Janet Taylor Pickett, American, “Hagar’s Dress”, 2007. Offset lithograph. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fonds, 2018.33.55. © Janet Taylor Pickett. IMAGE: COURTESY OF HARVARD ART MUSEUMS; © PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE
“The arts and culture should be militarized,” says Allan Edmunds, founder of the Philadelphia-based association. Brandywine Workshop and Archives, where engraving is both a refined art and a democratic force. “Art will save humanity. It is one of the most powerful tools we have.
One of the Boston area’s most compelling exhibits this season is “Impressions from the Brandywine Workshop and Archive: Creative Communities», on view until July 31 at the Harvard Art Museums.
Filling two large galleries with works by 30 artists representing a host of ethnic and geographic backgrounds, the exhibition celebrates Brandywine’s 50th anniversary. The studio opened in 1972 as a collective of artists and art teachers in a two-story garage on Brandywine Street in North Philadelphia. Speaking in a video on the Brandywine website, Edmunds, 73, recalls the start-up year, when he roamed the city on trash days looking for paper and furniture.
Now in sprawling premises on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, Brandywine engages students, artists, and arts educators from across the city and around the world with exhibitions, artist residencies, classes, and resources such as Artura.org , its free online database of artworks and artists.
In 2018, participating in Brandywine’s initiative to place “satellite collections” in university art museums across the United States, the Harvard Art Museums acquired over 80 of his prints.
Honoring Brandywine’s vibrant community spirit, museum curators invited staff, students, and faculty from across campus to write the exhibit’s wall tags. Contributors include historian Tiya Miles, whose book “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake” won the 2021 National Book Award for non-fiction.
Noted black artists whose works are on display include Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold, Howardena Pindell and Janet Taylor Pickett.
In Pickett’s majestic “Hagar’s Dress” (2007), a simple matron’s robe protectively surrounds rows of bodies lying on their backs, the human cargo of slave ships. Its title evokes the slave of the Old Testament who dares to meet and name the divine, thanking “the God who sees me” for his liberation, and for his son, Ishmael, destined to become patriarch and prophet.
Saar and Pindell’s works demonstrate the freedom of printmaking as a means of telling one’s own story. Their captivating visual poems piece together images from a lifetime of memories and set them afloat in space. In a video chat with Edmunds, Pindell praises the liberating and revolutionary appeal of offset lithography, noting that it is often underestimated as a fine art medium.
Ringgold’s fairy tale image of a country home, framed by hand-written text, graces a haven on the Underground Railroad. Larry Walker, the father of famous contemporary artist Kara Walker, is represented by a fog-laden image of two figures.
The abundance of intimate portraiture in this exhibit includes an entire wall of black-and-white sketches by Sedrick Huckaby of his neighbors in Fort Worth, Texas, and rough expressionist lithographs by Murray Zimiles from his “Holocaust” series.
A 2009 work by Hank Willis Thomas on paper made from elephant dung reproduces a poster for a slave auction. And a 2008 print by Edmunds covers 200 years of history, from slavery to the election of Barack Obama.