Exhibit featuring African American works on paper

A few of art pieces included in a new exhibit featuring African American artists. // Photo by Erin Abraham Student Publications

While the Institute is prided on its heavy STEM focus and excels in such fields, students and staff also do a great job at incorporating and emphasizing the arts. Art exhibits across campus are reflective of such a sentiment. This semester, Tech has presented members of the community with the “A Community of Artists: African American Works on Paper from the Cochran Collection” exhibit. The exhibit spans over the course of several months and is offered by the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking. 

Viewers have the opportunity to observe 51 works spanning the 20th century. The exhibit is divided into three different themes including Georgia’s connection to the larger American art community, the experience of women artists and the significance of print shops in developing artist skills and reputations.

Jerushia Graham, museum coordinator, has been responsible for selecting and installing works for the exhibit as well as helping to keep the changing exhibit gallery up and running. 

“The idea to approach Wesley and Missy Cochran about exhibiting a selection of works from their African American Works on Paper collection was the brainchild of the museum’s former director, Teri Williams,” Graham said. 

Williams was both the director and curator for the Paper Museum. When Graham joined the staff in 2017, Williams recommended that she take a look at the prints in Cochran’s collections. 

The two then visited LaGrange, Ga. to do some research on the prints.

“They had such a rich collection it was hard to decide on just one focus for the show so I broke it down into three areas, Georgia artists, women artists and master printmakers,” Graham said.

After deciding to pursue the collection, Graham was tasked with formulating a way to organize it. While selecting and installing works, Graham had to keep her goal of the exhibit in mind.

“I hope the exhibit introduces visitors to amazing artists they may not have known before and inspires visitors to learn more about the artist. I also hope that the exhibit helps people place these artists in the larger context of art history,” Graham said. “These artists were contemporaries of those 20th century American artists that are household names. They were creating at the same level of excellence but didn’t get the same kind of exposure because of racial discrimination. For those who are familiar with these artists, it’s a treat to be able to provide access for people to see the work in person.”

The works in an exhibit, the artists and the story they are trying to convey to viewers are all important to the exhibit’s success. The purpose behind works of art and ideas that tie pieces together are crucial to the cohesiveness of an exhibit.

“In the 80s, the Cochrans recognized a gap in their collection which motivated them to actively incorporate African American artists and women artists into their collection,” Graham said. 

“This was before it was in vogue to collect Black art. With the help of Camille Billops (1933-2019) filmmaker, archivist, editor and artist, Wes and Missy Cochran were able to develop a well-rounded collection.” 

While the museum is displaying works created by 50 different artists, two particularly stand out. Elizabeth Catlett, a sculptor and printmaker, who was a grandchild of former enslaved African Americans and Barbara Chase-Riboud, a sculptor and writer, who is being honored with a retrospective of her life’s work by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.

Four of the artists from the show, Jim Alexander, Radcliffe Bailey, Kevin Cole and Tina Dunkley will be speaking at 7 p.m. on Oct. 3 at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking. Graham and the staff members at the museum encourage you to meet the talented artists in-person. The exhibit is running through Dec. 2 and is available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m-5 p.m.