Romare Bearden Told Stories Through Mixed Media Collages

One of the things I admire most about Romare Bearden’s work is the way he tells a story using a lively interplay of art materials. Consider “Conjunction,” a collage he created in 1971, and one of four artworks featured on a set of stamps issued in 2011. The scene is drawn from Bearden’s memories of growing up in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He uses the collage medium to tell us two important things about the culture of his childhood. The subject of the collage is the significance of community and sharing; the “conjunction” of people when they greet one another and come together for conversation. In this collage, Bearden worked with charcoal and crayon—traditional art materials—and fabric remnants.

Romare Bearden Cultural Diary Page (click to order)

He builds form and gives shape to the figures with these vibrantly colored swatches of fabric, alluding directly to the quilting tradition practiced by his family and neighbors. It’s the juxtaposition of varied color and patterns in the cloth that enlivens the composition. There’s enough going on in Bearden’s collages to keep the eye active and interested. In fact, when looking at his art, I’m in awe of the way he pulls together common materials such as fabric, foil, and cardboard—things I’d just as easily toss in a wastebasket—to create vivid tableaux telling stories of human interaction and complex emotion.

Through March 11, 2012, you can see works by Romare Bearden in New York City at the Studio Museum in Harlem. “The Bearden Project” is a tribute exhibition organized to coincide with the artist’s centennial year. For more information, visit the Studio Museum’s web site.

Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Photograph © Frank Stewart/Black Light Productions

Hattie McDaniel Wows the Audience of the 13th Annual Academy Awards

On February 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel—the Postal Service’s 2006 Black Heritage subject—made history by becoming the first African American to receive an Oscar. In fact, she was the first African American ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. McDaniel was honored for her performance as Mammy in the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s popular novel, Gone With the Wind, and her acceptance speech is a lesson in eloquence, grace, and humility.

Such a Wonderful World

Louis Armstrong and his wailing trumpet will always remind me of the first time I learned about jazz music in school. We listened to Armstrong sing “What a Wonderful World” a dozen times, and that gruff voice stuck with me.

Every time I hear this iconic song, I get transported back to that classroom where Armstrong’s music first affected me. I just love it!

Bruce Davidson Captured the Spirit of the Civil Rights Era

Among the striking artworks included on the 2005 To Form a More Perfect Union stamp pane is a black-and-white photograph by celebrated photographer Bruce Davidson.

“Youths on the Selma March,” which Davidson shot 40 years earlier in 1965, engages the viewer immediately. Two young activists stare unflinchingly into the camera. They represent the defiance and determination of citizens fighting for civil rights, and their youthfulness reveals—and speaks to—the hope of a generation.

Louis Plummer, the project’s photo researcher, reviewed dozens of photographs and works of art to give the designer a strong selection of images to consider for each stamp.

“When I am looking for a successful image to be used as a stamp, I want it to tell a story,” Plummer said. “I thought this photograph could tell a story, conveying meaning in a direct and powerful way.”

As art director for this culturally and politically significant pane, Ethel Kessler described the experience as “more like curating an exhibition. It was relatively easy to find [paintings] that directly illustrated the milestones of the Civil Rights Movement. Photography added a new dimension—an immediacy—I felt was important for the subject.

“Bruce Davidson’s photos from the civil rights era in American history prove the point of the power of photography. His pictures really speak for themselves,” Kessler said. “Looking directly into the eyes of these young men, you can see the future literally written on their faces.”

Celebrating a True Champion: Tennis Player Arthur Ashe

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic,” Arthur Ashe (1943–1993) once said. “It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

The tennis champion and humanitarian was, without a doubt, a true hero—and a pioneer. The first, and only, African-American man to win a major singles tournament, Ashe was committed to social issues. He established foundations to help disenfranchised young people, to oppose apartheid in South Africa, and to fight AIDS, which he contracted from a blood transfusion following heart surgery.

Ashe passed away on February 6, 1993, but his legacy remains. In 2005, the U.S. Postal Service honored him with a stamp that features photographer Michael O’Neill‘s striking portrait of Ashe, which had previously appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Arthur Ashe TM c/o CMG Worldwide, Indianapolis, IN