Academic journal dedicates issue to KU's Aaron Douglas exhibit

Three years after the Spencer Museum of Art premiered its landmark exhibition “Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist,” a special double-issue of the journal American Studies celebrates Douglas’s legacy, gathering together articles about the Topeka-born artist by some of America’s preeminent scholars.

"The Founding of Chicago," by Aaron Douglas

The issue, "Aaron Douglas and the Harlem Renaissance," contains essays primarily derived from "Aaron Douglas and the Arts of the Harlem Renaissance," a September 2007 interdisciplinary conference held at KU in conjunction with the museum exhibition.

Edited by William J. Harris, associate professor of English, who organized the Douglas conference, the issue features articles by an impressive group of nationally known scholars and artists who spoke at the conference, including Terry Adkins, University of Pennsylvania; Gerald Early, University of Washington; Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University; Amy Helene Kirschke, University of North Carolina-Wilmington; David Krasner, Emerson College; Robert G. O’Meally, Columbia University; and Richard Powell, Duke University. Moreover, it includes two specially commissioned essays on Douglas by Stephanie Fox Knappe, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, formerly of the Spencer, who served as exhibition coordinator for the Douglas show and coordinated the conference symposium; and Cheryl Ragar, Kansas State University. The issue also features a generous selection of images of Douglas’s work.

“The issue has been long in the making but the wait has been worth it,” Harris said. “It was a very special moment when a great group of scholars came together to celebrate this major African-American figure. The celebration went beyond the scholars and also included the audience which was made of up family, graduate students, American and international scholars and town folks. The structure let everybody speak, which made those days democratic, profound and moving. Everybody was an expert and nobody was an expert but wonderful things were said in those two days. I am glad that we could get these essays in a journal, a published account — to both record the conference and give a sense of the intellectual excitement.”

To purchase the Douglas edition of American Studies (Volume 49, Number 1/2, $12), make checks payable to MAASA and send to Managing Editor, American Studies, 1440 Jayhawk Blvd., Bailey 213, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045-7545.

About “Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist”

Curated by Susan Earle, curator of European and American Art at the Spencer Museum of Art, “Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist” was the first major exhibition to celebrate the life, art and legacy of Douglas, an African-American artist from Kansas who went on to become the most important visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance. The Spencer-organized exhibition, some seven years in the making, was the first-ever national traveling retrospective of Douglas’s work and brought together nearly 100 works from public institutions and private collections across the country. The exhibition debuted at the Spencer in fall 2007 and then traveled to venues in Nashville, Washington D.C. and New York. The exhibition included an eponymous, multi-author scholarly book, edited by Earle and published by Yale University Press. That publication, as well as the recently published “Aaron Douglas and Alta Sawyer Douglas: Love Letters from the Harlem Renaissance,” is for sale in the Spencer’s shop and through the Spencer Museum of Art website: www.spencerart.ku.edu.


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L. Ayu Saraswati, assistant professor of women, gender and sexuality studies.
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