AN ATLANTA INSTITUTION with a formidable collection of Black art, Hammonds House Museum announced Karen Comer Lowe is its new executive director and first chief curator.

Comer Lowe has a spectrum of experience in the Atlanta arts scene, most recently serving as manager and curator at Chastain Arts Center. She is returning to Hammonds House, where she began her career as program coordinator 25 years ago. News of her leadership appointment at the museum was announced June 11. She began working at Hammond House June 1.

 


Karen Comer Lowe is returning to lead Hammonds House Museum, after serving as program coordinator at the Atlanta museum at the start of her career. | Photo by Joeff Davis, Courtesy Hammonds House Museum

 

“I am delighted to welcome Karen Comer Lowe as our incoming executive director and chief curator,” Imara Canady, board president of Hammonds House Museum said in a statement. “Her deep knowledge of Black visual arts, expertise in arts administration, ability to engage with diverse audiences, commitment to arts education, and bold vision for our future, make her the right person to follow the trajectory we are on and take the museum to the next level.”

Comer Lowe has more than two decades of experience as a curator, educator, arts advisor and appraiser, working with museums, galleries, art organizations, and collectors. She curated “The South Got Something to Say,” an outdoor digital exhibition currently on view throughout Downtown Atlanta, from June 1-July 31. The show features 10 Atlanta-based artists, including Sheila Pree Bright, Alfred Conteh, Kojo Griffin, Yanique Norman, Fahamu Pecou, and Jamele Wright.

For 12 years, Comer Lowe played a pivotal role at the Chastain Arts Center and Gallery as manager and curator. Established in 1968, Chastain is described as the oldest arts center in Atlanta. Under the auspices of the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs, the center provides classes and workshops and presents exhibitions.

Comer Lowe has said she studied art history at Howard University and during that time worked in the education department at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. After graduation, she landed a summer position in the education department at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

From there, she was hired by the education department at the Museum of African American Art in Tampa Florida and then served as curator at the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Ga. In Atlanta, Comer Lowe was curator at City Gallery East, a program of the city’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs. She later opened her own business, Comer Art Advisory.

In 2009, Comer Lowe co-curated “Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities” with Andrea Barnwell Brownlee at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.

Karen Comer Lowe’s “deep knowledge of Black visual arts, expertise in arts administration, ability to engage with diverse audiences, commitment to arts education, and bold vision for our future, make her the right person to follow the trajectory we are on and take the museum to the next level.”
— Imara Canady, Board President, Hammonds House Museum

Early on, Comer Lowe was program coordinator at Hammonds House Museum, from 1996-98, during the tenure of Edward S. Spriggs, the museum’s founder and first executive director. Spriggs, served as director of the Studio Museum in Harlem from 1969-75. A decade later, he was employed by the Fulton County Public Arts department when the physician’s house was acquired by the county with no concrete plan for its use. Spriggs pitched his idea for an African American museum and the proposal was accepted. Hammonds House Museum was first called Hammonds House Galleries when it opened in 1988.

The Hammonds House Museum was established with a collection of 250 works by Black artists. African masks, paintings by 20 Haitian artists, and works by significant African American figures including Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, Jacob Lawrence, and Hale Woodruff are featured in the original collection.

The holdings were assembled by Otis Thrash Hammonds, an Atlanta anesthesiologist who purchased a large Victorian home to house his art collection. Shortly after his death in 1985, Fulton County purchased the property and the collection.

In the ensuing years, the collection has grown to more than 450 works of art, pieces dating from the mid-19th century to contemporary works by artists active today, such as Amalia Amaki, Radcliffe Bailey, and Kojo Griffin.

Robert Duncanson, generally known as a landscape painter associated with the Hudson River School, is also represented. The small museum located on Atlanta’s historic West End claims to own the earliest-known painting by Duncanson, “Portrait of a Mother and Daughter” (1841). Hammonds purchased the work for an unknown sum between the of fall 1979 and spring 1980, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The museum’s ownership of the prized artwork drew media attention when President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were presented with “Landscape with Rainbow” (1859), a Duncanson landscape on loan from the Smithsonian, during the inauguration ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20.

Then Leatrice Ellzy Wright, who served as executive director at Hammonds House Museum for four years, departed on June 1, after being named senior director of programming at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in April 2020. (Wright was active with both institutions in the intervening year.)

The latest news at the Atlanta museum is the arrival of a new executive director, who for the first time will also hold the title of chief curator.

“As an Atlanta-native and passionate arts professional, I am pleased to return to Hammonds House Museum…” Comer Lowe said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing the long history of presenting and exhibiting artists of the Diaspora and welcoming all to the museum when we reopen to the public. CT
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UPDATE (06/16/21): Correction was made to reflect that Leatrice Ellzy Wright’s tenure at Hammonds House Museum was four years, not three, and that after being hired by the Apollo in April 2020 she served both institutions through June 1, 2021.
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OPENING SOON Hammonds House has been closed since March 2020, due to the COVID-19 virus and has been hosting virtual programming in anticipation of reopening

ON VIEW “Charly Palmer: Departure,” is a 30-year retrospective of Atlanta-based artist Charly Palmer. The online exhibition is currently on view, April 30-Aug. 1, 2021

 

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