THE COLUMBUS MUSEUM in Columbus, Ga., focuses on art and history, and one of its current exhibitions, “William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography,” explores aspects of both. William L. Hawkins (1895-1990) was a self-taught artist who lived in Columbus, Ohio. Born in Kentucky, he moved to the Midwest city when he was 21. Best known for his graphic images of local buildings, imaginative depictions of animals, and multiple versions of The Last Supper, Hawkins received heightened acclaim in his 80s.


WILLIAM L. HAWKINS, (1895-1990), “Neil House with Chimney #2,” 1986 (enamel and composition material on Masonite). | Just Folk, Summerland, California. Courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery New York. Photo by Fredrik Nilsen


“An Imaginative Geography” is the first major exhibition dedicated to the African American artist’s practice in more than a decade and features 65 works, both two-dimensional paintings on masonite and three-dimensional ones that feature sculptural and architectural add-ons. The traveling retrospective was organized by the Figge Museum in Davenport, Iowa, and Susan Mitchell Crawley, an Atlanta-based, independent folk art scholar, curated the show. It’s is on view in Georgia through April 28.

Against the backdrop of “An Imaginative Geography,” The Columbus Museum announced additional exhibitions slated for 2019, including a Saya Woolfalk installation and a survey of African American photographers active at Tuskegee Institute in the early 20th century. The museum has also added three new acquisitions to its collection, paintings by Mildred Thompson (1936–2003), William Edouard Scott (1884–1964), and William A. Harper (1873–1910).

YET TO BE TITLED, the museum will feature a special photography exhibition exploring the work of Arthur P. Bedou (1882-1966), C.M. Battey (1873-1927), and P.H. Polk (1898-1985), the first three official photographers at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The exhibition opens in August and runs through January 2020.

Founded in 1881, the historically black college is now called Tuskegee University. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was the first leader of the private school, where agricultural scientist George Washington Carver taught and conducted his research, and black pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen trained. The three photographers documented everyday life on campus, Washington’s activities, and visits by prominent figures.


WILLIAM L. HAWKINS (1895-1990), “Last Supper #9,” 1987 (enamel, collage, and cornmeal on Masonite). | New Orleans Museum of Art. Gift of Dr. Kurt Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen, 2011.59. Courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery New York. Photo © New Orleans Museum of Art


ARTHUR BEDOU, Booker T. Washington, 1915. | Tuskegee University Archives, Courtesy The Columbus Museum


Based in New Orleans, Bedou approached his image making with a journalistic style. He was the personal photographer for Washington during the last several years of the Tuskegee president’s life. (Cornelius Marion) Battey replaced Bedou. Known for his formal portraits, he established the Photography Department at Tuskegee and was school’s official photographer when Polk was a student. Widely circulated portraits of Washington, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois were made by Battey. His work was also featured on the covers of the The Crisis magazine (founded by Du Bois) and the journal Opportunity.

Battey was the first to introduce Polk to the craft of photography. Today, Polk’s name is perhaps the most familiar of the group. Born in Bessemer, Ala., Polk attended Tuskegee and joined the faculty of the Photography Department in 1928, later heading the department from 1933 to 1939. Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson are among the prominent figures he photographed.

The exhibition will include portraits of Tuskegee faculty, students, and local residents; Washington’s public speeches; and campus buildings, student life, and athletic events. Many of the images have never been shown beyond the campus of Tuskegee.

Offering a rare opportunity to see the work of Bedou, Battey and Polk presented together, the exhibition will feature 30 to 40 images sourced from the Tuskegee University Archives. Rebecca Bush, curator of history and exhibitions manager at The Columbus Museum is organizing the show. While Polk’s work will be emphasized given the “breadth and depth” of his practice, Bush said the exhibition will showcase the contributions all three photographers have made to the history of Tuskegee.

Offering a rare opportunity to see the work of Bedou, Battey and Polk presented together, the exhibition will feature 30 to 40 images sourced from the Tuskegee archives. While Polk’s work will be emphasized given the “breadth and depth” of his practice, the exhibition will showcase the contributions all three photographers have made to the history of Tuskegee.

P.H. POLK, Couple dancing, circa 1950. | Tuskegee University Archives, Courtesy The Columbus Museum


C.M. Battey, Female Tuskegee students, circa 1920. | Tuskegee University Archives, Courtesy The Columbus Museum


Iconic Polk images, such as “The Boss” (1932), will be included along with lesser-known works. The selection will benefit from a generous gift Tuskegee recently announced. Polk’s family donated the photographer’s archive to the university, including more than 3,800 images along with copyrights. Some of the recently acquired Polk photographs will be featured in the Columbus Museum show.

(Bush said at the request of the Tuskegee University Archives, all of the images in the exhibition will be high-resolution digital prints, rather than the original photographs.)

In addition, the Columbus Museum is hosting “Visionary Reality Outpost: Saya Woolfalk” this fall. The show opens in mid-October and runs through early February 2020. New York-based Saya Woolfalk‘s work centers around an imagined universe, exploring the nexus of art, science fiction, anthropology, and technology. The exhibition presents work the multimedia artist produced while in residence at the Kohler Company factory last year. Woolfalk’s installation originates from the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisc., where it is currently on view through Aug. 18.

THE LATEST CROP of acquisitions at The Columbus Museum includes “Untitled (from the Radiation Exploration series),” a major painting by Atlanta-based Thompson produced circa 1994. Her energetic abstractions reflect a longstanding fascination with quantum physics, cosmology, metaphysics, and theosophy.

Thompson was included in the recent groundbreaking exhibition “Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today.” The show featured 21 women artists of color born between 1891 and 1981. Organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo., “Magnetic Fields” was also on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. The Thompson acquisition was purchased through the museum’s Art Acquisition and Restoration Fund.


MILDRED THOMPSON (1936–2003), “Untitled (from the Radiation Exploration series),” circa 1994 (oil on canvas, 79 5/8 x 54 inches). | The Art Acquisition and Restoration Fund G.2019.8, Image courtesy The Columbus Museum


Paintings by Scott and Harper are also being brought into the museum’s permanent collection, thanks to the The Fund for African American Art. The fund is supported by the museum’s Alma Thomas Society. The nascent group was formed in 2017 and named for Thomas, the Columbus, Ga.-born artist who spent her adulthood in Washington, D.C. The society voted Feb. 12 to approve the acquisitions.

Scott and Harper share similar experiences in their artistic training. Both studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and traveled to Paris where they were mentored by American expatriate Henry O. Tanner. The museum acquired a circa 1900 landscape by Harper, who was born in Ontario, Canada, before moving to Illinois when he was a young boy.

Born in Indianapolis, Ind., Scott has a connection with Tuskegee. After he returned to Chicago from Paris, Carver invited him to Tuskegee in 1915 where he met Washington shortly before the HBCU president’s death. It was the first time Scott had visited the South and he made several more trips in the ensuing years.

The exposure gave him an appreciation for the plight of blacks in the South who demonstrated strength in the face of adversity. It also influenced Scott’s work and the subjects he portrayed, including “Wash Day, Alabama,” his circa 1930 painting now in the collection of The Columbus Museum. CT


FIND MORE about the William L. Hawkins exhibition in a review published by Hyperallergic


WILLIAM EDOUARD SCOTT (1884–1964), “Wash Day, Alabama,” circa 1930 (oil on canvas laid down on board, 24 x 20 inches). | The Fund for African American Art G.2019.9, Courtesy The Columbus Museum


WILLIAM A. HARPER (1873–1910), “Landscape (Brittany),” circa 1900 (oil on canvas board, 11.5 x 15.5 inches). | The Fund for African American Art G.2019.10, Courtesy Columbus Museum


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