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African-American Art celebrated at SLU

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Image courtesy of SLUMA

Image courtesy of SLUMA

This collection, which opened at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art on Feb. 21, consists of over 60 works collected by Larry and Brenda Thompson. Although they both now reside in Connecticut, the Thompsons maintain connections to St. Louis and SLU in particular. Brenda Thompson received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from SLU in 1980 while Larry Thompson was born in Hannibal, Mo.

The collection encapsulates unique aspects of African American Art with works from artists that represent every corner of the country from every decade of this nation’s history. A colorful array of paintings, drawings, sculptures and mixed media works can resonate within the heart of every person regardless of race, ethnicity or even knowledge of art. The Thompson’s pride themselves on the diversity of their collection as it includes works from many African American “masters” but also values lesser known or emerging artists as equally important to the culture and continuation of African American art.

Image courtesy of SLUMA

Image courtesy of SLUMA

Stand out works include those of the historically celebrated African American artists including Romare Bearden, Thelma Johnson Streat and Henry O. Tanner. In addition, the works of lesser-known artists leave a lasting impression on audiences.

Each piece tells a story or represents an overarching theme spanning from empowerment to oppression, from love to war. Overall, the diverse works are connected by a deliberate use of color paralleling the historical value and importance of color to the African American community throughout history.

One piece in particular is an oil painting by James Hiram Malone. The painting depicts a bathroom that for years the artist cleaned, but was never allowed to use it because he was an African American man. After completing his training as an artist, he went back to the bathroom in 1959 to paint it.

The splashes of color characteristic of Mildred Thompson’s “String Theory VI” stand out with an abstract style and vibrancy that can only stem from the experiences of an African American female artist.

Image courtesy of SLUMA

Image courtesy of SLUMA

At a “Meet the Collectors” reception on Feb. 28, Larry and Brenda Thompson described their incredible journey from simple appreciators of art to acclaimed collectors. Brenda Thompson attributes her fascination with African American art and culture to a desire to continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. While working to attain her master’s degree at SLU, Larry and Brenda checked out prints of paintings from the library before they had the money to truly invest in collecting.

During the reception, the Thompsons received a formal dedication from Mayor Slay, which stated Feb. 28 would now officially be Larry and Brenda Thompson Day in St. Louis, an honor surely reserved for those who have made a significant contribution to the city.

The Saint Louis University Museum of Art is open Wednesday through Sunday
11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and admission is always free. “Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art” will be on display at SLUMA until May 18, giving students plenty of time to check it out.

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