My friend and I went to the Gantt Center last weekend to see The Hewitt Collection of African American Art.
The collection was purchased by Bank of America in 1998 from John and Vivian Hewitt. Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt amassed the collection during 50 years and over the course of their marriage. Mr. Hewitt was a writer Mrs. Hewitt was a librarian. Although they were of modest means, they dedicated their lives to a love of art. Their efforts resulted in the creation of the most important collection of African-American art in the country.
This is from the official website of the Gantt Center.
The Hewitt Collection of African-American Art consists of works by renowned artists including Romare Bearden, regarded as one of the greatest American artists of his generation; Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the first African-American artists to achieve acclaim in both America and Europe; Elizabeth Catlett; Jonathan Green; Jacob Lawrence; Ann Tanksley; and Hale Woodruff. Bank of America acquired the Hewitt Collection in 1998 from John and Vivian Hewitt, and pledged it as a cornerstone of the Gantt Center’s permanent collection.
Dedicated collectors despite their financial limitations (John was a freelance writer and Vivian a librarian), through their 50 years of collecting, the Hewitts became close friends with many of the artists. By the 1970s they were opening their home to showcase the work of Hale Woodruff, Ernest Crichlow, Alvin Hollingsworth, and J. Eugene Grigsby, a cousin of Mrs. Hewitt’s.
The Hewitts were newlyweds when they bought their first piece of art, a Picasso reproduction. In 1960, they acquired their first original painting while on vacation in Haiti, and added to it one painting at a time, commemorating special occasions in their lives with art. "Our collection…until 1960, it would be called eclectic," Vivian stated. "John decided we should be more focused. For 15 years, we focused on Haitian art. (Later) my husband said, 'We know most of these African-American artists. We had better back up and collect some from our own culture, while we can afford them.'"
Vivian's cousin, J. Eugene Grigsby, is an artist and internationally acclaimed art educator who also introduced the couple to numerous artists, many of whom wrote personal inscriptions or notes on the pieces the couple purchased, increasing their value both monetarily and sentimentally. For 10 years the Hewitt collection has toured the United States.The Hewitt Collection is now in it's permanent home at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, here in Charlotte. The Gantt Center is in uptown Charlotte and is located across the street from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
If you're in town, please go see it.