Ashby-Hodge Gallery Honors Black History Month

“Three Winter Shows” continues at The Ashby-Hodge Art Gallery on the Central Methodist University campus in Fayette. The second of the three part exhibit is presented in honor of Black History Month, with a focus on art by or of African-Americans. The show runs through April 6.

The other two galleries show works from Columbia artist Bill Helvey, through his entire life, and works from the donated collection of the late Dr. Robert and Anna Mae Hodge, for whom the Gallery is partly named. 

The Ashby-Hodge Gallery is open Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays from 1:30–4:30 p.m. and by special appointment. It will be closed the week of CMU’s Spring Break, March 18-26. 

There is no admission charge, and handicapped parking is available on the west side of the building. For more information, contact Curator Denise Haskamp or Dr. Joe Geist, registrar, at 660-248-6304.

Gallery 2 is the show honoring Black History Month. The predominant artist displayed is Robert MacDonald Graham, who was born in 1919 in New Rochelle, N.Y., and began painting when he was 14 years old. He attended the Kansas City Art Institute where he studied with Thomas Hart Benton from 1937-41. Benton’s influence can be easily seen in many of his paintings.

During World War II Graham was a combat artist in Australia, New Guinea, and Japan. Many of those works reside today in the Pentagon. After WWII, Graham went to Antwerp, Belgium, and studied with Jules Van Vlasselaer from 1948-1949.

Graham taught art at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the University of Texas. Much of his work is held by private collectors. He gave two sets of his paintings from the 1980s to Central Methodist University before he died in 2003.

The 12 “Missouri Historic Heritage Sites,” given to CMU in 1994, include important historic landmarks of the state, including the Rotunda of the Capitol Building, George Washington Carver National Monument, Ste. Genevieve’s historic Catholic Church, and the Winston Churchill Memorial.

The 12 “Missouri Springs” paintings were gifted to Central in 1997. The paintings represent some of Missouri’s most beautiful natural areas and include Big Spring, Blue Spring, Alley Spring and Mill, Round Spring, and Bennet Spring, among others.

One of the Ashby-Hodge Gallery’s most important pieces of Graham’s work, titled “The Visit,“ is currently shown in Gallery 2 as part of the Black History Month honors. Its significance comes in part from the fact that the Gallery has the full lineage of the painting, called “The Genesis of a Painting,” from the first rough idea sketch through several more developed pencil sketches, with specific characters drawn in, to the final oil painting.

It is of an African-American family gathered together to celebrate Sarah Humphries, who was 101 at the time of the painting in 1956. In a separate painting, the matriarch of the family is shown alone, sitting in her rocking chair. That painting is titled, in honor of the trials of her life, “Slave Born Sarah Humphries Died Empress Free.”

Other paintings in Gallery 2 include works of and/or by Black painters. They include two paintings by the primitive painter Clementine Hunter (1886-1988) who grew up on a plantation in the deep south and taught herself to paint using left-over brushes, paints, paper, wood and other items she could find. There is also a photo of her holding a chicken and a poster of one of her works, which can be bought. On either side of her is one of her paintings, one titled “Baptising on the Cane River” (1976) and the other “Melrose Auction” (1979).

On the west wall are two acrylic paintings by African-American artist Venetta Whitaker. The first is “The Clown” (1998). The second is brightly painted, including the use of metallic paints as emphasis. It is named “The Amen Corner,” full of light and action.

Also on that wall is a linocut by Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) of a Black woman working outside, called “In the Fields” (1947); and a pencil drawing by Alvin Hudson, a 1984 CMU graduate, named “Ray Charles and Friend.”

A pair of muted paintings are next on the wall. Both are by artist Charles Broadus, a Fayette native and Central Methodist graduate, also Class of 1984. One is a still life named “Oranges” (1970) which is rendered in pencil; the second, which can be easily mistaken for a pencil rendering, is a watercolor in shades of brown called “Study Room” (1979). 

The last painting in the main part of the gallery is a brightly colored screen print titled “Two Women” (1981) by artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988).

On a partial wall past the doorway is one more African-American model, painted by Fayette native Lisa Baylor. Called “Sitting Portrait,” one of its most outstanding qualities, aside from the contrasted use of black and white emphases, are the mediums used. They comprise coffee, oak, charcoal, and conte on paper, all blending to make a vibrant end picture.

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