Behind the Glass: The People Who Place African American Art On Philadelphia’s Pedestals

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC)
Nov 10 2006

Name: Sande Webster
Affiliation: Sande Webster Gallery
Her Story: Sande Webster’s track record for shattering stereotypes has made her one of the most revered individuals in Philadelphia’s art scene. Armed with a master’s degree in physics, she worked at the Berg Art Gallery in nearby Jenkintown prior to collaborating with fellow entrepreneurs to open the Wallnuts of Locust Street Gallery in Center City in 1969. Webster and her partners took many artistic risks, regularly featuring African American painters, sculptors and printmakers; organizing exhibitions with social and political implications; and displaying glass, clay and textiles in a different way than what many were used to in the craft world. Though local industry peers predicted the Wallnuts’ early demise, Webster’s gallery has thrived for nearly 40 years. More than 25 years ago, it became the Sande Webster Gallery. Cementing her rightful place at the forefront of the African American arts movement, researchers interviewed her in 1990 for the Smithsonian’s Oral History Program. Recordings from those interviews are now a permanent part of the Archives of American Art.

Name: Cheryl McClenney-Brooker
Affiliation: Philadelphia Museum of Art
Her Story: In addition to her role as director of external affairs for one of the largest art museums in the nation, Cheryl McClenney-Brooker advocates for Philadelphia’s up-and-coming artists and promotes the arts as a conduit for strengthening communities. She is a member of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, serves on the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and sits on the board of the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Multicultural Affairs Congress of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Once the director of humanities projects at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C., Brooker now helps give thousands of dollars in grants earmarked for non-profit arts and cultural programming within the city, exposing Philadelphians to a broader range of artistic experiences.

Name: Moe Brooker
Affiliation: Moore College of Art and Design
His Story: Few artists can boast a commission from Absolut Vodka. But somewhere within Moe Brooker’s portfolio is an “Absolut Brooker” ad, which would probably be a shock to his students at Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art and Design—the nation’s first and only women’s college devoted to the visual arts. In addition to serving as chair of the basics department, Brooker teaches two-dimensional design and painting, but his impact is felt far beyond the classroom walls. His works are scattered throughout the city and the country and can be found among collections as the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Woodmere Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Both the Cleveland Museum and its public library feature his paintings, as do The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama.

Name: Pamela Brown and Beverly Dawson
Affiliation: ArtJaz Gallery
Their Story: Pamela Brown and Beverly Dawson first opened the doors of ArtJaz Gallery in 1999. Their goal was to garner awareness of and provide exposure for emerging and established artists of color. Works displayed in the Old City gallery stretch across a number of mediums, including acrylic, oil, mixed media, ceramic and sculpture. Recognizing art and music as truly free forms of expression, ArtJaz fulfilled its mission with a recent exhibition featuring the photography of noted R&B and jazz singer Will Downing. His images, along with the works of seven other artists represented by ArtJaz, have been compiled and published in Unveiled. Constantly developing innovative shows, Brown and Dawson will host a group exhibition from mid-November through December 2006, featuring the work of Charly Palmer, Sonia Sadler, Deborah Shedrick and Jackson-Collins.

Name: Richard Watson
Affiliation: African American Museum in Philadelphia
His Story: By the time Richard Watson enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he had already found solace in splashing watercolors on the canvas. While a student, he honed his sketching and painting techniques, observing the social changes produced during the antiwar and Civil Rights movements of the ‘60s. Soon he began working on community art projects, collaborating withFreedom Theater and the Church of the Advocate. He also accepted invitations to join Philadelphia’s famous mural legacy. Today, Watson’s body of work can be identified by one of three themes—all of which infuse some element of the African American experience: landscapes, usually including a sharecropper; contemporary women placed in a charming and romantic scenario; and works which allow Watson to form a dialogue with his ancestors. Courtesy of the collage movement, he has shifted from student to mentor, as newer artists explore his concept of introducing three-dimensional objects in their paintings. As curator for the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s art collection, Watson is now responsible for preserving the works of those he studied for future generations to appreciate.

Name: Kimberly Camp
Affiliation: Painter, Doll maker
Her Story: Kimberly Camp’s numerous magazine interviews reveal a fascinating cross section of admirers: Essence, The New York Times, National Geographic World and the Village Voice, to name a few. Besides hosting doll-making workshops at the Smithsonian and along the East Coast, her handcrafted dolls and paintings can be found among the private collections of such notable individuals as Judith Jamison, Faith Ringgold and Delroy and Nashormeh Lindo. A two-time recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, Camp spent seven years as president and CEO of The Barnes Foundation in Merion, orchestrating the first catalogue project of the institution’s entire collection—totaling nearly 9,000 works of art.

Name: Allan Edmunds
Affiliation: Brandywine Workshop
His Story: Known as one of Philadelphia’s little-known treasures, the Brandywine Workshop is located on the Avenue of the Arts in Center City. Master printmaker Allan Edmunds founded the Workshop in 1972 to impart his knowledge with area artists and students, instructing them in the craft of printmaking. Throughout the years, Edmunds’ wide-reaching influence crossed state and national borders—the Workshop has sponsored more than 280 artists’ residencies from 35 states and 15 countries to share bindery, screen-printing and lithographical techniques with their peers and the public. As an artist, Edmunds’ work has been featured in such exhibitions as Successions: Prints by African American Artists from the Jean and Robert Steele Collection at the University of Maryland, and the University of Delaware has showcased the prints of Edmunds’ protégés. Edmunds also edited what is thought to be the first inclusive book to research the contributions of artists of color on American printmaking, offering a distinctive reference for art collectors.

Name: Pauline Houston-McCall
Affiliation: Women Holler! Art Collective
Her Story: A self-described “soul artist and renegade,” Houston-McCall’s spirituality and sense of conviction are the inspiration for her drawings, sculptures and paintings, many of which are sizable works. Once a student at Moore College of Art and Design, she uses charcoal, paper, glass, burlap and wood to relay her African and Native American ancestors’ stories of injustice. A social activist, Houston-McCall founded Women Holler!, a nationally acclaimed group of women artists and educators who encourage each other through the creative process. The network includes women of African American, Colombian, Vietnamese and European American heritage. Assertive and candid, the collective offers universal insight into the woman’s mind via its Womanifesto: “Women Holler! Because we need a cigarette/drink/nap/orgasm/chocolate.”

Name: Lamar Redcross
Affiliation: October Gallery
His Story: October Gallery has established its identity as a conduit for art education. For years, Lamar Redcross has been forming a convincing argument that art can be more than an object that collects dust on the bookshelf—that art can be considered a quality investment. But Redcross understands his job doesn’t end once a first-time buyer enters the gallery. It’s crucial to then offer trustworthy, qualified advice about potential purchases, recommending an artist whose style matches a customer’s taste. Having updated the gallery’s use of technology to assist clients, the growth of Redcross’ art education movement is best reflected in the widespread popularity of the annual International Art Expo, which celebrates its 21st year in 2006. Over three days, approximately 40,000 visitors are expected to canvass Temple University’s Liacouras Center to see the works of more than 100 emerging and established contemporary African American artists.

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) makes Philadelphia and The Countryside™ a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases business and promotes the region’s vitality. For more information about travel to Philadelphia, visitwww.gophila.com or call the Independence Visitor Center, located in Independence National Historical Park, at (800) 537-7676.

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