An extensive collection of African American art will continue at the Bedford Gallery through the end of December

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The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper, an exhibition celebrating 54 African American artists and their tremendous contributions to American art and culture, continues at the Bedford Gallery through December 18. Curated from the extensive collection of Harmon and Harriet Kelley, featured artists include Grafton Tyler Brown, the first documented professional graphic designer on the West Coast, and contemporary printmakers like Margo Humphrey. The works on paper – spanning the 20th and early 21st centuries – consist of drawings, etchings, watercolors, pastels and color serigraphs that chronicle the lives of Black Americans through scenes of family and community, of urban and rural workers, of poverty and success, of cultural pride and political unrest. Presented by Bedford Gallery and curated by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA, The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper is on view through December 18, 2022, 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday at the Bedford Gallery at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr, Walnut Creek. For more information or to purchase tickets ($5, free for children under 13 and Bedford Gallery members), visit www.bedfordgallery.com. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

This exhibition offers visitors a rare opportunity to discover the graphic masters of African-American art. The majority of the works were produced in the 1930s and 1940s, during the Great Depression, when the Federal Arts Project’s Works Progress Administration provided jobs for many artists. Rural and urban environments in a bold post-cubic style were depicted in many works, including scenes showing factory workers, dock workers, farmers, bridge builders, and road menders.

In the 1950s, many African American artists favored abstract expressionism, choosing non-figurative subject matter over traditional imagery. Other artists, including Charles White, Jacob Lawrence, John Biggers, Romare Bearden, Claude Clark and Elizabeth Catlett – all featured in this exhibition – challenged this influence and continued their explorations of African-American imagery.

The 1960s and early 70s gave birth to the politically motivated and African-inspired art of the civil rights period. While African Americans had always made valuable contributions to American art, they were barely recognized due to the brutalities of slavery and the systemic racism of Jim Crow laws. Despite continued oppression, African American artists continued to create work that would reflect their experiences. In the civil rights era, the political use of art became a popular form of activism – marking the beginning of the black arts movement throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Known for resisting traditional Western influences and finding new ways to represent the black experience, this African-American-led art movement shared many ideologies of black self-determination, political beliefs, and African-American culture. Among the civil rights-themed works in this exhibition are a 1963 lithograph by Jacob Lawrence titled Two Rebels and Elizabeth Catlett’s well-known print Malcolm Speaks For Us from 1969.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, contemporary artists began to emerge – from Margo Humphrey to Alison Saar, Dean Mitchell, Robert Colescott, Lionel Lofton, Charles Criner, and self-taught artists Bert Long and Ike E. Morgan. Examples of their works bring a contemporary perspective to this extensive exhibition.

Artists included:

Ron Adams (1934-2020)

Benny Andrews (1930-2006)

Romare Bearden (1911-1988)

John Thomas Biggers (1924-2001)

Robert Hamilton Blackburn (1920-2003)

Elmer W. Brown (1909-1971)

Grafton Tyler Brown (1841-1918)

Calvin Burnett (1921-2007)

Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)

Claude Clark (1915-2001)

Robert Colescott (1925-2009)

Eldzier Cortor (1916-2015)

Ernest T. Crichlow (1914-2005)

Charles Criner (born in 1945)

Mary Reed Daniel (born 1946)

Richard W. Dempsey (1909-1987)

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979)

William McKnight Farrow (1885-1967)

Allan Randall Freelon (1895-1960)

Reginald Gammon (1921-2005)

Rex Goreleigh (1902-1986)

Margo Humphrey (born 1942)

William H. Johnson (1901-1970)

Sergeant Johnson (1888-1967)

Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)

Lawrence Arthur Jones (1910-1996)

Paul F. Keene, Jr. (1920-2009)

Wifredo Lam (1902-1982)

Jacob Laurent (1917-2000)

Norman Lewis (1909-1979)

Lionel Lofton (born in 1954)

Bert L. Long, Jr. (1940-2013)

Whitfield Lovell (born 1959)

Sam Middleton (1927-2015)

Dean Mitchell (born 1957)

Ike E. Morgan (born 1958)

Guillaume Pajaud (1925-2015)

Alison Saar (born in 1956)

Charles Louis Sallee, Jr. (1913-2006)

William Edward Scott (1884-1964)

Charles Sebrée (1914-1985)

William E. Smith (1913-1997)

Albert A.Smith (1896-1940)

Raymond Steth (1916-1997)

Henry Osawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Margaret Taylor-Burroughs (1917-2010)

Alma Woodsey Thomas (1891-1978)

Dox Thrash (1893-1965)

James Lesesne Wells (1902-1993)

Charles Blanc (1918-1979)

Hilda Wilkinson Brown (1894-1981)

Walter Williams (1920-1998)

John Woodrow Wilson (1922-2015)

Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900-1980)

About Harmon & Harriet Kelley

Harmon and Harriet Kelley collected the majority of their work in a short decade beginning in 1987 – a time when works by acclaimed African-American artists had become rare on the art market. They were inspired to start collecting after seeing an exhibit of African American art at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

About Bedford Gallery

Bedford Gallery (BG) is a contemporary art space located in the Lesher Center for the Arts in the City of Walnut Creek that exhibits the work of historic, modern, and contemporary artists. Alongside each exhibition, BG offers engaging workshops for the public, ranging from arts and crafts with featured artists, to dance performances, dining experiences, and more. BG offers visitors the opportunity to experience the visual arts through diverse, accessible, engaging and educational public programs, with a mission to provide exhibitions and other programs that reflect and engage diverse audiences throughout the Contra Costa region. . In addition to organizing and presenting several exhibitions each year, BG presents lectures, workshops, round tables and other public programs. With 3,500 square feet of exhibition space, Bedford Gallery is the largest visual arts community center between the Bay Area and Sacramento.

About the Lesher Arts Center

The Lesher Center for the Arts is the premier arts venue in central Contra Costa County. Located in the heart of downtown Walnut Creek, the center offers three distinct theaters and the Bedford Gallery, an art gallery, showcasing the best in theatre, ballet, comedy and visual arts.

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