NEH Awards Grant to PAFA to Make John Rhoden Collection Publicly Available
PHILADELPHIA (April 22, 2019) -- The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) has been awarded $75,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in order to process, catalog, digitize, and make publicly available an archival collection documenting the life and career of African American artist John W. Rhoden (1916/18–2001).
“We are honored and grateful to the NEH for this opportunity to highlight an important archival collection that documents a historically under-recognized artist,” said Hoang Tran, project director and PAFA’s Director of Archives. “The Rhoden papers are among the most significant and visually-rich archives ever to be acquired by PAFA.”
Records document every period of Rhoden’s career and include sketchbooks, drawings, correspondence, and materials related to his exhibitions and commissions, as well as an extensive collection of photographs that document the artist’s professional and personal life.
In 2017, PAFA acquired the estate of John Rhoden, which included 305 works by the sculptor. In addition to Rhoden's artwork, the estate provided PAFA $5 million to fund a curator of the Rhoden Collection, Dr. Brittany Webb, a book and exhibition about Rhoden, an endowed scholarship for a PAFA student and construction of a new Arts Center at PAFA in honor of John and his late wife, Richanda.
PAFA will accession a number of Rhoden's works for its own permanent collection and will help place the remainder of the works within the collections of other museums around the world. Select sculptures will be exhibited in dedicated vestibules throughout the Arts Center Auditorium. To date, PAFA has accessioned seven sculptures by John Rhoden and three prints made collaboratively by Richanda and John Rhoden.
The 12-month, NEH-funded project is particularly timely since PAFA is organizing a retrospective exhibition in Summer 2021 and a major publication on the life of John Rhoden. Planning for the exhibition and publication will require the use of the primary source material found in the Rhoden papers, considered the only comprehensive records in existence.
“Once the exhibition opens and audiences learn more about Rhoden, we believe research interests for the artist will increase,” Tran said. “To better serve our patrons and expand access, staff will digitize and provide free online access to a large portion of the collection.”
Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1918, Rhoden sculpted in bronze, stone, and wood, was named a Fulbright Fellow in 1951, and has had his work displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, PAFA, and other museums in the U.S. and abroad.
Since Rhoden’s home also served as his studio, the records found in the collection serve as a unique resource for the study of American sculpture through the lens of an African American artist practicing during the tumultuous 20th century.
“In addition to supporting the upcoming exhibition and catalog, it’s heartening to anticipate the ways this project will support our colleagues in other museums that will be receiving works by Rhoden as gifts, allowing scholars and curators across the field to do deep research on John Rhoden,” said Dr. Webb, curator of the Rhoden collection.
A previous grant NEH grant helped establish PAFA’s Center for the Study of the American Artist in 2016. Dr. Anna O. Marley, Curator of Historical American Art and Director of the Center added: “We are thrilled to receive a second major grant from the NEH to support the Center. The award supports the Center’s ongoing commitment to collect, conserve, exhibit, and interpret works of art as well as the rich archival collections that document the diverse voices that helped shape American art and art education.”