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A Bearden Quilt

Romare Bearden and Unknown Amish Quilter, Untitled (detail), 1976
Romare Bearden and Unknown Amish Quilter, Untitled (detail), 1976. Screenprint on quilt, 94 x 76 inches (238.76 x 193.04 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Susie Powell.

This gift of two works by prominent Black American artists includes a quilt by Romare Bearden and a sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett. Bearden, born in Charlotte, North Carolina, experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages. He rose to prominence in the 1960s as an artist and curator. As a founding member of the Sprial Group of artists committed to social change, he was also an ardent activist.

The Bearden quilt, unique in his ouvre, joins two prints and a drawing in the Nasher Museum’s collection.

Bearden typically depicted scenes of everyday Black life. The artist believed in “an intense, eager devotion to present day life, to study it, to help relieve it.” Among depictions of gardening and cooking, he also made several collages depicting groups quilting.

The practice of quilting runs deep in the traditions of Black communities and enslaved people in the South. While collage gave Bearden the ability to collect and connect fragmented elements of African life, quilting was a way to weave together a similar narrative as well. In collaboration with an Amish quilter, Bearden chose the fabric and submitted a drawing of the quilting pattern to be followed by the quilter. The motif of a Black woman’s profile repeats across the quilt. Once relegated to the domain of craft and material culture, quilting has recently received renewed and deserved attention within a fine arts context.

A Catlett Sculpture

Elizabeth Catlett, Glory, 1981
Elizabeth Catlett, Glory, 1981. Bronze with a black patina on a wooden base, 14 × 9 1/2 × 10 inches (35.56 × 24.13 × 25.4 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Susie Ruth Powell, 2022.29.2. © Estate of Elizabeth Catlett / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Brian Quinby.

The Catlett sculpture Glory is the first by the artist to enter the Nasher Museum collection.

Born in the United States, Catlett struggled to find work as an artist in a segregated American landscape, but in 1946 she received a fellowship that allowed her to travel to Mexico. She worked with the Taller de Gráfica Popular for 20 years and became head of the sculpture department for the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas, both in Mexico City. Later in life, Catlett and her artist husband, Francisco Mora, would split their time between Mexico and New York City.

A prolific sculptor, Catlett worked in both the United States and Mexico to depict images of African Americans. Following the guidance of her teacher and mentor, Grant Wood, who recommended she “take as her subject what she knew best,” she almost exclusively depicted images of African American people and life. Catlett’s work is informed by modernist sculpture (that of expressionists and cubists) as well as African woodcarving and ancient American ceramics. Her sculptures and prints are primarily figural, as she used the human form to push social issues.

This is a portrait bust of Glory Van Scott, a performer, writer, educator and actress well known for her work as the principal dancer with several Broadway dance companies and the American Ballet Theatre. For Catlett, Glory represented a universal subject of Black feminine power, achievement, beauty and success. As she relayed to the sitter, “It wasn’t you that I chose as the subject exactly. It was your head that I chose. It was a culmination of old-fashioned and modern-sophisticated and the forms represent to me one kind of beauty in black women.”


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