In honor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s bicentennial celebration, Florcy Morisset of Vivant Art Collection has guest curated a show in PAFA’s Sculpture Study Center. The Extraordinary History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is on view July 6-18, which coincides with the AME Church’s General Conference being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The AME Church traces its origins to the Free African Society, which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others founded in 1787 after facing racial discrimination at St. Georges Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen, a former Delaware slave who became a bishop, led the creation of the second Mother Bethel building for the AME Church in 1805. He then won his congregation’s independence from white Methodist congregations in two lawsuits, ultimately uniting other black Methodists under the AME Church in Philadelphia in 1816. While Mother Bethel is the oldest piece of U.S. land that African Americans have owned and operated, the church has since expanded to 39 countries in five continents.
The Extraordinary History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is significant then in its documentation of the church’s noble beginnings and rapid expansion. To that end, the exhibition includes two major works from PAFA’s permanent collection by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Nicodemus and Benjamin Tucker Tanner. Tanner, a PAFA alumnus, was the son of Benjamin Tucker Tanner, a renowned bishop in the AME Church. In fact, the pensive expression on the Benjamin Tucker Tanner bust appears to capture the goals of the exhibition and the General Conference as a whole, reflecting upon the church’s strong leadership and proud past with an eye toward the future.
Written by ZP Heller
July 6, 2016
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