|Harriet Kelley describes painting by Jacob Lawrence|
The Kelleys became interested in collecting works decades ago before large numbers of major museums showed much interest in including works by talented and historically-significant black artists in official collections. The Kelleys read books, studied and identified works by various artists, and traveled across the country to observe and purchase rare African American artworks.
On Friday evening, Mrs. Kelley gave our Fellows a private tour of African American works exhibited at SAMA. A number of the prominent works in the museum's collection were donated by the Kelleys. Our group viewed and learned about works by Edward M. Bannister, P.H. Polk, Edmonia Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Joshua Johnson, Henry O. Tanner, and others. What important lessons and notes we received from Mrs. Kelley concerning African American artworks composed during the early 1800s up through the 1960s.
Listening to Mrs. Kelley discuss the many journeys that she and her husband took as they sought to develop their collection was just as important. It was an extraordinary moment to have access to such a prominent collector of black art. Who knows how many more African American works and artists would have been lost to history if the Kelleys had not developed their passionate interest in collecting?
At the end of the tour, Mrs. Kelley asked if there were any questions. I certainly had one query in mind: "What had we done to earn this wonderful opportunity to meet with such a crucial collector?" I decided to keep the question to myself, but it's still circulating in my head.
Related: AALCI 2012