Posts Tagged ‘harlem’

Photo: Robert W Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Langston Hughes on the front steps of his house in Harlem, June 1958.

Before Suzanne and Erik moved to Providence, they were living in a lovely renovated brownstone in Harlem.

There’s a fine line between newcomers investing where there’s been too much disinvestment — and gentrification. The early changes seem to benefit a neighborhood and its people, but inevitably rising property values push out many longtime residents and institutions.

Today, a group of Harlem artists from various disciplines are banding together to keep a significant piece of the Harlem Renaissance around to nourish African American arts.

Tom Kutsch writes at the Guardian, “All that signifies the legacy of a house once occupied by the poet laureate of Harlem is a small bronze plaque, partially covered by a cedar tree’s branches and the green ivy that envelops much of the building.

“The onetime home of Langston Hughes has sat largely unoccupied for years, but a new movement is trying to reclaim, for a next generation of artists, the space of a man who is forever intertwined with the Harlem Renaissance.

“Spearheaded by writer, performer and educator Renée Watson, the collective effort is busily trying to raise the necessary funds to purchase a lease and make needed renovations to the house. …

“Watson plans to make the Hughes house the home of the I Too, Arts Collective that she launched alongside the effort, which aims to, in her words, have ‘programming that nurtures, amplifies, and honors work by and about people of color and people from other marginalized communities.’ …

“The collective gets its name from one of Hughes’s most famous poems – I, Too – in which his narrator concludes by intoning:

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

“Watson is using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to solicit donations for the project, for which they’re hoping to raise at least $150,000 to cover a lease and begin the renovation process. By the time of publication, they had raised more than $54,000, already exceeding the $40,000 Watson says would cover at least a six-month lease. …

“For more than a century, Harlem has been inextricably linked to black life and culture in America; the birthplace of the aforementioned Harlem Renaissance, which fostered a wide array pre-eminent black artists and writers, from Zora Neale Hurston to Claude McKay and Duke Ellington. …

” ‘The erasure of black Harlem may come despite our best efforts …’ said Tracey Baptiste, a local children’s author who is involved with Watson’s collective. ‘But this project is about making sure that gentrification doesn’t also happen in the hearts and minds of our artists.’ ”

More here.

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Candice Frederick, of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, recently posted research by Katherine Ellington on an African American artist who was new to me.

From Ellington notes: “Augusta Savage was among [a] group of artists who came to Harlem from the Jim Crown South in search of opportunity and where her creative expression could thrive.

“My quest for Augusta Savage (1892 –1962) sculpture led me to a first-time visit to the Art and Artifacts Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. … As a young girl in the early twentieth century, Savage began shaping ducks out of red clay found in the backyard of her home in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Savage’s work gained local attention when she entered and won a prize at a local county fair, which led to community support for further study.

“In 1921, she moved to Harlem after studying at State Normal College for Colored Students (now Florida A & M University). Savage later completed a four-year program in sculpture in three years at Cooper Union. …

“In 1931, Savage … opened the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts — a fine arts training ground for over 1,500 students including many well-known Harlem Renaissance artists such as Charles Alston, Ernest Crichlow, Norman Lewis, Morgan Smith and Marvin Smith, Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence. …

“In 1934, Savage became the director of the newly established Harlem Community Art Center, after she was commissioned by the 1939 World’s Fair. Around that time she created “The Harp” as a series, but it was destroyed during the cleanup after the fair. …

“Savage’s art was often in response to the fight against racism. She used a variety of methods, shaping clay and plaster, casting bronze, and later years, carving marble and wood. In the Augusta Savage collection, there are works that illustrate themes such as nineteenth-century romanticism and African and Greek culture. As a trained portraitist, her busts include Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson and Gwendolyn Bennett.”

More here.

Photo: The New York Public Library. Image ID: 1654255
“Harp,” by Augusta Savage

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It’s not always easy for low-income people to get access to food that is healthful, and once children get accustomed to salty, fatty, sugary snacks, junk food becomes comfort food and stores see little demand for better items. But if children know what would taste good and be good for them, they are on the road to better nutrition.

That is why the folks fighting childhood obesity are enlisting the support of several hip-hop artists that young people admire.

Winnie Hu at the NY Times writes, “Adrian Harris, known as Easy A.D. to his fans, has rapped about street life in the South Bronx as a member of the Cold Crush Brothers, a group that is among the pioneers of hip-hop.

“Now Mr. Harris also raps about broccoli.

“ ‘If you think you eat healthy, say ‘”me,” ‘ Mr. Harris called out over a pounding bass that shook the gym at the Future Leaders Institute, a charter school in Harlem, on a recent morning. A photo of a cart laden with fruits and vegetables filled a screen behind him. ‘Boys and girls,’ he added, ‘there are no Doritos on that cart.’

“Mr. Harris, calling himself a ‘health M.C.,’ aims to reach children who might otherwise tune out nutrition lessons. His vegetable rap is part of a growing public health campaign that has enlisted hip-hop artists such as Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D and DMC of Run-DMC to work alongside doctors and nutritionists in fighting obesity and related illnesses in poor communities. The campaign is being rolled out this year in 18 cities.” More here.

Photo: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Adrian Harris, also known as Easy A.D., made a pitch for healthy eating recently at the Future Leaders Institute in Harlem.

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Another great one from the “Only a Game” show on WBUR radio.

Bill Littlefield describes a tournament between young lacrosse players in Harlem and middle schoolers from the Boston suburbs: “There are many stories that have built up over the years of kids being asked questions in Harlem as they carry the lacrosse stick on the subway, including, ‘What is that thing? A fishing pole? ’”

“Charles Gildehaus, a board member of an organization called Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership, is one of the people responsible for children in Harlem mystifying their friends on the subway.

“Gildehaus, who is also president of the youth lacrosse organization in Concord, Mass., where he and his family live, spoke with me on a recent Sunday afternoon on the lacrosse field at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. There 6th, 7th, and 8th grade boys from Concord and some of Boston’s other western suburbs had formed teams with players from Harlem’s Frederick Douglass Academy.

“ ‘Concord’ may have mythical implications [to the Harlem kids] now, but according to Gildehaus’s wife, Pamela, a driving force in the event they call ‘The One Nation Tournament,’ at first the trip just seemed scary.

“’We picked the kids up,’ she remembered. ‘They arrived in Concord in the pitch black, and they got off the bus, and everyone was quiet and shy, and very fearful. And we put them in our car, and this one boy looked out the window at all the trees and said, “Oh, my gosh, are there wolves in these forests?” And then I pulled the car into the garage, and another one said, “You put the car right in the house?” ‘ ”

“During her first experience hosting the boys from New York, Pamela Gildehaus and her husband took in 12 lacrosse players. Ms. Gildehaus became concerned about the only one of the dozen who wasn’t active and loud.

“ ‘This one boy was sitting very quietly in a chair, reading a book. And I said, “Are you okay?” And he said, “I’m just in the middle of a really great book.” And my daughter, who was 11 at the time, said, “Oh, my gosh, I’m reading the same book.” ‘ ” More here.

I love how Littlefield seeks out these offbeat sports stories. He covers pro sports, too, and invites lots of expert commentators on, but for me the delights of his show are in stories like this one, the one about the K9 Fitness Club, and oddball “games” that only he would think qualify for a sports show. Every story has the perfect musical bridge, too, but Littlefield says it’s a guy on the WBUR staff who picks the music.

Try to catch the show. It’s hosted in Boston but picked up in other markets.

Photo: Bill Littlefield/Only A Game
The One Nation Tournament in Concord, Mass., brings middle school lacrosse players from New York and Boston’s suburbs together. 

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Photo: Free Arts NYC

Free Arts NYC is one of several free arts programs around the country supported by people who believe every child should have arts opportunities. Too many school districts have cut back on programs that trigger the creative imagination, and children whose families can’t pay for extra classes often miss out the most.

When Suzanne and Erik were living in Harlem, Suzanne volunteered for Free Arts NYC at the Dream Charter School, having learned about it from her 92nd Street Y ceramics teacher. The teacher told her that the Y had actually been the organization responsible for bringing the concept to New York.

In childhood, whenever Suzanne wrapped up one arts class, she could hardly wait to sign up for the next one. She knows what the arts can mean to a child and has carried that appreciation into adulthood and the birthstone jewelry at Luna & Stella (the company behind this blog).

So from now until December 31, $5 of every Birthstone Charm Necklace will go to support Free Arts NYC. More about the promotion here, at Free Arts NYC, or here, at Luna & Stella.

Photo: Luna & Stella

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Unless you are going to the Danforth Museum of Art, I do not recommend ever going to Framingham (traffic issues, strip mall issues).

But I am very glad I finally made it to the Danforth today because it is a lovely museum with a community outreach effort that I admire.

The exhibit I went to see was described in the Boston Globe by by Sebastian Smee.

“One of the things you notice first in ‘Eternal Presence,’ a terrific career survey of John Wilson at the Danforth Museum of Art, is how attentive Wilson is to the faces of children. From his earliest days sketching his brother to his most recent large-scale drawings in charcoal, the impulse has remained the same: It is an impulse toward clarity, toward truth. He doesn’t sentimentalize or caricature children. …

“What you notice later is the high number of pictures showing children in the arms of adult men and women. … Wilson is after something elemental and profound. But the resulting image is not just another mother and child, or dad with young kid. There is instead, each time, something tender and hard-won about what you are looking at. A hope, a promise, a lament all in one.

“Wilson, 90, is one of Boston’s most esteemed and accomplished artists. He was born in Roxbury, the son of parents from British Guiana (now the nation of Guyana), was admitted to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1939 after developing a natural aptitude for art at the Roxbury Boys Club, where he attended classes taught by SMFA students.”

Smee goes on to describe Wilson’s long career, including a stint in France, his interest in the Mexican muralists, and his sculptures of Martin Luther King Jr. (one is in the Capitol rotunda).

Amazing that the artist is around and will be giving a talk at the museum. Try to go. The show is up until March 24. And you may enjoy as much as I did the African American sculptures by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller from the permanent collection and the joyful Harlem watercolors of Richard Yarde.

More at the Globe.

Lithograph by John Wilson

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I’m happy to see some long-neglected murals being restored in Harlem. Robin Pogrebin has the story in the NY Times:

“When the Works Progress Administration [WPA] commissioned murals for Harlem Hospital Center in 1936, it easily approved the sketches submitted by seven artists, which depicted black people at work and at play throughout history. The hospital, however, objected, saying four of the sketches focused too much on ‘Negro’ subject matter … .

“Protesters rallied around the art, though, lodging complaints as high as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the murals ultimately prevailed.

“Over the years, those wall paintings deteriorated or were obscured by plaster. Now they have been restored and brought front and center as part of a new, $325 million patient pavilion for the hospital, on Lenox Avenue at 135th Street that will be unveiled on Sept. 27. …

“The artists — the last of whom, Georgette Seabrooke, died last year — were not well known and their murals portrayed ordinary people going about their daily lives. Vertis Hayes’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ panel traces the African diaspora from 18th-century African village life to slavery in America to 20th-century freedom; from agrarian struggles in the South to professional success in the industrialized North.” More.

The WPA cost money, but it put a lot of people to work. And look at all the great things that were created! I especially love the idea that unemployed people were paid to paint murals, write and produce plays, interview ordinary Americans for the National Archives, and record folk music. I know it was a stressful time, but thinking about the art makes me almost nostalgic.


Photograph: Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Elizabeth Kolligs works on restoring Vertis Hayes’s “Pursuit of Happiness” at Harlem Hospital.


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