Ela Area Library presentation celebrates Black History month
Art historian Jeff Mishur discusses the Henry Ossawa Tanner painting, "The Ascension," during his presentation Feb. 20 about African American art at the Ela Area Public Library. | Ruthie Hauge~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 1, 2013 7:17AM
LAKE ZURICH — Local art historian Jeff Mishur shared his deep knowledge and appreciation for African American art and history during a program last week at the Ela Area Public Library.
If it were up to him, Black History month would be celebrated year-round.
“I think it’s a year-long, relevant issue,” said Mishur, who gave a slide show and lecture presentation Feb. 20 at the library.
Mishur’s presentation covered artists from the late 1800s through the 1970s. He started with Henry Ossawa Tanner, who painted during the 1890s and is credited with influencing countless future African American artists.
Before Tanner’s work, Mishur said, many renditions of African Americans were more like grotesque caricatures. Tanner painted his subjects with dignity, Mishur explained.
“He took unconventional approaches to subjects,” Mishur added. “He paved a path that made it much easier for African American artists to be successful.”
Mishur’s presentation continued with artists from the 1930s and 1940s. Walter Ellison was known in the 1930s for his large paintings of train stations. The Great Migration, Mishur explained, was a significant theme in Ellison’s work.
“Walter Ellison is telling that story in the train station,” said Mishur, explained that Ellison’s “Train Station” painting portrays two groups of people — blacks and whites — while they board trains for different destinations.
Jacob Lawrence, another prominent artist of the era, was known for strong geometric shapes despite using limited color and facial features. Mishur explained that like Ellison, Lawrence also used the Great Migration as a theme in his work.
“You get this sense of unity through the mass of shapes,” he said while leading the crowd through several of Lawrence’s works.
Many of the artists Mishur spoke about were Harlem Renaissance artists from Chicago, but the movement got its name because Harlem had the largest African American population in the country at that time.
William Johnson, born after the abolition of slavery, was known for his bold colors and flat shapes which often draw comparisons to Picasso and Matisse.
“You have a lot of individual styles in the Harlem Renaissance,” he said.
Another 1920s artist, Archibald Motley Jr., was a Chicagoan whose works are displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“His favorite thing to do was to go to Bronzeville,” said Mishur.
Mishur finished his presentation with Faith Ringgold, a feminist artist who also wrote children’s books.
“She was especially active in the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s,” said Mishur, explaining that women during that time were not widely featured in places like museums and textbooks.
“Tar Beach,” a painting by Ringgold, has a quilt design that frames the painting. Mishur said the quilt challenged the separation of arts and crafts.
“I thought it was terrific,” said Hawthorn Woods resident Barb Lindquist when asked about Mishur’s program. “It was very informative.”
Hawthorn Woods resident Kay Guzder said she has been interested in African American art for several years
“I first became interested in African American art at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Michigan,” she said, before describing a painting she saw there titled “Color, No Objection,” which featured an African American boy and a white dog.
“I just fell in love with it,” she said.
Mishur lectures and leads art tours throughout the year in a variety of locations nationwide.