Barnett-Aden Collection on Display at Hemphill Fine Arts Gallery

Larry Saxton | 2/18/2009, 1:09 p.m.

The Barnett-Aden Collection dates back to the 1920€s. If was founded by James Herring, founder of the Howard University Department of Art, and Alonzo Aden, curator of the University€s Gallery of Art, both of whom were collectors of art. In 1943, they opened an art gallery in their Washington, D.C. home, and named it the Barnett-Aden Gallery.

At a time when most African American artists could not exhibit in mainstream museums and galleries, the Barnett-Aden Gallery provided exhibit space for artists to showcase their talents. Artists like John Robinson, Archibald Motley, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and many others exhibited in the gallery.

€These curators did something else that was special: they featured the world of an emerging generation of young, Black artists searching for the right form through which to express their talent,€ wrote Jeffrey C. Stewart, curator for the Barnett-Aden collection €As a result of this openness to youth, the Barnett-Aden Gallery played a pivotal role in the maturation of the African American artist in America.€
In 1998, Johnson purchased the Barnett-Aden collection from the Florida Endowment Fund for Higher Education, and has spent the last 10 years having them restored, reframed and preserved so that these works of art can be appreciated for generations to come.

€Mr. Johnson wanted to have an exhibit of this collection in D.C. right after the inauguration and around Black History Month. He hopes the D.C. Public Schools would bring students to see the exhibit and use it as an education tool to teach students about the art and artists,€ said Traci Otey Blunt, V.P. for Communication and Public Affairs for the RLJ Companies.

Mary Early, gallery director at Hemphill Gallery, views the Barnett-Aden collection as a gift.

€Being able to show [the collection] to the public in a gallery in Washington that has benefited from the history of the Barnett-Aden Gallery, we feel very proud. We have actually dealt with many of the artists represented in the collection, like Alma Thomas and Jacob Kainen, who were both Washington artists. Showing at a gallery on 14th Street, very close to the center of African American life in Washington, I think, is the most important thing of all,€ Early said.

Stewart hopes this exhibit helps to begin a renaissance of collecting art, especially the collecting of African American art.

€By collecting art by Black artists that unmistakably sends this message to the public, we continue to perform an under-acknowledged service to the people in a democratic society,€ Stewart wrote.

The exhibition, €Selections from the Barnett-Aden Collection: A Homecoming Celebration,€ is on display through March 7 at the Hemphill Fine Arts in Northwest. For more information call 202-234-5601.

Larry Saxton can be reached at lsaxton@washingtoninformer.com.