In Conversation: About The Friends of African and African American Art

Helen Forbes Fields with Laura Ruth Bidwell (left), Darrell Fields (middle) and Bettina Katz (right)

Friends of African and African American Art was founded in 2003 as a museum affiliate group. We had a chance to sit down with Museum Trustee and the group's founding president Helen Forbes Fields about the group's goals and activities.

Q1: How did you become interested in African and African American art?
A: I have been interested since I took an art history class as an undergraduate student at Spelman College. One of my professors discovered that I had a love of art history and pushed me in that area.

Q2: Who are some of your favorite American artists of African descent?
A: My studies focused on what I call the "Masters of African American Art" - Elizabeth Cattlett, Romare Bearden, William H. Johnson, Norman Lewis and Richard Mayhew.

Q3: Why were you led to start this group?
A: The museum started an African American task force in the late 1990s because we had a Jacob Lawrence print exhibition coming to the museum. It is important that the museum has a collection that reflects all communities. We appeal to those that have interest in African and African-American art and we create a connection with the African-American community. So that members of our community feel as much of an ownership to the museum as anyone else.

Q4: What are some of the goals of this group?
A: We support and help promote exhibitions related to African and African-American art at the museum. In general, we want our members to be educated about the museum and its permanent collection. My theme as president has been art education. We learn about African and African-American artists within the museum collection, local African American artists and nationally known ones. We also learn about how to build our own collections.

Q5: What have been some of your proudest moments as the president of this group?
A: Our program has been amazing. We do a variety of things. We look at member collections in their homes. We meet with local African-American artists and tour their studios. We have traveled to shows in other areas. Last year, we saw an exhibition of Lois Maliou Jones in Washington, D.C. and this year we viewed 30 Americans and Hank Willis Thomas: Strange Fruit also in Washington.

We also traveled to Toledo to see an exhibition of Aminah Robinson's work. We were able to see Edmonia Lewis' "Indian Combat" in conservation before it went out into the galleries.

Q6: What are some of your upcoming events?
A: Later this year, we will have a private tour of this fall's William H. Johnson exhibition at the museum. We will also plan to travel to Cincinnati to see the retrospective of Henry Ossawa Tanner works. We will also tour the George and Mary Forbes collection.

Q7: Are you looking for new members? How does one become a member?
A: Yes, we are looking for new members. Museum members are welcome to join our affiliate group. Our annual dues are $75. Find more information @ http://goo.gl/G3UZ9

-- Kesha Williams


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