Published: February 27, 2017
NEW HAVEN, CONN. – “Gather Out of Star-Dust: The Harlem Renaissance & the Beinecke Library,” is a major, buildingwide exhibition on view at the Beinecke Library, 121 Wall Street, through April 17; it showcases creators and materials of an extraordinary time in American culture.
The Harlem Renaissance was a time when “African American cultural and intellectual endeavor surged into the American mainstream,” writes exhibition organizer Melissa Barton in a companion volume of the same title, published with Yale University Press.
In the near-century since it began, the Harlem Renaissance has captured American popular imagination, eliciting ongoing critical and public interest, says Barton, who is curator of prose and drama in the Yale Collection of American Literature (YCAL). “‘Gather Out of Star-Dust,'” Barton emphasizes, “seeks to return us to the documents, photographs, artworks and objects that have generated this tremendous response of scholarship, inquiry and homage.”
The show features more than 300 artifacts from the library’s James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection (JWJ) of African American arts and letters, founded in 1941. The JWJ Collection overall holds more than 13,000 volumes, 3,000 pieces of sheet music, countless pages of manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and ephemera, as well as 11,000 digitized images. It is one of the most-consulted collections at Yale.
The show includes material by Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Aaron Douglas, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, Countée Cullen, Augusta Savage, Carter Woodson, Alain LeRoy Locke, Gwendolyn Bennett, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Jean Toomer, James Van Der Zee, Gladys Bentley, Arna Bontemps, Laura Wheeler Waring, Wallace Thurman, Ethel Waters, Sterling Brown, E. Simms Campbell and other creators of the era.
“Gather Out of Star-Dust” also features the work of writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and Johnson’s close friend. He established the JWJ Collection at Yale in association with Grace Nail Johnson as a memorial to her husband after his death in 1938. More than 50 of Van Vechten’s portraits of Harlem Renaissance and related cultural leaders are on view in the Beinecke exhibition.
Barton says the Harlem Renaissance “has long raised some of the best questions about culture and its purpose: What is beautiful? What is good? What is it for? Who owns it? Can art change the lives of those who are poor and suffering?”
“‘Gather Out of Star-Dust’ brings these questions and criticisms back to the materials. It shows the complexity of the era through the juxtaposition of its artifacts,” she said.
A companion show, “Caricature Assassination: Miguel Covarrubias Murders New York” – organized by Nancy Kuhl, curator of poetry in YCAL – is also on view at the Beinecke through April 17. Covarrubias, who arrived in New York City from his native Mexico in 1923, sketched some of New York’s most famous writers, actors, editors, athletes and politicians, including key figures of the Harlem Renaissance.
Beinecke Library exhibitions are self-guided and are always free and open to the public: Monday, 10 am to 7 pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 9 am to 7 pm; Friday, 9 am to 5 pm; and Saturday, noon to 5 pm. Guided tours to the exhibition and to the library are also available every Saturday at 1:30 pm during the run of the show through April 15.
For more information, www.beinecke.library.yale.edu or 203-432-2977.
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