National Museum of African American History and Culture Presents “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College”
Exhibition Is On View through March 1, 2015
Talladega College in Alabama commissioned prominent African American artist Hale Woodruff to paint a series of murals for its newly built Savery Library in 1938. Woodruff painted six murals portraying significant events in the journey of African Americans from slavery to freedom.
On Nov. 7, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will present “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College,” an exhibition of murals and other significant works by the artist. The exhibition will be on view in the NMAAHC Gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History through March 1, 2015.
This will be the first time the murals have been exhibited in the Washington metro area. The murals were removed from Talladega College for a five-year collaborative restoration project organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which also organized a multicity tour of the works.
The murals are six monumental canvases arranged in two cycles of three, portraying heroic efforts of resistance to slavery and moments in the history of Talladega College, which opened in 1867 to serve the educational needs of a new population of freed slaves. The first cycle includes the murals “The Mutiny on the Amistad,” which depicts the uprising on the slave ship La Amistad; “The Trial of the Amistad Captives,” depicting the court proceedings that followed the mutiny; and “The Repatriation of the Freed Captives,” portraying the subsequent freedom and return to Africa of the Amistad captives.
The companion murals “The Underground Railroad,” “The Building of Savery Library” and “Opening Day at Talladega College” show themes of the Underground Railroad, the construction of Savery Library at Talladega College and the early days of the college campus, for which the murals were commissioned, respectively.
“We are pleased to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present these impressive murals and other works by Hale Woodruff on the National Mall,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of NMAAHC. “Woodruff was an important figure in art history and the paintings depict, in a vibrant and dynamic fashion, events in African American history. We are grateful to the High Museum and Talladega College for making this exhibition possible.”
Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900–1980) was born in Cairo, Ill. He studied art at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis and the Fogg Museum of Harvard University. Woodruff contributed to the development of African American art, not only as an artist, but also as a distinguished arts educator.
Woodruff’s first mural project was in collaboration with Wilmer Jennings in 1934. The four-panel mural, titled “The Negro in Modern American Life: Agriculture and Rural Life; Literature, Music, and Art,” was part of a public works project and a teaching project that involved both Woodruff’s students and a local junior high school. In 1935, Woodruff worked on Works Progress Administration murals for the Atlanta School of Social Work.
Between 1931 and 1946, Woodruff served as the first chair of the newly established art department of Atlanta University. During the summer of 1936, he studied mural painting in Mexico under the mentorship of Diego Rivera. In 1946, he became a teacher at New York University, where he taught art for more than 20 years until his retirement in 1968. During the mid-1960s Woodruff and fellow artist Romare Bearden were instrumental in starting the Spiral Group, a collaboration of African American artists working in New York. The Studio Museum in Harlem presented a retrospective of his work titled “Hale Woodruff: 50 Years of His Art” in 1979. The exhibition “Hale Woodruff, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, and the Academy” was at the Atlanta-based Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in 2007.
“Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College” is presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and is organized by the High Museum of Art in collaboration with Talladega College. The exhibition is co-curated by Jacquelyn Serwer, chief curator at NMAAHC, and Rhea Combs, museum curator. A full-color, 155-page catalog, published by the High Museum of Art, will be on sale in the National Museum of American History’s store during the exhibition.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. Scheduled for completion in 2015, it is under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument.