Retrieving the Life and Art Exhibition

By Shibani Dagalur

"African Sky" The powerful painting by James Wilson Edwards; one of many included in the exhibition

In Princeton, New Jersey, an astounding collection of art is being resurfaced to educate the public on America’s deep roots of racism. Specifically, these branches are found throughout the foundation of the United States education system. 

The Arts Council of Princeton’s exhibition highlights work by James Wilson Edwards, Rex Goreleigh, Hughie Lee-Smith, Selma Hortense Burke, and Wendell T. Brooks. These artists thrived in the late-20th century and all lived in neighboring states: exemplifying diversity, even within local communities. 

Not only did these artists create phenomenal works, they also marked groundbreaking phenomenons in race-relations that allow for further education on the subject today. During the 1930s, America was recovering from the Great Depression and thrown deep into more racial and gender related conflicts. But, the FAP (Federal Art Project) remarkably employed black and female artists to their administration. All 5 artists utilized the administration to intermingle blacks and whites in educational institutions. Unfortunately, what most of these artists have in common is a somber, mutual truth amongst many black and female artists: their work goes unrecognized. 

The Retrieving the Life and Art of James Wilson Edwards and a Circle of Black Artists exhibition solves this exact problem, shedding light on the beautiful, diverse works of “forgotten” black artists from the late-20th century. The curators of this project, Judith K. Brodsky and Rhinold Ponder, hope to inspire collectors to restore art from black and brown artists. They shared, “We trust that our efforts here encourage others to restore Black artists and arts communities to their rightful places in American national and regional histories”. The curators work is just one step forward, a step to ensure that the past cannot be forgotten.