Internship Reflection – Part 5

Over the last few weeks, I have continued work on my digital project on the founder of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Warren Robbins and the female artist he was affiliated with. My work of late has centered around adding more document transcriptions to the site, adding images of portrait prints, and working on the site design.

Laura Wheeler Waring
Laura Wheeler Waring

As work has continued, I have been able to learn some interesting information regarding some of the artists in the Warren Robbins collection. Of particular interest are Betsy Graves Reyneau and Laura Wheeler Waring, both American portrait painters, the latter of which was African American. Together, these two painters are responsible for nearly 25 portrait prints from the collection and were both known for painting portraits of prolific African Americans.

Betsy Graves Reyneau (1888–1964) was also active in civil rights causes and a suffragette, becoming one of the first women arrested and imprisoned for protesting Woodrow Wilson’s stance on a woman’s right to vote. The subjects for some of her portrait paintings included: Charles Richard Drew, John Andrew Kennedy, Asa Philip Randolph, Helen A. Whiting, Alain LeRot Locke, and Mary McLeod Bethune. Similarly, Laura Wheeler Waring (1887-1948) painted portraits of George Washington Carver, Marian Anderson,

Charles Richard Drew by Betsy Graves Reyneau
Charles Richard Drew by Betsy Graves Reyneau

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, and Jesse Redmon Fauset. Her work was featured in country’s first exhibition of African-American art, held in 1927 by the William E. Harmon Foundation. What was particular interesting is that both Reyneau and Waring partnered in the 1940s when their work was sponsored by the philanthropic group, the Harmon Foundation for their similar interests in painting prominent African Americans.

Also of interest is American painter and sculptor, Dorothy Dehner (1901-1994). While she studied painting and dance as a teenager, she did not find her calling as a sculptor until later in life, in 1955 at the age of 54. Dehner quickly gained recognition, working with mediums like bronze and wood. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and eventually had a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Letters between Warren Robbins seem to have begun sometime after her claim to fame as a sculptor and continued nearly towards the end of her life.

Lastly is Loïs Mailou Jones (1905-1998), an influential African American artist and teacher who was one of the most notable figures to attain notoriety for her art while living as a black expatriate in Paris during the 1930s and 1940s. She was trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, starting her career in textile design and eventually focusing on fine arts. The subjects of her paintings were influenced by Africa, the Caribbean and her own experiences. Furthermore, she began her career at a time when racial prejudices and gender discrimination were strong in American culture. As such, her subjects were some of the first paintings by an African-American artist to extend beyond the realm of portraiture.

While work as gone into identifying some of artist Robbins was affiliated with, time has also been devoted to working on the site design. Sometime ago I worked on the mockup designs for how I wanted to the site to work. I have now been able to begin work on implementing this and hope to put into effect the home page soon.

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