Fifty years of art by Philadelphia African-Americans showcased in Woodmere Art Museum exhibit

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You have until Jan. 24 to catch “We Speak: Black Artists of Philadelphia, 1920s-1970s” at the Woodmere Art Museum.
Featuring more than 70 paintings, photographs, sculptures and prints produced by African-American artists living and working in Philadelphia during that time period, “We Speak” examines relationships in the arts, while considering how artists supported each other and mentored subsequent generations.
Shaped by 14 interviews with artists and their family members, museum professionals, collectors, gallery owners and scholars (which are transcribed in the illustrated exhibition catalogue), the exhibition mentions the Graphic Arts Workshop of the Works Progress Administration, the Barnes Foundation, the Pyramid Club, Philadelphia public schools, the Wharton Center and other settlement houses, the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center, the National Conference of Artists, the Brandywine Workshop, the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum; and other Philadelphia academies, museums, universities, galleries and artist groups.
William Valerio, the Director of Woodmere Art Museum, stated in a press release: “Woodmere is the only museum able to bring to life an exhibition such as ‘We Speak’ because our mission is to tell the stories of the art and artists of Philadelphia.
By taking a closer look at our collection, we discovered some thought-provoking connections between artist’s inspirations and ideas. We wanted to undertake the oral histories to learn more about the relationships and social contexts they shared. The artists included in the exhibition addressed matters of race and equality in many different ways, both implicitly and explicitly.”
Sounds like there’s some real contrasts in voice. That period includes the era of Jim Crow laws, as well as the Civil Rights and black power movements.
The curatorial time frame begins with Philadelphian Alain Locke’s publication of “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts” (1925), which issued a call to artists to find inspiration in their African heritage. It also illustrates the evaluation of progress toward freedom and equality during the Bicentennial celebration of 1976.
Who are the artists I’ll see?
Featured artists include Laura Wheeler Waring, Allen R. Freelon Sr., Dox Thrash, Selma Burke, Paul F. Keene Jr., Charles Searles, Ellen Powell Tiberino, Barbara Bullock, Moe Brooker, Donald E. Camp, Barkley L. Hendricks, Richard J. Watson, Allan L. Edmunds and more.
Where is the Woodmere Art Museum?
In the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia at 9201 Germantown Ave.
When is it open?
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
How much is admission?
Cost is $10, $7 for seniors 55+, free to children and students, and to all on Sundays.
Will there be any special programs related to “We Speak?”
From 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 18, it’s Friday night jazz with Rich Budesa performing a program titled “An Organ Holiday … and a Merry One!” on a Hammond B3 organ. Cost is $22, $12 for members.
From noon to 4 p.m. Jan. 18, there will be a free Martin Luther King Jr. Day Family Festival, featuring an art project; spoken word performance by the Peace + Love Foundation; a “Hip Hop Fundamentals” breakdance performance; and stories about King, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Harriet Tubman and others who participated in the struggle for freedom and civil rights.
On Jan. 23 at 3 p.m., there will be a panel discussion, “Breaking Barriers, Black Artists in Philadelphia,” with opera singer, teacher and producer Paul Adkins; director and founder of Scribe Video Center Louis Massiah; poet and performer Ursula Rucker; and choreographer and Temple University professor Kariamu Welsh. Cost is $15, $10 for members.
Tell me more about the museum.
Housed in a 19th century stone Victorian mansion on six acres, the Woodmere first opened in 1910. The building, grounds and core of the permanent collection were gifts of civic leader Charles Knox Smith. Today, the collection consists of more than 5,000 works of art.
Where can I find out more?
Visit www.woodmereartmuseum.org or call (215) 247-0476.

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