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Bearden and Henderson

 
 

Romare H. Bearden and Harry B. Henderson, Jr.

Harry and Romie were members of the generation that grew up with 'the War
to End all Wars,' the Roaring 20s, the Depression, the Ku Klux Klan, the
WPA, World War II, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement. Like Romie,
Harry had a wide spectrum of interests and enthusiasms. When photographer
Sam Shaw, introduced them, their affinity for each other was immediate.
Both had come to New York City from rural America in order to take part in
the mainstream. Both were fascinated with the social, economic, and
cultural developments of the time. Both liked to reflect in their work what
they heard and saw as well as to share their own ideas and interpretations.
While Romie struggled as an artist, Harry survived from article to essay as
a freelance writer for popular magazines.

In 1969, Romie recruited Harry to coauthor a 'History of Negro Artists in
America,' based on "research, information and discussion carried out
together as much as possible." For the two decades that followed, Harry
went to Romie's studio every Wednesday night to review the work in
progress. In those early days of the discovery of African-Americans by the
media, they easily convinced Doubleday to take the project, subject to the
quick delivery of a 'lite' version. Six Black Masters of American Art was
published without fanfare in 1973 for Doubleday's Zenith Books. The authors
were disappointed to find this imprint was aimed at the school library
market and rarely appeared in general outlets. Although Doubleday lost
interest in the project, they continued correspondence, library research,
interviews, and writing. They moved the project to Pantheon in early 1988.
In 1993 their landmark tome was finally published as A History of African
American Artists, five years after Romie had passed away. Harry continued
to uncover new details of the legendary 19th century sculptor, Edmonia
Lewis who was the subject of their third book. Harry and Romie thought it
would "be published without much trouble." Harry passed away in 2003.
Unfortunately, it remains unpublished.

Letters reflect the resonance that animated their relationship. For
example, in 1949 Romie wrote to Harry, "I read what you had to say about my
work with great interest, and my own feeling is that you're about half
right. That is ... your appraisal of the superficial elements in the last
work you saw is something with which I must now agree; however, I believe
that this feeling was due not such [sic] much to my having eschewed certain
positive, and socially meaningful themes, as it was for a searching to
grasp painterly certitude within that means. I can't help but feel that the
great power of the painter lies in his ability to show - and not to depict.
While I confined this assertion to painting, isn't it true that the 'Grapes
of Wrath,' 'Native Son,' and other novels of such a character are less
interesting to us now than when they were published - and enjoyed a certain
relevance in relation to the social patterns of their times.... And now, I
[am] inclined more and more to believe that the serious artist, still
attempting this moribund craft of easel painting, will forsake all
illustratory purposes."

Albert and Joseph Henderson 2005

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