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Collecting African American Art
May 29, 2009

Dr. Walter Evans

Dr. Walter O. Evans.

Dr. Walter O. Evans, named one of 'America's Top 100 Collectors' by Art & Antiques magazine in 2006, spoke the other night as part of the Collectors' Roundtable series on "Collecting outside the Canon." He began in 1979, when he acquired a portfolio of serigraphs by Jacob Lawrence entitled The Legend of John Brown. Since then his collection has grown to more than 500 paintings, sculptures, and photographs representing the works of both nineteenth century and contemporary African American artists, including Alma Thomas, Romare Bearden, Edward Bannister, Elizabeth Catlett, Robert Duncanson, Richard Hunt, William H. Johnson, Edmonia Lewis, Horace Pippin, Henry O. Tanner, Charles White, and many others.

Back when Dr. Evans started collecting, he told us, if Bill Cosby didn’t want a work that was for sale, it was Dr. Evans's. That's because nobody was collecting African American art then. Now it’s challenging even for the wealthiest of collectors to acquire works by known African American artists.

So where’s the beginning collector to start today? Throughout the Collectors’ Roundtable series, we’ve heard the advice to start with emerging artists while they’re still affordable. What’s your strategy? We’d love to hear the stories behind your art collections.

Posted by Nancy on May 29, 2009 in Lectures on American Art


I find it difficult to believe, Dr. Evans, that you don't own any of Faith Ringgold's artwork. Why is that?

Barbara, thanks for your comment. We contacted Dr. Evans and he informed us that they do, indeed, own a Faith Ringgold quilt. It's part of The Evans Collection at the SCAD Museum of Art.

African Americans have a long history of producing and collecting art. African Caribbeans in the U.K. are not use to spending their money on works of art. As an artist myself how could I encourage my community to buy art or even get involved in art?

Hi Kemra,

My name is Kathleen Adrian and I am the administrator for the Ask Joan of Art reference service at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

While we specialize in information on American art and artists, I had some thoughts about your question that may be helpful.

Petrine Archer is a Caribbean art historian with an extensive publication record. She may be a good source for information about the larger issue of art collecting (or the lack thereof) in the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK. She has a personal website with a form to submit questions:

The artist Chris Ofili is a British artist of African/Caribbean descent who has exhibited frequently at the Serpentine Gallery ( This artist is represented by the Victoria-Miro Gallery (, which focuses on many emerging artists. If you're looking for exhibition opportunities or representation, a good place to start is by contacting these galleries.

There have been several catalogs of Caribbean art in London galleries in the past few years:

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Contemporary Painting by Geoffrey MacLean (London: October Gallery, 1992)

CARIBBEAN ART NOW by Emma Wallace et al (London: Commonwealth Institute August-September 1986)

You may want to browse some of the artists listed in LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ARTISTS OF THE MODERN ERA: A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF MORE THAN 12,700 PERSONS by Steve Shipp (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2003) to identify those living/active in England and see if they have local gallery representation.

Two other good publications to consult are RECORDINGS: A SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY OF CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN, AFRO-CARIBBEAN AND ASIAN BRITISH ART by Melanie Keen and Elizabeth Ward (London: Institute of Internation Visual Arts and Chelsea College of Art and Design, 1996) and BLACK ART IN BRITAIN: A bibliography of material held in the library, Chelsea School of Art (Chelsea School of Art.; Library. , 1989)

All of these publications can be tracked through a local or public university or art museum library. At the very least, they can be ordered through inter-library loan.

At the County Library in Ipswich is a large African-Caribbean collection with extensive resources and services. It seems like this would be of interest to the writer. The contact information for the library is:

On a more local level, this is a great example of how social networking can contribute to the formation of artistic communities. By seeking out artists of similar nationality, posting artwork on blogs and Flickr sites, contacting shops/libraries/boutiques/business groups in the community about exhibiting works by Afro-Caribbean artists, the work will get out there.

Hope some of this information is helpful!

My father and I own a piece of African American history. I am sure that you can assist me or at the very least refer me to someone who can.

My father and I are looking to sell the photograph that we have. However, we want to sell it to someone or an organization that will appreciate what it represents. The photograph is of the 1st Increment of Colored Soldiers Drafted by the National Army in 1917 (WWI).

In 2007 m we took the photograph to the achieves in Alexandria, VA who authenticated the photograph, the increment of soldiers, and the photographer, so we are sure of what we have in our possession. If you can provide with any assistance in regards to selling this photograph to someone or an institution that would appreciate its value.

Thank you in advance for your time and assistance.

Tracy, take a look at our Researching Your Art section of our Web site. That should give you some initial first steps.

It is my opinion that African American visual fine art evolved initially from a humanistic quality that propels us to create visual art just because...., and later from the social / political need to affirm, document and explain certain aspects of African American culture. As the need for the later becomes less important, do you feel that African American visual fine art will loose its raison d'etre. Or, is the best yet to come?

How do you recommend that we identify "emerging artists"? What is a good way for a beginner to gain exposure to these gems?

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