A few weeks back, my partner and I headed off to Washington, DC, for vacation. We hadn’t done lots of planning; after discovering that booking a direct flight from the Burg to DC was beyond possibility at our late planning date, we packed up the little Yaris and headed on out. Five hours later we were in the land of museums, bookstores, monuments, and fab restaurants and bars. Our favorite place of all, Kramer Books (& Afterwords Cafe), combined three of our shared vices: books, food, and drink.
We’d been to DC a number of times before and had a fair idea of what we wanted to do. Yet, the one thing about DC is, if you’re like us and keep the planning to a minimum, it will always reward your serendipity. Of course, our travel collection at the library has plenty on planning a DC excursion: the basic Fodor’s guide we took out, with pop-out map, did the trick for a couple of micro-planners.
This time round we stumbled into two fantastic exhibits at two different museums that dovetailed together rather nicely, each concentrating on a major artist from the Harlem Renaissance: one was on Jacob Lawrence at the Phillips Collection, the other was on Aaron Douglas at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Here is curator Elsa Smithgall’s introduction to the Jacob Lawrence exhibit, a series of 60 panels entitled The Great American Epic: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, posted on their website and available via this YouTube video:
The series of panels chronicles the hardship and amazing story of the Great African American migration north in the early part of the 20th century. The Phillips has posted a pdf with a number of the panels from the exhibit: be sure to look at page 3, panel #45, which documents Pittsburgh’s place in this historic event. And here’s a tip: it took me awhile to realize the panels can be rotated (as well as zoomed) by right-clicking on each. Lawrence’s strong lines and primary colors do an in-depth job of covering this monumental event while instilling a narrative quality that personalizes history, no easy task. The exhibit will be at the Phillips through October 26th.
The Aaron Douglas exhibit, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, entitled Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist, is a revelation in color, line, and power. Running currently through August 3rd, Douglas’s work is described as combining “angular cubist rhythms, seductive art deco style, and traditional African and African American imagery to develop his own unique visual vocabulary” and that captures the feel perfectly. As a coming together of many stylistic nuances, it distinctly represents the unique flavor of the creative period known as the Harlem Renaissance. Here’s the artwork from the cover of this traveling exhibition’s catalog:
If this whets your appetite for more, you can satisfy your curiosity while staying a bit closer to home by checking out works by and about these artists here at the Carnegie. Here’s a selection:
- Jacob Lawrence: paintings, drawings, and murals (1935-1999), by Peter T. Nesbett
- Jacob Lawrence [videorecording]: the glory of expression, written and directed by David Irving
- Aaron Douglas: an African American modernist, edited by Susan B. Earle
- Aaron Douglas: art, race, and the Harlem Renaissance, by Amy Helene Kirschke
All that and, if you’re into fab desserts, Afterwords Cafe at Kramer Books is the place.