Spiritual Strivings: A Celebration of African American Works on Paper

In 1903 W.E.B. Du Bois published the essay “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in The Souls of Black Folk, and argued that to be equal American citizens, African Americans needed to strive to be in the pantheon of artistic culture and that “This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his best powers and his latent genius.”

The Kelley Collection—which spans the entirety of 20th century African American art—illustrates the fulfillment of Du Bois’ call for this spiritual striving at the beginning of the century.

Spiritual Strivings features two components: The Kelley Collection on view in the Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building, and Eldzier Cortor: Theme and Variations on display in the Richard C. von Hess Foundation Works on Paper Gallery.

Learn about special exhibition-related programs HERE.

The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper

June 27 - October 12, 2014

Annenberg Gallery, Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building

This exhibition is organized by PAFA in association with Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA. 

The over 70 works on paper in this exhibition span the 20th century and represent just a fraction of what is contained in the Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of San Antonio, TX—one of the country's preeminent collections of African American art. Esteemed art historian, David Driskell, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland at College Park, calls the Kelley Collection "one of the finest that has been assembled tracing the history of African American art."

Included in the exhibition are drawings, etchings, lithographs, watercolors, pastels, acrylics, gouaches, linoleum and color screen prints by such noted historic artists as Ron Adams, Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers, Eldzier Cortor, and Margaret Burroughs. Philadelphia area artists in the exhibition include Allen Freelon, Raymond Seth, Paul Keene, Horace Pippin, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Dox Thrash, and Samuel J. Brown. The exhibition also features works by living artists Thornton Dial, Allyson Saar, Whitfield Lovell, Sam Middleton, Dean Mitchell, and Ike Morgan.

The works on paper that were gleaned from the Kelley Collection for this exhibition provide a rare opportunity for Philadelphians to view master graphics spanning two centuries of African American art. The majority of the works in this exhibition were produced during the 1930s and 40s, the era of the Great Depression and the WPA/FAP (Works Progress Administration of the Federal Arts Project) that provided employment for many artists during and after the Depression. That period gave birth to a school of African American regionalism and black consciousness that would not re-surface until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Curator: Anna O. Marley, Curator of Historical American Art

Eldzier Cortor: Theme and Variations

June 27 - August 31, 2014

Richard C. von Hess Foundation Works on Paper Gallery, Historic Landmark Building

This exhibition celebrates a generous recent gift to PAFA from Eldzier Cortor (b. 1916). An artist who has had an extraordinary career and is still working in his nineties, Cortor grew up in Chicago and attended the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) and later the Institute of Design or “New Bauhaus” (ID). In each setting he studied with some of the most influential instructors of the 1930s: Kathleen Blackshear at SAIC and Lázló Maholy-Nagy at the ID. Blackshear encouraged her students to find and develop their own vision and exposed them to a wide range of visual sources, especially the anthropological collections of the Field Museum of Natural History. At the ID, Cortor fine-tuned a rigorous approach to composition and inter-locking forms, exposed to the most innovative ways of visual intelligence developed by Maholy-Nagy and his faculty. In the 1940s Cortor traveled to Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti, fascinated by the richness and transformations he found in the African Diaspora. Although a gifted and influential painter, Cortor has been a master printmaker from the 1930s onward. The body of work he has donated to PAFA consists of prints and preparatory materials related to his printmaking process. Cortor has donated a total of 53 objects including original plates, test proofs, and examples from several series of prints, dating from the 1950s through 2000. The installation will reveal Cortor's working methods and show how he has used printmaking as a means to explore motifs that morph, become embellished, expand, and turn calm.

Curator: Robert Cozzolino, Senior Curator and Curator of Modern Art

Presenting sponsor:

Additional support provided by the Edna W. Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, Valentino D. Carlotti, and Mr. and Mrs. Winston I. Lowe, Esq.

PAFA's special exhibitions in 2014-15 are supported by generous contributions from Linda Seyda and Bob Boris and Jonathan Cohen.


The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ public programs are funded in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency).




General operating support provided, in part, by