Black History Month

Black History Month 2020

  • Art

To honor Black History Month this year, we shared artwork by Black artists in our weekly series Treasures at the Springfield Museums in the Sunday Republican and on our Instagram page, @springfieldmuseums. We also shared stories of African Americans from our community and who are currently featured in the exhibition Voices of Resilience: The Intersection of Women on the Move on view in the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts through April 26. Below, we highlight three of the artworks we shared.

A steel sculpture that includes chains and scissors.

This piece is by Melvin Edwards (American, born 1937) and is titled For Dumile: Siyabonga (1991). At the height of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, Melvin Edwards began a series of welded steel wall reliefs known as Lynch Fragments. Inspired by Ralph Ginzburg’s book, 100 years of Lynching, the sculptures are a protest against racism and oppression. The works also make many connections to African art and culture. Some resemble African masks and others suggest African costumes, sculptures, or agricultural tools. Many have titles derived from African expressions, places, or people. For Dumile: Siyabonga is a welded steel construction of found objects and fabricated forms. The assemblage of chain links, scissors, and other objects illuminate human tragedy and heartbreak. Chains, which are often found in Edwards’ work, represent shackles, objects of constraint and oppression as well as life lines that link and join human beings together. This work is currently on view in the Contemporary Gallery of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.

An oil on canvas painting showing a coffin with flowers around it.

The work seen here is by Massachusetts artist Richard Foster Yarde (1939-2011). Yarde’s subjects include figures from the African American community that he knew personally or were his contemporaries. This large painting, titled Johnny’s Gone (circa 1975-1976), commemorates rhythm and blues singer Johnny Ace, who died at the height of his career in the 1950’s. It is composed of six canvases attached to each other. Lyrical swirling patterns of wreaths and garlands draw attention from the left of the work to the figure in the coffin. Yarde paints the body of Johnny Ace blue, a color used in Nigerian folk art to distinguish the dead from the living. Yarde’s bold use of color, size and pattern speak to the emotional impact that this event had on the artist. This painting is currently on view in the Contemporary Gallery of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. (Gift of the Arcadia Foundation, Inc.)

A serigraph print showing African Americans voting.

This serigraph print is by Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-2000), The 1920’s…The Migrants Arrive and Cast their Ballots (1974). The print is a timely piece to consider as we approach the upcoming presidential primary in Massachusetts. Lawrence explained the meaning behind the artwork, stating, “During the Post World War I period, millions of black people left southern communities in the United States and migrated to northern cities. This migration reached its peak during the 1920s. Among the many advantages the migrants found in the north was the freedom to vote. In my print, migrants are represented exercising that freedom.” A theme in much of Lawrence’s art is the history and struggles of African Americans. In the 1940s, he received a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation to create a 60-panel epic, The Migration of the Negro (now known as The Migration Series). The series brought Lawrence fame and possibly inspired this later work, as panel 59 is titled “In the North they had the freedom to vote.” (Gift of Lorillard, a Division of Loews Theatres, Inc.)