Civil rights murals coming to Kansas City

Hale Aspacio Woodruff (American, 1900–1980), The Mutiny on the Amistad, 1939, oil on canvas, 72 x 120 inches. Collection of Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama.© Talladega College. Photo: Peter Harholdt

Hale Aspacio Woodruff (American, 1900–1980), The Mutiny on the Amistad, 1939, oil on canvas, 72 x 120 inches. Collection of Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama.© Talladega College. Photo: Peter Harholdt

Recently restored murals symbolizing the African-American struggle for civil rights are coming to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art this month.

The works by artist Hale Aspacio Woodruff have been traveling the country for the first time since their creation in 1938 and will be in Kansas City from Sept. 25 to January 10, 2016.

“These dynamic works serve not only as magnificent examples of the art of mural painting, but also as dramatic depictions of highly symbolic events in history,” said Juliann Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Seventy-five years after they were painted, these murals are vivid reminders of the struggle for human justice and brotherhood–a struggle that continues to this day.”

Here’s more from the Nelson-Atkins.:

Hale Aspacio Woodruff was born in Cairo, Illinois, and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, by his widowed mother, Augusta, a domestic laborer who recognized and encouraged her son’s gift for art. In 1927, after formal art study in the United States, Woodruff moved to Paris where he trained at the city’s progressive art academies. Woodruff returned to the United States in 1931 and established the first art school for African Americans in the southeast at Atlanta University. During the depression, he participated in government-sponsored public art programs, painting murals (many of which no longer exist) with black cultural themes. This increased focus on effective social commentary in public art fortified Woodruff for what would become his most high-profile project, the Talladega commission.

The Amistad mural cycle, painted first and completed for the 1939 opening of the Savery Library on Talladega’s campus, chronicles the mutiny aboard the infamous ship, the trial of the surviving slaves, and their subsequent repatriation after their release. Painted in 1942, the Founding mural cycle illustrates the continued struggles for blacks even after the end of the Civil War. Scenes from the Underground Railroad, the founding of Talladega College and the building of Savery Library, illuminate the lasting effects slavery had on freedom, education and equality.

For the traveling exhibition Rising Up, the High Museum of Art collaborated with Talladega College on the removal of the murals from the walls of Savery Library, where they had hung for nearly 70 years. The two institutions partnered for the extensive conservation treatment of the paintings, as well as the multi-city tour that presents these six murals to a national audience for the first time.

The celebration of Woodruff’s life and accomplishments will reach beyond the doors of the Nelson- Atkins to become a collaborative effort between cultural organizations including The American Jazz Museum, The Black Archives of Mid-America, and Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center. Opening September 26, 2015 at The American Jazz Museum, “All Hail to Hale” Homecoming: the Hale Woodruff Family Collection showcases over 25 original Woodruff paintings along with a collection of personal items of the artist that have never been on public view. More For a full list of programming associated with the American Jazz Museum please visit. More

“Although painted for a local audience, Woodruff’s murals reached beyond Talladega’s campus to attract national attention as an artistic triumph, a statement of pride, and an emblem of hope for racial equality,” said Stephanie Fox Knappe, Samuel Sosland Curator, American Art. “Today these murals remain symbols of the centuries-long struggle for civil rights. We are honored to showcase them in Kansas City before they return to the walls of Savery Library at Talladega College and delighted that their presentation at the Nelson-Atkins coincides with the tribute to Woodruff mounted by The American Jazz Museum.”

The Nelson-Atkins will also offer an installation of works to complement Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College. Opening Nov. 11 in Gallery 214, American Art—In Preparation includes preparatory works drawn from the Nelson-Atkins’ permanent collection, featuring mural studies that were enlarged and transferred by some of Woodruff’s contemporaries, such as Aaron Douglas, Peter Hurd, and Thomas Hart Benton. This exhibition is Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow Issac Logsdon’s curatorial debut.

“The wide-ranging examples of preparatory works on view will trace the trajectory of the artists’ thoughts and offer insight into the artistic process of translating precise drawings into monumental murals,” said Logsdon.








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