In a small ceremony held at the Shepherd Park Library in Northwest Washington D.C., the Humanities Council of Washington D.C. awarded its 2013 Cycle I Grants. The Ciesla Foundation, among a group of other deserving awardees, received funds that will be used to film final interviews for The Rosenwald Schools documentary. Many thanks to the Humanities Council for this generous award.
For the next couple months, two galleries in downtown Chicago will be showing complementary exhibitions featuring artwork by Rosenwald Fund fellows.
The Art Institute of Chicago offers a show entitled, “They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950.” This show will consist of work by and about newcomers to Chicago during a period in which the city swelled with new immigrants from overseas and new African American residents from the South (in a movement known as the Great Migration). At the link above, the Art Institute uses two paintings by Archibald Motley to advertise the show. Motley, who was not a Rosenwald Fellow, was a great observer of Chicago’s South Side. Some of his best paintings of nightlife in the “Black Belt” are on permanent display in the Art Institute.
Across Michigan Avenue, at the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center, is “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College.” This is an important show of work by the great Rosenwald fellow, and we blogged about it when it opened in Atlanta last year. Both exhibitions will be open until early June, so if you’re in the Chicago area, take the time to see them.
The deadline for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Rosenwald School Centennial Fund, a grant program designed to help community groups pay for the physical restoration of Rosenwald Schools, is rapidly approaching. First round applications are due April 15th. Projects will be awarded grants up to $20,000, provided they can raise matching funds through other sources. The Righteous Persons Foundation has given its generous support to this grant program.
If your project fits the grant guidelines, it’s not too late to apply. Click here for more information. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website has complete grant eligibility and application details.
Finding footage of someone who lived in the early twentieth century can be very difficult, even when the subject in question–Julius Rosenwald–was relatively well-known. As a result, as we conduct research for The Rosenwald Schools, every time we uncover a piece of film footage that contains Rosenwald himself we get excited.
Usually, we aren’t able to share these finds on our blog because of copyright issues, but the video embedded in this post is from film housed at the National Archives and falls into the public domain. Enjoy this tantalizingly short glimpse of Julius Rosenwald in 1929, shot in Clinton Township, Michigan. The film was made to document the Lights Golden Anniversary, a 50th anniversary celebration of Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Rosenwald was 67 when the film was shot – he would pass away a little more than 2 years later.
On Daufuskie Island, one of a chain of sea islands along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, sits a one-room schoolhouse called the Jane Hamilton School. From the outside, it looks very much like a Rosenwald School, but it was actually fully funded by the immediate community and constructed by local tradesman as well as WPA workers. The Rosenwald Fund provided funding to over 5,000 schools across the south, but this historical building is an example of the many additional schools that were built not with Rosenwald Fund money but with Rosenwald School plans. Beyond providing architectural plans, the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program served as a demonstration to all people that communities suffering under segregation could come together to improve local education facilities even if assistance from state and federal government was withheld.
The school was built on Daufuskie Island (near Savannah, Georgia) for the Gullah children of the island community. The Gullah people are the descendants of slaves from West and Central Africa whose language and culture incorporates influences from the African nations their ancestors lived in centuries ago. For many years, even into the twentieth century, this was a place that was somewhat cut off from the mainland (even today there is no road connection) and this isolation served to preserve the vibrant Gullah folk culture and language, especially after an influx of freed slaves moved to this region in the wake of the Civil War. Today, the Gullah culture is dispersing geographically to an extent (the Gullah population on sea islands like Daufuskie has declined) but there are local and national movements to preserve cultural landmarks like the Jane Hamilton School. A 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, by Julie Dash, that tells an inter-generational story in a Gullah community around the turn of the twentieth century, introduced many people to the Gullah culture.
One aspect of the Rosenwald Schools that is often recalled by alumni is the large windows and the buildings’ orientation towards the sun (to maximize natural light). This style is clearly evident in the Jane Hamilton School: one side of the building is full of large windows (see the photo below) while the other side (see the above photo) utilized small “breeze windows,” placed high up to allow airflow to the classroom while blocking out the view of the street so children would not be distracted by passersby.
Today, the Jane Hamilton School serves as the Gullah Learning Center, a community center where elections are held, with historical exhibits about the school and the Gullah community and a library. The building (which dates from 1940, 8 years after Julius Rosenwald’s death) is a great example of historical preservation as well as a demonstration of the extended influence of the Rosenwald Fund even beyond the 5,000+ schools it directly funded.
By Michael Rose
The long-awaited debut of the new addition to the Washington Nationals’ Presidents Race, William Howard Taft, was enjoyed by Nats fans on Monday, opening day of the 2013 baseball season. Taft didn’t win the race, getting bogged down in a tussle with Theodore Roosevelt that recalled for history buffs the infighting of the 1912 election between the two Republicans (and erstwhile friends).
Julius Rosenwald was closely acquainted with Taft, probably closer than with any of the other presidents he met and worked with during his life. We’ve talked about their relationship before on this blog, such as when Rosenwald responded to Taft’s call to build an African American YMCA in Washington D.C. and spent the night at the Taft White House. Taft is a great addition to the Presidents Race, which has already become a cherished tradition to Nats fans.
On Saturday, April 20th at 4:00 PM, the National Gallery of Art will screen a new 30 minute documentary about noted D.C.-area artist and art historian, David Driskell. The film, David Driskell: In Search of the Creative Truth, shows Driskell at work and explains his variety of influences.
David Driskell in his studio, from In Search of the Creative Truth
Driskell, as we learned when we interviewed him back in December, is a wealth of knowledge about artists like Aaron Douglas, Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence and Langston Hughes (all of whom were Rosenwald fellows). David Driskell: In Search of the Creative Truth is available to view on IMDb.com. When it screens at the National Gallery of Art, Driskell will be present along with his collaborator, print maker Curlee Holton, and Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.
Not only was singer Marian Anderson one of the most deserving of the Rosenwald Fund’s grant recipients, the story behind her fellowship is a fascinating and moving one. As was the practice with most of the Fund’s fellowships for artists and intellectuals, Anderson was already an accomplished singer when she received the grant. According to Anderson’s autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, in 1930 she embarked on a national tour of the U.S.A., but was disappointed with the number of dates she had been able to schedule. Although she admits it was not a bad tour “for a young artist,” she felt she had been around “long enough not to be considered a newcomer” and she had the unpleasant sensation that her career was “standing still.”
Marian Anderson, photographed by Gordon Parks in 1943
Photo source: Farm Security Administration via Library of Congress
As Anderson explains in her frank yet intimate prose, she was already thinking about traveling to Europe when, after a performance in a Chicago high school auditorium, two representatives from the Rosenwald Fund (Ray Field and George Arthur) approached her and urged her to apply for a Rosenwald fellowship to travel overseas. True to their word, Field and Arthur fast-tracked Anderson’s application, and in an unusual arrangement, allowed her to take just the first half of the grant in 1930 for a six month trip. Three years late, in 1933, she would accept the remainder of the grant money for another six month journey in Europe.
Under the Rosenwald fellowship, Anderson traveled first to Berlin, where she honed her German language skills while boarding with a friendly German couple and performing at various Berlin venues. From Germany, she went on to Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen. She was initially met with curiosity by the cool Scandinavian people, who were naively unaccustomed to black singers, but she won them over before long with her grace and the beauty of her voice. When she returned in 1933 to Scandinavia, her popularity had grown to immense proportions. She was greeted warmly by the people and ended up staying in Europe well beyond the six months she had planned. Audiences were especially gracious in Sweden, where people packed her concerts and wrote her personal fan letters. The Swedish newspapers dubbed the enthusiastic reaction “Marian Fever.”
Success in Europe led finally to her long-delayed success in the U.S. It was during her second Rosenwald-funded trip to Europe that the famous impresario Sol Hurok happened to hear her sing while in Paris and immediately signed her to a contract for 15 appearances in the U.S., including a 1936 concert that Hurok would finance at Carnegie Hall.
Marian Anderson singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Photo credit: National Archives
Marian Anderson is perhaps still best known for her iconic and inspirational performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after having been turned away from other venues by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the District of Columbia Board of Education. Despite her talent, Anderson’s career was slow to gather momentum in the U.S. due to racial discrimination, and she was fortunate to have the opportunity provided by the Rosenwald Fund to follow her calling in Europe.
By Michael Rose
“INsite/INchelsea,” a modern art exhibition at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in Manhattan, closes its nearly 3 month run this Saturday, March 9th. The show features work by 5 of the most prominent artists to receive Rosenwald fellowships: Eldzier Cortor, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage and Charles White. Incidentally–and interestingly–the Rosenfeld Gallery’s selections from these artists displays what their art looked like before they received their Rosenwald grants.
For example, take a look at Cortor’s 1938 “Rooftops on Wabash,” a painting of Chicago rowhomes framed through a second story apartment window. With the help of the Rosenwald Fund in the mid-1940s, Cortor went on to develop his artistic practice outside of this kind of urban space (traveling to South Carolina and, later, the Caribbean) but it’s fascinating to see this earlier stage in his career. Likewise, you’ll see Jacob Lawrence’s 1937 “Christmas in Harlem,” which displays some of the same style he would perfect in his acclaimed “Great Migration” series, completed with the help of consecutive Rosenwald grants in 1940, 1941 and 1942. From Charles White, the gallery offers a 1936 oil portrait, a piece that’s markedly different from the epic, historical murals and prints he would create later in his career, after his consecutive Rosenwald grants in 1942 and 1943.
Young Augusta Savage at work
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Finally, be sure to see Augusta Savage‘s famed “Gamin” (1929), a beautiful piece that put the great sculptor on the map and earned her 3 Rosenwald grants to study art in Europe in 1929, 1930 and 1931. Because these works of art were likely the ones that initially drew the attention of the Rosenwald Fund grant administrators, viewing them can give you a glimpse into the Fund’s working process. If you are in the area, take the time to visit the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery before the exhibit closes.
By Michael Rose
Rosenwald fellow Gordon Parks’ photography has been the subject of a series of exhibitions recently, in the wake of what would have been his 100th birthday on November 30th, 2012. We blogged about a Gordon Parks show at the Schomburg Center in Manhattan last July, and now another collection of his photography will be on display at the Adamson Gallery in Washington, D.C. between March 23rd and May 11th. An opening reception will be held on the 23rd from 6 to 8 PM. Click here for the press release on the Adamson Gallery’s website.