In 2016, the Peter Norton Family Foundation donated a collection of works by artists from across the African Diaspora in honor of President Emerita Bevery Daniel Tatum’s tenure as the ninth president of Spelman College. Artists whose works were included in this gift include Sonia Boyce (British Afro-Caribbean, born 1962), Isaac Julien (British, born 1960), Glenn Ligon (American, born 1960), Hew Locke (British, born 1959), Chris Ofili (British, born 1968), Adrian Piper (American, born 1948), Lorna Simpson (American, born 1960), and Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953).
Selma Burke (American, 1900 – 1995) was an accomplished artist, artist’s model, arts administrator, educator, and nurse. In 1988, Spelman College awarded Burke with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. She maintained a long relationship with the College
, and frequently interacted with administration, faculty, and students. Burke is perhaps best known for creating the bronze plaque of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that inspired his image on the dime. Although the initials of John Sinnock, the United States Mint’s chief engraver, appear on the dime, it is important to note that the image of Roosevelt is strikingly similar to Burke’s work. Burke also created portrait busts of luminaries such as Mary McLeod Bethune and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1995, Selma Burke bequeathed her personal papers, as well as a significant collection of artworks—including twelve bronze, marble, and wooden sculptures and plaster studies for her design of Roosevelt’s portrait—to the College.
Gee’s Bend is a small, remote Black community in Boykin, Alabama. The women quilters of Gee’s Bend have created quilts from the early twentieth century to the present. The public first became aware of their work when they participated in the Freedom Quilting Bee cooperative, established in 1966. The quilts of Gee’s Bend have garnered international acclaim for their improvisational designs, ingenuity, and their uncanny similarity to modernist artworks. The Museum is grateful to the Souls Grown Deep Foundation for this gift and honored to have works by artists Louisiana Bendolph, Mary Lee Bendolph, Bettie Bendolph Seltzer, Polly Bennett, Willie Ann Benning, Flora Moore, and Ruth Pettway Moseley in the Collection.
Gale and William Simmons have promised a rich selection of twenty-three works from their extensive collection of African ceramics to Spelman College. Created by women who reside throughout the continent, from Burkina Faso to Mozambique, the diverse group of pots exemplifies beauty, talent, and tradition. Throughout Africa, ceramics serve utilitarian and ceremonial purposes. The clay containers are a central part of life and serve a variety of functions: cooking; storing food, beer and other fermented beverages, water, or medicines; and evoking the presence of ancestors.
Beverly Buchanan (American, 1940 – 2015) examined Southern vernacular architecture in her vibrant and expressive sculptures, paintings, and photographs. Throughout her formative years, she often accompanied her great-uncle, who served as the Dean of the School of Agriculture at South Carolina State College, as he visited farmers and sharecroppers throughout South Carolina. Buchanan began a career in medicine but attended the Art Students League in New York in 1971 under the tutelage of the renowned abstract expressionist painter Norman Lewis and was further inspired by her mentor Romare Bearden. In 1977, when Buchanan decided to pursue art exclusively, it was evident that the humble dwellings and rural landscapes she saw in her youth inspired her. Throughout her illustrious career, Buchanan created works from community-sourced materials that celebrated the character, richness, and vibrancy of the people, homes, and places she encountered in her early years. Spelman’s collection of works by Buchanan, primarily gifts from Lucinda and Robert Bunnen and Ruth Shack, includes assemblages, sculptures, photography, and works on paper, representing several phases of the artist’s career.
To honor its unique mission to highlight artworks by and about women of the African Diaspora, in 2011 the Museum launched the 15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative, an initiative to purchase fifteen important works of art in celebration of its fifteenth anniversary. This project enriched and expanded Spelman College’s permanent collection. An anonymous gift, coupled with the help and generosity of donors, enabled the Museum to acquire works by the following artists: Sheila Pree Bright, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Renée Cox, Lalla Essaydi, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Myra Greene, Ingrid Mwangi, Robert Hutter, Lauren Kelley, Marcia Kure, Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, Nandipha Mntambo, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems. Each of these artists—many whose works have been featured in exhibitions organized by the Museum—contributes to the field of visual art in tangible ways and consistently demonstrates a commitment to expanding their artistic practice. The Museum is actively working to acquire works by Howardena Pindell and Lorraine O’Grady, two artists who were on the original 15 x 15 wish list. This initiative further extends the trajectory of a growing a mission-focused permanent collection.
To honor its unique mission to highlight works by and about women of the African Diaspora, the Museum acquires a significant work from each exhibition it organizes. Many of the Museum’s recent acquisitions have been made possible through the generosity of donors and Friends of the Museum. Such support enabled the Museum to acquire works of art from the exhibitions iona rozeal brown: a3. . .black on both sides (2004); Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons, and the Blues (2006); Hale Woodruff, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, and the Academy (2007), Cinema Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970 (2007), Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities (2009), and IngridMwangiRobertHutter: Constant Triumph (2011). These exhibition-related acquisitions include works by Amalia Amaki, iona rozeal brown, Ingrid Mwangi Robert Hutter, Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, Nandipha Mntambo, and Nancy Elizabeth Prophet. The Museum’s commitment to acquiring works featured in original exhibitions led, in many ways, to the the 15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative launched in 2011.
Donald Stewart, the sixth president of Spelman College, made it a priority to uplift Black women’s talents and capabilities in a variety of fields and facilitated the acquisition of works by Black women artists for the College’s permanent holdings. In 1983, he raised funds to purchase several contemporary works by Black women artists and positioned the College as an institution where objects by and about women of the African Diaspora would be accessible, exhibited, and regularly discussed. During this period, the College acquired works by artists such as Emma Amos, Betty Blayton-Taylor, Elizabeth Catlett, Laurie Ourlicht, Lucille Malkia Roberts, Stephanie Pogue, Betye Saar, and Claudia Widdis.
African art comprises a significant portion of the Spelman collection. This seed was planted when Mabel Murphy Smythe-Haith (1918–2006) gifted her collection of African art to the College. Smythe-Haith was a Spelman alumna and Trustee Emerita, the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and a civil rights advocate. In 1979, Spelman President Donald M. Stewart invited her to teach an African issues seminar. Her gift is further augmented by donations from Drs. William and Jane Bertrand (1990), Mr. and Mrs. Gerard Nordman (1988), John and Carolyn Stremlau (1988), and Dobbs and Michelle Jordan (2009) to amass a core of over 200 traditional works of African art.
The Atlanta University Center (AUC) Coordinated Art Program offered an enhanced and diverse arts curriculum to students across the consortium, providing instruction in art education, art history, ceramics, design, drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, weaving, and other media. The program also hosted an artist-in-residence program spearheaded by Talladega College alumnus Hans Bhalla, who served as chair of the Spelman College Department of Art from 1967 to 1979. The extensive roster of artists-in-residence whose artworks are represented in the College’s collection include Benny Andrews, Herman “Kofi” Bailey, Floyd Coleman, Sam Gilliam, and Barrington Watson, among others.
Hale Woodruff (American, 1900–1980) was an artist and art educator who is renowned for works that capture African American experiences. Woodruff’s legacy is particularly important to Spelman College because of his role in positioning the Atlanta University Center as the premier site in the southeast for art instruction for African Americans at a time when segregationist policies limited their access to instruction and other artistic opportunities. Woodruff also had a significant impact on the New York School and the development of abstract expressionism. His works are held in collections at several universities and museums, and his papers are held at the Amistad Research Center (New Orleans) and the Archives of American Art and the Library of Congress (both located in Washington, D.C.). The Spelman Collection includes key holdings by Woodruff, including one of the most celebrated works from his Celestial Gate series and a well-known series of linocuts depicting the buildings of the Atlanta University Center.