Rebecca Keegan VanDiver, assistant professor of history of art, will present a paper at the third biennial symposium organized by the Association of Historians of American Art (AHAA) held October 9-11 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her paper is entitled “The Pictures Not Painted: African American Artists and the Rosenwald Fund Fellowship, 1929-1948.”
During the Great Depression, American artists of all races found themselves struggling to keep their careers afloat; some artists sought refuge teaching in college art departments, while others entered the employ of the WPA, or found themselves drafted into military service. In her paper, VanDiver examines proposals submitted by African American artists to the Chicago-based Rosenwald Fund Fellowship between 1929 and 1948. The Rosenwald Fund, along with the Harmon Foundation, offered critical financial support and creative freedom to African American artists during this pivotal period.
VanDiver’s close scrutiny of these artists’ Rosenwald Fund application materials, now archived at Fisk University, elucidates the specific African American aesthetic that the Rosenwald Fund championed as well as opens up a discussion of the varied economic, cultural, and physical obstacles facing African American artists during the interwar years. VanDiver moves beyond the work of successful applicants (Augusta Savage, Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, and others) and engages with counterfactual theory by considering the projects that the Fund rejected, which were submitted by Romare Bearden, Palmer Hayden, and Loïs Mailou Jones, among others.
Her interrogation of these refused applications reveals a number of art works that were planned yet never realized. VanDiver asks, “What might occur to the construction of the American artistic canon if we consider these paintings that remained mere imaginations?”
*Romare Bearden, At Five in the Afternoon, 1946, oil on board, Collection Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK