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Kelley Collection of African-American Art Displays Masterworks on Paper

Sharecropper by Elizabeth Catlett, 1952

Sharecropper by Elizabeth Catlett, 1952

The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art: Works on Paper
Amon Carter Museum| Through August 23, 2009

Wow! The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art: Works on Paper at the Amon Carter Museum is a small treasure. On display are 93 works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, which includes drawings, etchings, lithographs, watercolors, pastels, acrylics, gouaches, linoleum cuts and color silkscreens. The Amon Carter says the exhibit is only a small fraction of the Kelley’s enormous collection of African-American art. The Kelley Collection is on view till August 23, 2009.

As a printmaker myself, I have to admit my preference for linoleum cuts, silkscreens and etchings. Any person who can turn one good composition into numerous quality prints is not just an artist, but a talented entrepreneur. The Kelley Collection exhibits some very skilled printers, including Adams, Biggers, Brown and Wells to name a few.

The exhibit starts with the Toussaint L’ouverture Series (1986-97) of silkscreen prints by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000). These are large, impressive prints with strong colors and simplified designs. I am currently learning silkscreen printing, so these prints were of particular interest.

Pay Day by William E. Smith, 1941

Pay Day by William E. Smith, 1941

I especially enjoy linoleum cuts and Pay Day (1941) by William E. Smith (1913-97) is beautifully executed. Linoleum cuts or linocuts are pieces of linoleum sometimes attached to a wood backing that are carved with tools similar to wood cutting tools. A linoleum cut print is made by applying ink to the uncut surface and then pressed to paper. The skill for this process lies with the artist ability to draw in reverse with a cutting tool and then make a quality print. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Pay Day is of a smiling gentleman with a single piece of straw angled out of his mouth. It is a wonderful example of artistry. The lines are few but they portray all that is needed to make the image. The medium-sized print is a mostly solid black, which is hard to consistently achieve.

Sharecropper (1952) by Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915) is another wonderful linoleum print. But unlike Pay Day with very few lines, Sharecropper is full of cuts and is a much larger print. This print shows an African-American woman with a large straw hat and a coat held together by a safety-pin. The coat is dark, the undershirt is crisp white and the woman’s skin is beautifully toned a warm brown. You can feel the folds in the cloth, the texture of the straw hat and the character in the sharecropper’s face.

The Kelley Collection has other fine works on paper such as watercolors, pastels and drawings, but I usually gravitate toward the prints.

I was attracted to a large drawing, Trenton Six (1949) by Charles White (1918-1979), at the back of the gallery. At first glance this work resembles a lithograph or etching with all of the cross-hatching and shading. Upon closer inspection you can see all the detailed hand work made by graphite and ink. The Trenton Six have wide eyes and heavily shadowed features, which is reminiscent of Art Deco figures from the 1930s or Diego Rivera’s peasants. Either way, the people are skillfully shaped on a two-dimensional piece of paper.

The only missing piece from this exhibit was ambiance. The Amon Carter Museum is a great place to see art, especially because it is free, but the gallery housing the Kelley Collection lacks any dramatic lighting. It feels more like a civic center than a museum. Understandably, special lighting will cost the museum more, but exhibits like this are worth the expense.

I highly recommend visiting the Amon Carter Museum to see the The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art: Works on Paper.

Trenton Six by Charles White, 1949

Trenton Six by Charles White, 1949

About M. C. Roman

M. C. Roman, owner and managing editor of Dallas Art News, is a painter, printmaker and photographer. He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University. M. C.'s art can be viewed at michaelroman.com. Social media friends can find M. C. on Facebook at facebook.com/mcroman.

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