art job, painting in the easel division of the Federal Arts Project.

The teacher was Augusta Savage, a well-known sculptor who had studied in Europe and in New York City, with Hermon MacNeil of the National Sculpture Society, among others. Her name carried a large amount of respect in the art community of Harlem, because she had talent and because she had settled back among her people after gaining education and exposure. She achieved a “professional” status that made her the admiration of students and local artists. There were moments in Savage’s career when her skill and grit brought financial and critical success: She earned commissions for portraits of race activists W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey, and also for a monumental piece displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

"Gwendolyn Knight" by Augusta Savage

Partly by her choice, and partly for the difficulty of her time, which was marked by economic depression and racial discrimination, Augusta Savage’s legacy would be her students. Through her Harlem Art Workshop, affiliated with the State University of New York, Savage directed one of the largest free art instruction programs in New York City. Her efforts earned her an appointment as director of the Harlem Community Art Center, supported by the WPA. Through these programs, Savage’s Harlem students were offered a rare technical training and art education.

Savage once said “I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting”—and we might debate her on this point—“but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.” We can safely say she accomplished what she set out to do: Jacob Lawrence, for one, listed her first among the people who encouraged him as a young artist. We might also like to thank Augusta for bringing together, through her studio, Jacob and the woman who would become his wife and muse, Gwendolyn Knight. It might have been Gwen’s sense of self-assuredness that inspired Augusta to create the memorable portrait we are looking at today.

Newspaper clipping featuring "Gwendolyn Knight" by Augusta Savage

SAM’s painted plaster portrait of Gwendolyn Knight perfectly illustrates Augusta Savage’s devotion to Gwen and all of her students. Masterfully made, it captures the nuances of Gwen’s facial features and exudes the grace and dignity for which the subject was known. Savage’s training in classical realism shines through in the portrait. It’s moving to consider that Savage had shown her work in such a hallowed space as the Grand Palais in Paris, but she debuted this portrait of Gwendolyn Knight in an exhibition of student work, held at the Harlem Y.W.C.A. in February, 1935. Not only that, but it was cast in fragile plaster and then painted; with few exceptions, Savage never had the funds to cast her works in lasting, costly bronze.

The students’ art at the 1935 Y.W.C.A. show, like Savage’s, drew on the culture and experiences of African Americans. It was a celebration of their solidarity. Augusta Savage’s lasting achievement was to create a place where aspiring artists could learn the skills of their craft while proudly exploring who they were, where they could be built up and encouraged, and made to believe in their value. Hers is a legacy worth considering as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this weekend.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Gwendolyn Knight, 1934-1935, Augusta Savage (born Green Cove Springs, Florida, 1892; died New York City, 1962), painted plaster, 18 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 9 in. Gift of Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, 2006.86, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Gwendolyn Knight detail, Photo: Natali Wiseman. “Negro Students Hold Their Own Art Exhibition,” New York Herald Tribune, February 15, 1935, Reproduced from the Collections of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
Share

Honor MLK at Art & Social Justice Tours

SAM is celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. with a week of spotlight tours, focusing on works on view in the galleries that relate to themes of race and social justice. We invite you to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy here at SAM.

Visit the galleries at noon today through Monday to participate in a different tour each day, led by members of SAM’s curatorial and educational staff:

Jan 13: Carrie Dedon, Modern and Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant & David Rue, Education and Curatorial Intern

Jan 14: Marcus Ramirez, Coordinator for Education & Public Programs, and Lindsay Huse Kestin, Museum Educator for Teen, Family & Community Programs

Jan 15: Jeffrey Carlson, Collections Coordinator

Jan 16: Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Jan 18: Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

All tours are free and open to all. Participants will need to purchase a gallery ticket, but no special exhibition ticket is required. We invite you to join the conversation.

Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Martin Luther King, Jr. (left) and Eslanda Goode Robeson (right).” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 13, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/a7d0e925-f8b7-eff6-e040-e00a18060357
Share

SAM Art: Celebrate MLK with SAM

Martin Luther King, 2003, Ross Palmer Beecher, American, born 1957, mixed media, 21 ½ x 10 ½ x 3 ½ in., Mark Tobey Estate Fund, 2003.62, © Ross Palmer Beecher.

Martin Luther King, 2003, Ross Palmer Beecher, American, born 1957, mixed media, 21 ½ x 10 ½ x 3 ½ in., Mark Tobey Estate Fund, 2003.62, © Ross Palmer Beecher.

On Monday, we mark the 30th Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We invite you to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy with SAM.

Visit our galleries every day through Monday—installations currently on view include works that explore what it means to fight for your rights, what it means to write your own history, what it means to dream, and what it means to be an American.

SAM staff members lead special tours on the theme of social justice every day through Monday. Please join us!

Share
Share