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University Relations

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July 14, 2006
Contact: Bill Woodard, Spencer Museum of Art, (785) 864-0142.

KU art museum acquires major Aaron Douglas painting

The Founding of Chicago by Aaron Douglas

The Founding of Chicago by Aaron Douglas

LAWRENCE — The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas has announced the acquisition of “The Founding of Chicago,” a significant work by Aaron Douglas, an African-American artist from Kansas who went on to be the most important visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance.

The work was painted between 1930 and 1933. An allegorical representation of the role that African-Americans played in the economic and physical development of Chicago, the painting shows a laboring man and an enchained mother beholding an urban vista.

“I am thrilled by the addition of this important Aaron Douglas work to the Spencer museum collection,” said Chancellor Robert Hemenway, who is known for his biography of writer Zora Neale Hurston, a cohort of Douglas’s. “ ‘The Founding of Chicago’ is powerful and provocative, and it demonstrates why this native Kansan is considered the leading visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance.”

With the acquisition of “The Founding of Chicago,” the museum is organizing a four-city national tour. Opening in September 2007 at the Spencer museum, the traveling exhibition will also have venues in Nashville, Tenn.; Washington, D.C.; and New York, and will be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue edited by Susan Earle, the exhibition curator and the Spencer museum’s curator of European and American art, with contributions by the leading scholars of African-American art.

Douglas (1899-1979) was a native of Topeka. A socially conscious artist, Douglas vividly captured the spirit of his time and established a new black aesthetic and vision. His style combined art-deco dynamism with African and African-American imagery to produce a new visual vocabulary that evoked current realities and hope for a better future.

"The new Aaron Douglas acquisition strengthens the collection of the Spencer museum, contributing to the understanding and appreciation of an important American artist as we share Douglas' work with the public now and in the future,” said Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the museum. “This joins in our collection the collaborative portfolio made by Douglas and Langston Hughes, another important Kansas-born artist, for the journal Opportunity. We acquired 'The Founding of Chicago' in anticipation of the exhibition that will open in 2007 and travel nationally."

Hardy also thanked the donors whose endowed fund made the acquisition possible. “We are very grateful,” she said, “to have the endowed R. Charles and Mary Margaret Clevenger Fund that enabled us to acquire such a work after many years of seeking a work of this quality with so many of the iconic symbols in Douglas' signature style.”

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