The Peter Norton Family Foundation donated a collection of works by artists across the African Diaspora in honor President Emerita Beverly Daniel Tatum’s tenure as the ninth president of Spelman College. The artists whose works are 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 Franklin Delano Roosevelt which would inspire his image on the dime. Although United States Mint’s chief engraver John Sinnock’s initials are on the dime, it is important to note that the image of Roosevelt is similar to Burke’s work. Burke also created portrait busts of luminaries Mary McLeod Bethune and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1995, Selma Burke bequeathed her personal papers as well as a significant collection of her works of art, including 12 bronze, marble, and wood sculptures and plaster studies for her design for the portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 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 dating 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. Their quilts were sold to department stores and provided income. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend have garnered international acclaim for their improvisational designs, ingenuity, and their uncanny similarity to modern art works. 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 23 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 the ancestors.
Beverly Buchanan (American, 1940–2015) examined southern vernacular architecture in her vibrant and expressive sculpture, paintings and photographs. Throughout her formative years, she often accompanied her father, 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 has created works from community sourced materials that are socially conscious, and celebrates the character, richness, and vibrancy of the people, homes and places she encountered in her early years. Spelman’s collection, primarily gifts from Lucinda and Robert Bunnen and Ruth Shack, includes assemblages, sculpture, photography, works on paper and represents several phases of the artist’s career.
To honor its unique mission to highlight works by and about women of the African Diaspora, the Museum launched the 15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative in 2011, an initiative to purchase fifteen important works of art in celebration of its 15th 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 who were on the Museum’s Wish List: 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 & Jacqueline Tarry, Nandipha Mntambo, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems. Each of these artists—many whose works have been featured in exhibitions that the Museum has originated—contributes to the field of visual art in tangible ways and consistently demonstrate a commitment to expanding their artistic practice. The Museum is actively working to acquire works by Howardena Pindell and Lorraine O’Grady who were on the original 15 x 15 Wish List. This initiative continues the trajectory of 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). The Museum now has works by Amalia Amaki, iona rozeal brown, Ingrid Mwangi Robert Hutter, Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, Nandipha Mntambo, and Nancy Elizabeth Prophet. The commitment to acquiring works, which were featured in original exhibitions in many ways inspired the 15 x 15 Acquisitions Initiative.
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. The College acquired works by artists Emma Amos, Betty Blayton, Elizabeth Catlett, Laurie Ourlicht, Lucille Malkia Roberts, Stephanie Pogue, Betye Saar, and Claudia Widdis during that time.
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 AUC students. The AUC Coordinated Art Program hosted an artist-in-residence program that was spearheaded by Hans Bhalla, an alumnus of Talladega College, who served as chair of the Spelman College Department of Art from 1967 to 1979. The extensive roster of artists-in-residence included Herman “Kofi” Bailey, Floyd Coleman, Sam Gilliam, Lloyd McNeil, and Freddie Styles. The works by artists James Adair, Edna Manley, and Barrington Watson, in addition to the aforementioned artists-in-residence were acquired by the College.
Hale Woodruff (1900–1980) was an artist and art educator who is renowned for his body of works that captured African American experiences. Woodruff’s legacy is particular importance to Spelman College is because of his leadership 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 options for access to instruction and other opportunities. Woodruff also had a significant impact on the New York School of Abstraction. His works are in collections at several universities and museums, and his papers are held at the Amistad Research Center, Archives of American Art and the Library of Congress. The Spelman collection includes key holdings: one of the most celebrated works from the Celestial Gate series and a well-known series of linocuts. Spelman College values its role as a repository for Woodruff’s that are of art historical significance and exemplify several phases of the artist’s extensive career.