Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Harriet Kelley: A treasured art collector

Harriet Kelley gives an overview of the McNay

What a wonderful time we had. On June 21, the Fellows, Institute founder/director Joycelyn Moody, and I spent the morning touring the McNay Art Museum with one of our country's most important African American art collectors, Harriet Kelley.

Beginning in the 1980s, Kelley and her husband Harmon Kelley devoted themselves to learning as much as they could about artworks by African Americans, and they began collecting.  And collecting. Since that time, they have loaned pieces from their collection to museums across the country, making it possible for thousands and thousands of people to view magnificent works of art by black people from the late 19th century through the 20th century. 

Harriet Kelley meets with AALCI Fellows and Joycelyn Moody

When the Kelley's began collecting, she informed us, there was no Internet with images of rare paintings by black people. So she and her husband wrote to people in places where paintings were, and in return, they received Polaroid images of works by artists that they were seeking. Sometimes the images were of such poor quality that the Kelley's had to struggle to confirm whether they were viewing authentic pieces.

But they persisted. They traveled the country collecting works and attending exhibits. Along the way, they became increasingly knowledgeable and greatly respected for their contributions preserving African American artistic works. 

Harriet Kelley discusses a work by Jacob Lawrence.

On Tuesday, we enjoyed the benefits of Kelley's expertise and generosity. She walked us around the museum and showed us a variety of paintings and sculptures, some of which were donated by the "Harmon and Harriet Kelley Foundation for the Arts" to the McNay. 

Art collector Harriet Kelley & AALCI
AALCI 2016
The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper

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