African-American art collector Vivian Hewitt recalls how works were found
By Virginia Linn, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mrs. Hewitt, a New Castle native who was the first black librarian in Pittsburgh, went on to make a mark in the world of African-American art with her late husband, John.R
But she’s coming here to talk about the 40 pieces of original Haitian and other African-American art they donated over the years to Geneva College, her alma mater.
The art collection happened by chance, she said last week. She met her husband when she was a librarian and instructor at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), and he was an English teacher at nearby Morehouse College. They married in 1949, and looking for ways to decorate their faculty suite, they picked up a print at a New York City museum during their honeymoon there.
“We started investing in our own heritage and culture,” said Mrs. Hewitt. “Their work was affordable then,” she said of the black artists.
Mrs. Hewitt says an article in The New York Times in the early 1970s put a spotlight on the emerging prominence of African-American art, which was beginning to be purchased by white collectors.
“In essence it said that African-American art was here to stay, and [collectors] better get on the bandwagon,” she said last week. “It was a turning point for people recognizing the importance of African-American artists. Because of racism and the tenor of the times, this is what happened to exist.”
Earlier in her life, of course, Mrs. Hewitt was a pioneer in Pittsburgh. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Geneva in 1943 and a master’s in library science from the Carnegie Tech Library School (later folded into the University of Pittsburgh). She was the first black librarian hired by Carnegie Library and worked at the Hill District and Homewood branches before moving to Atlanta.
Today, she said “there are fine African-American artists in every region of the United States.”