Migration, Identity, and #Panel61

Kelly O’Brien teaches African American History at The Milton Hersey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This year, her class once again studied the Great Migration and used the Phillips’s Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series website as a resource, including imagining what Panel 61 of the series would look like. Explore their artworks and read about how Ms. O’Brien’s class learned from Lawrence’s artwork.

Three photographs of high school students creating #Panel61

Students creating #Panel61

As in recent years, we spent time in a unit in our African American history class on “Migration and Identity” examining the impact of era after Reconstruction where people of color fled the South in search of lives elsewhere. In this particular lesson, we study Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and the story that the panels tell about the causes and effects of the migration, the hardships, and the resiliency of those who travelled. After our lesson, students are prompted to create the #Panel61 as described on the Phillips’s website. They are given prompts to push them to consider the effects of the Migration including:

• How has the Great Migration had a lasting effect on Americans today?
• How has the Great Migration affected American communities in the present?
• What has been the impact of the Great Migration on race relations in the United States?
• What were/are the positive or negative impacts of the migration on African Americans from the South?

Two photos of high school students creating #Panel61

Students creating #Panel61

It’s always fascinating to see the various student interpretations of these questions. Some take a more historical standpoint, exhibiting the factors from which migrants fled and the positives effects of their Northern move. Some look more into the modern day. Still even with this standpoint, students have both negative and positive views of what this movement has meant for people of color. For example, some of the Panel61s exhibit ideas of modern politics, some about socioeconomic standing, some regard culture or self-identity. All of the students’ views are valid because these are the experience of people of color across America. All have resulted because of a mass migration that occurred in our recent past. We must always acknowledge how our past shapes our present and the students are keen to do that in their work.

View the students’ artwork at the Phillips’s Migration Series website and read about their inspiration

The Phillips Collects: Aimé Mpane

Congolese artist Aimé Mpane (b. 1968), the son of a sculptor and cabinet-maker, and a sculptor and painter himself, splits his time between Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Brussels, Belgium. His work is deeply humanistic and appeals to the collective historical consciousness. Working primarily with wood and an adze—a traditional African woodworking tool—Mpane creates sculptures, mosaic-like wall hangings, and portraits carved on wood that explore the character of contemporary Congo, while demonstrating a deep understanding of its history. Mpane’s artworks often address the aftermath of Belgian colonialism and the Mobutu regime in Congo, while his brightly painted portraits of the men, women, and children he meets on the streets of Kinshasa give insight into modern Congolese identity. As he has said, “My work tells of hope, courage, empathy, and endurance.”

The Phillips Collection recently acquired Maman Calcule, 2013, a powerful example of Mpane’s larger mosaic works made up of over a thousand small painted blocks of plywood.

Photo of Aimé Mpane, Maman Calcule, 2013

Aimé Mpane, Maman Calcule, 2013, Mural on pieces of wood, 83 x 73 in., The Phillips Collection, Dreier Fund for Acquisitions. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

The back side of the pieces of Maman Calcule are painted red, producing a glow on the wall behind it. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Detail of Maman Calcule

As part of the Phillips’s efforts to grow the international foundation of the collection established by Duncan Phillips, this is the second work by Mpane to enter the collection. The first, Mapasa, 2012, was acquired from (e)merge, the contemporary art fair that took place at the Capitol Skyline Hotel every year between 2011 and 2015. Mapasa is a colorful, rough-hewn double-portrait of two sisters, carved out of plywood in his signature style.

Aimé Mpane, Mapasa, 2012, Acrylic and mixed media on two wooden panels, each panel: 12 1/2 in x 12 in., The Phillips Collection, The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Award, 2012

Phillips Flashback: A Note From Georgia O’Keeffe

Every so often, routine messages from the past can provide new insights into historic connections and relationships. While preparing Duncan and Marjorie Phillips’s correspondence for an ambitious three-year digitization project of the Phillips archives (generously funded by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services), Processing Archivist Juli Folk found a handwritten note from Georgia O’Keeffe from 1936 on the back of a Phillips Memorial Gallery (as the museum was called then) envelope:

“Dear Mr. Phillips, I came in this afternoon with my friend Anita Pollitzer and was very sorry not to see you. When I asked this morning if the gallery would be open it did not occur to me to ask if you would be here. I enjoyed the paintings very much. My greetings to Mrs. Phillips. Sincerely, Georgia O’Keeffe.”

A note from Georgia O’Keeffe from the Phillips Collection archives

After a visit to the museum one day, O’Keeffe used the envelope to leave a note telling Duncan Phillips that she and her companion, Anita Pollitzer, enjoyed the paintings and to express disappointment that she had not been able to see him that day. By this time, Phillips and O’Keeffe had an established correspondence and Phillips already owned her painting Ranchos Church, No. II, NM (1929). Pollitzer was O’Keeffe’s best friend, with whom she also carried on a prodigious correspondence and to whom O’Keeffe often showed her work. In fact, it was Pollitzer who sent some of O’Keeffe’s early abstract charcoal drawings, which O’Keeffe called the “Specials,” to Alfred Stieglitz, gallery dealer and photographer, launching a lifelong relationship. Stieglitz went on to become a champion of O’Keeffe’s work, giving her many exhibitions in his New York gallery, and the two were married in 1924.

It is tantalizing to speculate which works of art O’Keeffe saw at the gallery that day. According to the museum’s installation records, in 1936 she could have seen paintings such as Pierre Bonnard’s The Open Window, Paul Cézanne’s Self-Portrait, Arthur Dove’s Morning Sun, Vincent van Gogh’s The Public Gardens at Arles, Ernest Lawson’s Spring Morning, Edouard Manet’s Spanish Ballet, Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room, and Albert Pinkham Ryder’s Moonlit Cove, as well as her own Ranchos Church, inspired by a trip to Taos, New Mexico.