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North Hills Monthly

African American Art in the 20th Century Opens at The Westmoreland

Feb 02, 2020 09:05PM ● By North Hills Monthly Magazine

William H. Johnson, Sowing, ca. 1940, oil on burlap. Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of the Harmon Foundation.

From Feb. 16 to May 10, 2020, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art will present African American Art in the 20th Century, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection. The exhibition will be on view in The Westmoreland’s Cantilever Gallery.

African American Art in the 20th Century presents 45 works dating from the 1930s through the 1990s by 34 black artists, including painters, sculptors and printmakers. The artworks encompass diverse subjects and a variety of genres, from representational, to modern abstraction, to the postmodern assemblage of found objects. 

Chief Curator Barbara L. Jones says, “This exhibition introduces an array of artists who made important contributions to the artistic narrative of the 20th century. The art reflects the American experience through the eyes of these artists, and we are excited to offer our visitors the opportunity to learn more about them.” 

The Harlem Renaissance, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and forces for freedom around the world shaped the lives and worldviews of these artists. Family and personal history became subtexts for some. Others interpreted the syncopations of jazz in visual form. Still others translated observation into powerful emotional statements. In styles that range from painterly expressionism to abstractions that glow with color, they explored myth and memory and acknowledged the heritage of Africa. 

The works of Benny Andrews, Ellis Wilson and William H. Johnson speak to the dignity and resilience of people who work the land. Jacob Lawrence and Thornton Dial, Sr., acknowledge the struggle for economic and civil rights. Sargent Johnson, Loïs Mailou Jones, and Melvin Edwards address the heritage of Africa, and images by Romare Bearden celebrate jazz musicians. Sam Gilliam, Felrath Hines and Bob Thompson conducted innovative experiments with color and form. These artists created an image of America that recognizes individuals and community and acknowledges the role of art in celebrating the wide-ranging nature of American society.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring one of the most significant national collections of African American art to the region,” said Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO Anne Kraybill. 

African American Art in the 20th Century is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go. 

Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Additional financial support provided by the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund.

Admission to The Westmoreland is free, and African American Art in the 20th Century is open to the public. For more information about The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, call 724-837-1500, email, or visit  

The Westmoreland is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.