January 24 - March 9, 2003
The Crocker Art Museum is pleased to celebrate Black History Month with a small but powerful exhibition—African-American Art and Artifacts Featuring the Chris Webber Collection. More than a reflection on the past, Black History Month is a celebration of the people and events that continue to inspire us to be peaceful, creative, and visionary human beings. It is an opportunity to remember those who challenged themselves and challenged America to do and be better. In this exhibition, artworks by some of America's most renowned African-American artists, including Oliver Jackson, Richard Hunt, Romare Bearden and Betye Saar, are juxtaposed with artifacts collected by Chris Webber, a principal player for the Sacramento Kings and an NBA All Star.
Webber began collecting African-American artifacts as a way of encouraging himself to face the struggles of life with courage and dignity. Through his collection, visitors may gain a greater sense of some of Webber's values and aspirations, as well as experience a unique opportunity to view rare artifacts dating
back to 1773. An autographed quote by Frederick Douglass, the well-known abolitionist, author, orator, statesman, and Ambassador to Haiti, is a perfect example of the significant pieces that shape this collection. On a sheet
personally dated 1880, Mr. Douglass wrote, "There can be no true peace when there is wrong and oppression." Also in the collection is a carte-de-viste signed by Douglass and a letter on "United States Marshal's Office" stationary. Frederick Douglass was Marshal of the District of Columbia, the first post ever held by an African-American, which required
consent of the United States Senate, a
position for which he was nominated by
President Rutherford B. Hayes. Another significant work in the collection is a first edition of Poems on Various Subjects,
Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley,
published in London in 1773. This book was the first ever written by an African-American author and only the second book published by an American woman. Other rare works in the collection include a signed quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., a passport for the schooner Assistance for Toussaint L'Ouverture (former slave and Haitian Revolutionary General), letters from Booker T. Washington and George
Washington Carver, and a postcard from
Malcom X to Alex Haley (author of Roots and co-author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X).
To expand upon the historical narratives
offered by these artifacts, artworks from the Crocker's collection offer both continuity and divergence within the large framework of Black History. Works like Romare Bearden's Mother and Child look at a universal image of motherhood through the eyes of an African-American artist well known for his exploration
of urban themes and African-American traditions and culture. All Over by Erica Ranee Cosby is a portrait of a woman known as the Venus Hotentot, who was demoralized as a freak show attraction in the nineteenth-century. Cosby's work uses a specific figure within Black History to challenge viewers to look at stereotypes and human exploitation in general.
In all of the objects in African-American Art and Artifacts Featuring the Chris Webber Collection, there is both the story of the individual and the story of social change. In this way, it is not an exhibition that chronicles the past, but rather an exhibition that visualizes the future made possible by the faith, ingenuity, and perseverance of humankind.