Thompson Collection Redefines Tradition

Larry Saxton | 3/4/2009, 8:13 p.m.

Seventy-two works by 67 artists from the African American art collection of Larry and Brenda Thompson are on display at the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland, College Park. The exhibition, entitled €Tradition Redefined,€ is curated by the Center€s Curator-in-Residence, Dr. Adrienne L. Childs.

Included in the exhibit are works by artists such as Henry O. Tanner, William T. Willams, Hale A. Woodruff, Charles E. Porter, Charles Sebree, Sam Gilliam, Evangeline J. Montgomery and Romare Bearden, spanning the time period from the 1890€s to 2007. The Thompsons€ collection demonstrates their ability to recognize not only the value of art done by well-known African American masters, but also works of African American artists who might not be so well known, or those who may be considered emerging.
Larry Thompson, talking about the philosophy he and his wife use in collecting, said, €The first thing is that we want to have fun; my wife and I enjoy partnering in doing this. Another thing we want to do is to advance our culture in support of art, and we especially enjoy supporting living artists and artists who may not be so well known, artists who are starting out in their careers.€

One of those artists is Maria-Lana Queen of Washington, D.C. Queen is a self taught artist whose piece, €Still Standing,€ was purchased by the Thompsons from her first solo exhibit at the Paris Art Gallery in 2007. Collecting art of living artists is another way of supporting artists, according to Brenda Thompson.

€It [collecting] gives us a since of pride, and artists have to be supported,€ Brenda Thompson said. €We were looking for people who had similarities with our own and their stories. Art reflects the culture in which we live. It€s very important to support the artists because they chronicle that part of our history. If we don€t support them, and I can€t say it enough, they will die unsupported. Too often it happens that we lose so much of our culture because we haven€t embraced them. We hope that our collection says to the art world €Look here; there are some other artists to be considered.€€

David Driskell, for whom the Driskell Center is named, is an artist, art historian and Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of Maryland.
€The most important thing is that we affirm the notion that African Americans have their own way of seeing, collecting, and contributing to the larger picture of American art,€ Driskell said. €The Thompsons have certainly given us that example as a passion of collecting art. Our mission is to continue educating people, letting them know that African American art is alive and well, and that it is a very vital part of American culture.€

The exhibition is supported, in part, by a special fund from the Office of the President of the University of Maryland, College Park, and a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. The exhibition €Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art€ runs through May 29.

For more information on times visit www.driskellcenter.umd.edu or call 301-314-2615.