A Woman’s Work: Selections from the John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African American Art

By Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

A Woman’s Work encompasses a multitude of women and their many roles, identities and experiences. It places the focus of attention on the Black woman – as the center of family, as a sister, worker and the epitome of womanhood. Interlaced with unwavering love, kinship and perseverance, the works on display combine vivid imagery, light sketches, intricate patterns and a sense of reality and wonder.

Head of a Woman (1967) by Elizabeth CatlettHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Head of a Woman

On April 15, 1965 in Washington D.C., Elizabeth Catlett was born to two school teachers, John and Mary Catlett. Her father passing before her birth caused her mother to find baseborn work to support her three children. Through this experience, Catlett became deeply acquainted with the everyday hardships of the working-class Black woman. After completing high school, the aspiring visual artist was encouraged by her mother to attend Howard University. This institution provided influential mentorship and ultimately relationships with prominent cultural figures such as Charles Wright, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Aaron Douglas, Frida Kahlo, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Head of a Woman is the epitome of Catlett's artistic catalog. 

By isolating her subject and placing her in the forefront, Catlett invites the viewer to focus on the woman's profound gaze. This act of centralizing the Black woman, who has historically been assigned a marginal role in European and American art, commemorates both Catlett and her subject's strength and self-assurance.

Girl with Flowers (1979) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Untitled (1983) by James DenmarkHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

This piece and Two Generations, typify Denmark's ability to render complex volumes and relationships with only a few expressive lines, as well as his sophisticated use of intense color.

New Wave (1987) by Ann TanksleyHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Two Generations (1984) by James DenmarkHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Alvin Ailey's extraordinary solo pays tribute to "...all Black women everywhere - especially our mothers."

Waiting #2 (1977) by Alvin C. HollingsworthHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Family # 2 (1975) by John T. BiggersHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Circles enliven the intimate scene and literally link man and woman uniting the human and celestial. The circle unites binaries, such as man and woman, which echo the Chinese yin and yang.

Family # 1 (1974) by John T. BiggersHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Twins of Morning (1975) by John T. BiggersHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Tomorrow (1977) by Alvin C. HollingsworthHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Washes of color outline the figures, pooling with greater intensity around the heads, including the forceful silhouette of a black woman, a favored motif that invests this figurative composition with specific meaning.

Family Tree (1977) by Alvin C. HollingsworthHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Family Tree

Harlem born painter and printmaker Alvin C. Hollingsworth merges color with fine line work to eloquently express the African-American experience. 

In 1971, Hollingsworth concentrated on a series of paintings and poems intended to serve as “songs of freedom and equality” entitled The Women, a production rooted from an arrangement of interviews with women artists. His desire to amplify the Black woman is exceptionally demonstrated in this exhibit. In both Tomorrow and Waiting # 2, the elongated figures are presented in traditional robe displaying Black women as majestic. Through pyramidal composition shown in Family Tree, Waiting #2, and Tomorrow, Hollingsworth hints toward Italian Renaissance techniques and biblical references while implying ambition, alliance, and advancement for African-Americans

The Sisters (1979) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Miss Celie's Blues, The Color Purple, 1985

Folding Sheets (1989) by Jonathan GreenHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Beulah's World (1968) by Earl HillHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

The title of this piece invokes Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World, the painting in which a young woman in a grassy field seemingly crawls toward a distant house. For the ambiguous figure of Christina, Hill substituted two Black woman whose "world" consists of labor.

Woman Washing Clothes (1970) by Charles AlstonHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

During her 1964 campaign for the Democratic Party, Fannie Lou Hamer addressed a rally saying "We are sick and tired of being sick and tired." A clip from "Dream Deferred" by Harvey Richards (1964)

Haitian Camion (1953) by Ellis WilsonHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

African Village (1978) by Alvin C. HollingsworthHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

African Village couples oil washes with India ink, joining the artist's early abstract expressionist tendencies with the graphic sensibility he had honed as an illustrator.

Harvest of Shame (1979) by Ann TanksleyHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Harvest of Shame

Best known for using imagery as a response to Zora Neale Hurston’s writing, the two pieces in A Woman’s Work demonstrate Ann Tanksley’s range and exceptional eye. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1934, Tanksley displays her remarkable talent impressed by French, Caribbean, and African-American art. 

Supporting her exploration in various mediums, the monotype collage, New Wave, depicts her examination of the correlation between illustrations and graphics. Demonstrated through a row of migrant workers operating on their hands and knees, Tanksley’s Harvest of Shame shows her concern for migrant workers as well as their connection to slave culture. Utilizing artistic techniques, Tanksley emphasizes composition, subject, and narrative. The distinct diagonal between the green foliage and the red soil accentuates the row of women at work.

Street Princess (1982) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

The Balcony (1980) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Owing to his Caribbean Heritage, Crichlow was fascinated by the character of the island people and visited regularly until the mid-1990s. His use of high contrast is evident in this image

Woman in a Blue Coat (1948) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Crichlow's most well-known painting, the piece juxtaposes deep colors and light passages. Like many of his signature works, the subject has a pensive countenance.

Suburban Woman (1979) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Woman in Yellow Dress (1980) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Kimberlé Crenshaw: What is Intersectionality?

Waiting (1965) by Ernest CrichlowHarvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture

Waiting

Ernest Crichlow was born in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrants from Barbados. His father, a plasterer and brick mason who duplicated comic strips, catalyzed his desire for artistic expression. Crichlow’s early gravitation towards creativity conjoined with working alongside notable artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Charles Alston, Aaron Douglas and Romare Bearden, swiftly developed him into a prominent figurative painter. Crichlow challenged political and social issues while simultaneously expressing the quotidian lives of those in his Brooklyn neighborhood. This merging of influences is commonly depicted in his works. 

Crichlow often uses barbed wires, railings, or banisters to evoke entrapment, a composition that is apparent in his piece, Waiting. Barbed wire attempts to confine a young girl implying limitations have emerged, however, through her gaze, and with her mind, she transcends barriers.

Credits: Story

Organized by the Harvey B. Gantt Center; Permanent Collection of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. Generously donated by Bank of America Corporation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Charlotte: Kick Into High Gear in the Queen City
A Crown Jewel of the American South
View theme
Google apps