Carnegie Museum of Art Receives a $250,000 Grant from National Endowment for the Humanities for Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story
NEH funds a traveling exhibition of the work of African American Photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris
Pittsburgh, PA…Carnegie Museum of Art is pleased to announce a $250,000 grant awarded to the museum by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to fund the development of the exhibition Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, which will travel to additional venues after debuting in Pittsburgh.
The retrospective was created by Carnegie Museum of Art with help by an advisory committee of African American scholars and educators; this will be the first large-scale exhibition devoted to the works of Harris. During his 40-year career as a staff and freelance photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, the preeminent national black newsweekly, Harris produced nearly 80,000 images documenting daily life in the black communities of Pittsburgh, particularly the Hill District, which was dubbed “the crossroads of the world” during its heyday of the 1940s.
According to NEH advisory panelists who reviewed the proposal, the exhibition will make important contributions to public understanding of “the urban African American experience” and contribute to existing scholarship on black life during and after the Great Migration from the South to the North. Panelists called Harris’s photographs “compelling and beautiful” and stated that the exhibition will showcase the work of an “artist/photographer who captured the richness and complexity of (African American) life.” According to the award letter, the panelists were also impressed by the well-conceived exhibition plan and the strong team of scholars behind the exhibition.
Bridging artistic and humanities disciplines, Teenie Harris: An American Story is one of 216 projects that were awarded a total of $18.8 million in awards and grants by the NEH. According to the NEH, these projects highlight some of the most innovative work happening in the humanities today. A complete list of state-by-state NEH-funded projects can be found online.
An American Story will be on view at the Museum of Art from October 29, 2011, until April 8, 2012, and will showcase Harris’s remarkable body of work. Featuring some 1,000 images, the exhibition will include a large-scale multimedia installation, a chronological display of his greatest photographs, engaging interactive computer stations, an exploration of Harris’s working process and artistry, and a variety of educational resources. The museum is co-publishing with the University of Pittsburgh Press a book to accompany the exhibition.
After its Pittsburgh unveiling, a portion of the Harris retrospective will travel as a smaller-scale exhibition of prints. The first museum to host the exhibition will be the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, a large interpretive museum and research center focused on documenting the Civil Rights Movement and related struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition will be on view in Birmingham from August to October 2012.
Next, the exhibition will travel to the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library in Atlanta, Georgia, from January to April 2013. The Woodruff Library serves member institutions of Atlanta University Center Inc., the world’s largest and oldest consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Clark Atlanta University, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse College, and Spelman College.
Carnegie Museum of Art is seeking additional venues for 2013 and 2014.
About Charles “Teenie” Harris
Working from the 1930s to the 1970s, Harris trained his camera continuously on Pittsburgh’s Hill District, capturing scenes of everyday life—weddings, funerals, family portraits, parades, church events, street scenes, graduations—as well as the great men and women who visited Pittsburgh, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Robeson, John F. Kennedy, Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jesse Jackson, Lena Horne, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), and Muhammed Ali, among others. Harris’s images recorded some of the country’s finest jazz musicians—Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, and Duke Ellington—whom he photographed alongside bartenders, waitresses, and dancing crowds. He also photographed the two legendary Negro League baseball teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays, while showing the determination and dignity of the players.
Similar to playwright August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle, Harris’s images transcend place to tell the story of African American life in the 20th century. Powerful and personal, they connect today’s viewers with a proud past and a vibrant artistic and cultural heritage.
“Like legendary portrait photographers James VanDerZee and August Sander, Teenie Harris demonstrated an innate artistic ability in the way he composed his images,” said Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art and organizer of An American Story. “His judicious choice of vantage point, attention to choreography, and acquired knowledge of lighting all come to play in the thousands of pictures he made. Harris had great empathy with his subjects and a talent for storytelling. We hope that through this retrospective and traveling exhibition Harris will be established in the canons of art, history, and photography.”
About the Exhibition
When the exhibition debuts at the Museum of Art’s Heinz Galleries, it will highlight nearly 1,000 of Harris’s most striking and iconic photographs digitally projected as life-size images. The images will be organized into seven sections—“Crossroads,” “Gatherings,” “Urban Landscapes,” “Style,” “At Home,” and “The Rise and Fall of the Crawford Grill”—and synchronized with an original soundtrack by MCG Jazz, under the direction of Marty Ashby.
In the second gallery, a chronological installation of exhibition images will illustrate the role of photographs in preserving a community’s history and memories. The “Artist at Work” section will demonstrate Harris’s technical skill and artistic vision, as well as how newspapers and publishers cropped and edited his work in order to tell a particular story. Furthermore, the show will include interactive components, such as computer stations for accessing a newly developed web-based interactive experience that allows for in-depth explorations of the images. Finally, visitors who access audio guides will hear, firsthand, the stories and memories of Harris’s family, friends, colleagues, and models.
In addition to an exhibition-specific Web site, the museum is collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh Press on an illustrated book offering new and unpublished scholarship about Harris, his work, and his times that promises to impact the fields of American and African American art, culture, and history.
Background: Carnegie Museum of Art and Charles “Teenie” Harris
In 2001, Carnegie Museum of Art purchased Harris’s archive of nearly 80,000 photographic negatives, few of which were titled and dated. Since 2003, the museum has scanned nearly 60,000 images, all of which are available on the online collection database. Through outreach efforts, lectures and special events, and three Teenie Harris Archive Project exhibitions (in 2003, 2006, and 2009), the museum has engaged the people of the region, asking for assistance in identifying the people, places, and events in the images. So far, 2,000 images have been positively identified with help from the community. The Charles “Teenie” Harris online archive can be found at www.cmoa.org/teenie/
In addition to the generous support of The National Endowment for the Humanities, major support for this exhibition was provided by PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., and Richard King Mellon Foundation. Support was also provided by The Heinz Endowments and the Virginia Kaufman Fund. Support for education programming connected to the exhibition was provided by The Grable Foundation. Support for the exhibition soundtrack was provided by BNY Mellon. Other generous support was provided by The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Fellows of Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Beal Publication Fund.
Exhibition design for Teenie Harris: An American Story is by SPRINGBOARD Design and Brett Yasko.
Web site design is by Night Kitchen Interactive.
Carnegie Museum of Art
Located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, it is nationally and internationally recognized for its distinguished collection of American and European works from the 16th century to the present. The Heinz Architectural Center, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to enhancing understanding of the physical environment through its exhibitions, collections, and public programs. For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, call 412.622.3131 or visit our web site at www.cmoa.org.