A TRUE RENAISSANCE WOMAN, sculptor Inge Hardison, was also a photographer, poet and actress. The New York Daily News published an article announcing her death today, reporting that she died on March 23 “after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.” Hardison lived in Manhattan and was 102.
Hardison was recognized for her sculptural portraits of historic African Americans. Her most celebrated series is “Negro Giants in History,” a collection of bronze busts she created in 1963. The first sculpture in the series depicted Harriet Tubman. Paying tribute to major figures who resisted slavery, defeated segregation and pressed for civil rights, the series also captured Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, George Washington Carver, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.
Her bust of Douglass was installed in the Princeton University library in 1983 (and later was moved to the entry of the university’s Center for African American Studies in 2009). Another series called “Ingenious Americans” portrayed important innovators such as Benjamin Banneker, Charles Drew, Garrett Morgan and Lewis Latimer.
SOON AFTER HARDISON’S 1914 BIRTH in Portsmouth, Va., her parents fled the Jim Crow south, migrating north to Brooklyn, N.Y. After high school she landed the role of Topsy, a slave girl, in “Sweet River.” The 1936 Broadway production was an adaptation by George Abbott of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” A few other roles followed.
Hardison was working as a model, posing at the Art Students League of New York, when she discovered clay. “That was a surprise. As I paused to rest after posing, I would handle the clay and I found that it was interesting and that I could do something [with it]. I was delighted,” she says in the video above. “I began to do people I knew and people began to buy what I was doing.”
“As I paused to rest after posing, I would handle the clay and I found that it was interesting and that I could do something [with it]. I was delighted.”
— Inge Hardison on discovering her talent for sculpting while modeling
Lot 137: INGE HARDISON, “Harriet Tubman (supplied title),” circa 1960s to 70s (plaster composite on a wood base). | “Estimate $800-$1,200. Sold for $2,080 (including fees).
Hardison helped to establish the Black Academy of Arts and Letters (BAAL), an African-American cultural organization founded in 1969 for the preservation and promotion of black culture. She was the only woman among the founding members of BAAL. A small archive documenting this period of her life is housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
When the Committee for United Negro Relief hosted a benefit luncheon and exhibition in 1964, Hardison was among the artists—including Ernest Crichlow, Walter Williams, and Hale Woodruff—whose work was on view and for sale.
In 1981, Hardison participated in “Sculpture ’81,” a group exhibition at Lever House that presented the span of work being created by African American sculptors. In addition to Hardison, works by Richmond Barthe, Selma Burke, Elizabeth Catlett, Melvin Edwards, and Richard Hunt, were also featured in the show.
In 2014, the International Review of African American Art (IRAAA) wrote about Hardison on the occasion of her 100th birthday.
SWANN AUCTION GALLERIES held its Printed and Manuscript African Americana auction today. I was monitoring the sale online when I noticed the Daily News article about Harrison’s death on Twitter. Among the lots offered in the auction were several art-related items including two busts by Hardison—one of Tubman, the other portraying Du Bois. There was no mention of her passing from the auction podium.
The Tubman lot generated particular interest from bidders and included the following note in the catalog description: “This casting of Harriet Tubman differs from image of Tubman in the [Negro Giants in History] series.”
“She was a renaissance woman, a force to be reckoned with,” Yolande Harrison, 62, the artist’s daughter, told the Daily News. “She inspired a lot of people, and worked with a lot of people.” CT
TOP: Video was posted on YouTube in 2013, but appears to have been filmed about 2009. | Video by DScanlonVideo
Lot 138: INGE HARDISON, “W.E.B. Du Bois,” circa 1960s (anodized plaster bust with bronze finish). | Estimate $800-$1,200. Sold for $1,430 (including fees).