Jan. 26, 2004

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Contact: Susan Earle, Spencer Museum of Art, (785) 864-0144, earle@ku.edu; Bill Woodard, Spencer Museum of Art, (785) 864-0142.

Henry Luce Foundation awards Spencer museum at KU $100K to fund exhibition

LAWRENCE -- The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas has received a grant for $100,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation to support the exhibition and catalog "Aaron Douglas and the Harlem Renaissance."

Organized by Susan Earle, curator of European and American art at the Spencer museum, this exhibition will present the first retrospective of Douglas' work. It is scheduled to open in March 2006 and then to travel to three other museums. The accompanying catalog will include essays by Earle as well as outside scholars of the Harlem Renaissance. The Luce Foundation will be the primary sponsor for both the exhibition and catalog.

Born in Topeka, Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) was, in the words of Alain Locke, "the father of Black American art." At the visual center of the Harlem Renaissance, the period of African-American expressive culture in the 1920s and 1930s, Douglas became famous as a painter and muralist. He combined a modernist perspective with African and African-American images and symbols.

His influence, however, extended far beyond the Harlem Renaissance.

As an artist, illustrator, painter and muralist he established a new black aesthetic and vision. In addition, as a teacher -- from the elite, segregated Lincoln High School in Kansas City (1922-25) to his appointment in 1937 as founder and chair of the fine arts department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. -- Douglas trained generations of young African-American artists until his retirement in 1966.

The exhibition will include approximately 40 paintings and 25 works on paper. The fully illustrated scholarly catalog will provide a full assessment of Douglas' central significance to the Harlem Renaissance and the relationship of this work to American modernism.

The museum owns a self-portrait drawing by Douglas as well as a portfolio of six prints Douglas made in collaboration with Langston Hughes, the Lawrence-born poet. The balance of the exhibited works will be borrowed from museums, colleges and private collectors from around the country. Fisk University has provided continuing assistance on this project.

"As a major celebration of this important Kansas artist, the exhibition will have a powerful scholarly and educational impact both here and at the other exhibition sites," Earle said.

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