THREE FOLK MUSICIANS (1967) by Romare Bearden is one of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s prized acquisitions. The large-scale collage was added to the collection of the Richmond museum in 2016 and with the newfound popularity of jigsaw puzzles, a 500-piece version of the work is now available from the museum’s gift shop. At the Studio Museum in Harlem, works made by artists Jordan Casteel and Njideka Akunyili Crosby during their residencies at the museum, in 2016 and 2012 respectively, have been transformed into puzzles. Also drawing from their collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York produced a puzzle based on “The Photographer” (1942) by Jacob Lawrence. The Museum of Modern Art chose an untitled circa 1968 study by Alma Thomas and the Saint Louis Art Museum selected Horace Pippin’s “Sunday Morning Breakfast” (1943).

January is National Puzzle Month and today is National Puzzle Day, an opportune time to piece together a masterpiece by Bearden or Pippin or a gem from a new generation of contemporary artists to watch, including Casteel, Akunyili Crosby, and Derrick Adams. There are many ways to access museum-quality art. A growing selection of puzzles celebrates the work of highly regarded Black artists:

 


JACOB LAWRENCE, “The Wedding,” 1948 (egg tempera on hardboard, 50.8 × 61 cm / 20 × 24 inches). | © 2018, The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Purchased with funds provided by Mary P. Hines in memory of her mother, Frances W. Pick, 1993.258

 
Jacob Lawrence, The Wedding Puzzle (1,000 pieces). | Amazon

JACOB LAWRENCES’s painting,”The Wedding” (1948), was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. In its description, the museum hones in on Lawrence’s masterful approach to producing the scene: “Befitting both the solemnity and joy of a wedding, the composition combines the symmetrical rigidity of the standing figures with a riotous profusion of intensely colored stained-glass panels and flowers.” Manufactured by Pomegranate, the 1,000-piece finished puzzle measures 25 x 20 inches.

 


JACOB LAWRENCE, “The Photographer,” 1942 (watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper, 22 1/8 × 30 1/2 inches / 56.2 × 77.5 cm). | © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2001. Accession Number: 2001.205

 
Jacob Lawrence, The Photographer Puzzle (500 pieces). | The Met Store

This 500-piece puzzle is based on “The Photographer” (1942) by JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000). From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the painting is one of 30 the artist produced from 1942–43, vivid scenes exploring ordinary life in Harlem. Finished size is 26 5/8 x 19 1/4 inches.

 


In her review of the puzzle, Winfrey noted that FAITH RINGGOLD’s painting pays tribute to powerful women such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Winfrey added: “I‘m proud to say I own the original!”

 
Faith Ringgold, The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles Puzzle (1,000 pieces). | Amazon

When Oprah Winfrey released her annual Favorite Things List on Amazon, the 2021 selections included a 1,000-piece puzzle based on FAITH RINGGOLD’s “The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles” produced by Galison. A 1,000-piece puzzle inspired by the same painting was also manufactured by Pomegranate. Finished size is 27 x 20 inches.

 


Two puzzles for one, paintings by DreamYard students who took inspiration from the work of DERRICK ADAMS appear on the reverse side.

 
Derrick Adams, Puzzle (500 pieces). | Amazon, $15.99

From Galison, this 500-piece puzzle is two sided, featuring a painting by New York artist DERRICK ADAMS on one side with works by DreamYard middle school students on the reverse. DreamYard In School Programs serve 45 schools in the Bronx, providing “art instruction with social justice pedagogy systems.” 100 percent of net proceeds are donated to DreamYard scholarship fund. Finished size is 24 x 18 inches.

 


ROMARE BEARDEN, “Three Folk Musicians,” 1967 (collage of various papers with paint and graphite on canvas). 50 x 60 inches | © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 
Romare Bearden, Three Folk Musicians Puzzle (500 pieces). | VMFA Shop

This 500-piece puzzle is based on “Three Folk Musicians,” a large-scale Romare Bearden (1911-1988) collage acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in December 2016. Combining layers of hand-painted papers with photographs from magazines, the work depicts two guitar players and a single banjo player. When VMFA added the collage to its collection, Michael R. Taylor, chief curator and deputy director for art and education, told Virginia Public Radio: “This isn’t just any Romare Bearden. This has long been considered one of the icons of African American art.” The finished size of the puzzle is 20 x 20 inches.

 

“After supper the boarders would sit in front of the house and talk, or play checkers, or plunk out ‘down home music’ on their guitars.”
— Romare Bearden

 


ROMARE BEARDEN, “Up at Mintons,” 1980 (collage with watercolor, 40 x 30 inches). | © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 
strong>Romare Bearden, Up at Minton’s Puzzle (1,000 Pieces). | Amazon

Some of ROMARE BEARDEN’s most celebrated works pay homage to jazz and the blues. “Up at Minton’s” references Minton’s Playhouse, the Harlem jazz club founded by tenor saxophonist Henry Minton in 1938. The club operated for nearly four decades before closing in 1974. The club was revived in 2006 and closed and then came back in 2013 with Richard Parsons at the helm. From Pomegranate, the 1,000-piece finished puzzle measures 20 x 27 inches.

 


ALMA THOMAS, “Autumn Drama,” circa 1969 (acrylic on canvas, overall: 60.96 × 76.2 cm / 24 × 30 inches;
framed: 62.23 × 78.11 × 3.81 cm / 24 1/2 × 30 3/4 × 1 1/2 inches). | Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.), 2015.19.211

 
Alma Thomas, Autumn Drama Puzzle (100 pieces). | National Gallery of Art Shop

In 1996, the year before he died at the age 44, Thurlow Evans Tibbs Jr., an African American art dealer, historian and archivist, donated more than 30 paintings by Black artists to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. When the museum was shuttered, the Tibbs collection went to National Gallery of Art in 2015, including “Autumn Drama” (circa 1969) by ALMA THOMAS. The Washington, D.C., museum produced a 100-piece puzzle inspired by the painting. It measures 9 x 12 inches when complete.

 


Puzzle Image: ALMA THOMAS, “Untitled,” circa 1968 (acrylic and pressure-sensitive tape on cut-and-stapled paper). | Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Donald B. Marron, 299.2015

 
Alma Woodsey Thomas, Untitled Puzzle (1,000 pieces). | MoMA Design Store

A Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exclusive, this puzzle features Alma Thomas’s “Untitled” study (circa 1968), which was acquired by MoMA in 2015. In its description of the work, the museum notes that “Thomas attached drawings like this one to her blank canvases as a compositional guide, a working tool for mapping her color choices. Made on multiple pieces of paper joined by tape and staples, the drawing reflects a process of development that allowed for movement and change.” The finished 1,000-piece puzzle is 13.4l x 38.6 inches.

 


NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (b. 1983), “Nwantinti,” 2012 (acrylic, pastel, charcoal, colored pencil, and Xerox transfers on paper, 68 × 96 inches). | © Njideka Akunyili Crosby. The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum purchase with funds provided by the Acquisition Committee and gift of the artist 2012.35

 
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nwantinti Puzzle (750 pieces). | Studio Store

A collaboration between NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s store, this puzzle references “Nwantinti,” a mixed-media painting made in 2012 during the artist’s residency at the Studio Museum. The title references Nelly Uchendu’s popular 1976 version of an Igbo folk song about finding true love. Akunyili Crosby’s work now resides in the museum’s collection. Assembled, the 750-piece puzzle is 24 x 17 inches.

 


JORDAN CASTEEL, “Kevin the Kiteman,” 2016 (oil on canvas, 78 × 78 inches). | © Jordan Casteel. The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum purchase with funds provided by the Acquisition Committee 2016.37

 
Jordan Casteel, Kevin the Kiteman Puzzle (750 pieces). | Studio Store

Known for her portraits, JORDAN CASTEEL was an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, from 2015-16. Casteel’s tenure culminated with a group exhibition with her fellow artists in residence, where “Kevin the Kiteman” was among the works she presented. The painting is now in the collection of the museum. This puzzle is a collaboration between the artist and the museum. When completed, the 750-piece puzzle measures 19 x 20.5 inches. The Studio Store is also offering a children’s version with 30 pieces.

 


HORACE PIPPIN (American, 1888–1946), “Sunday Morning Breakfast,” 1943 (oil on fabric, 16 x 20 inches). | Saint Louis Art Museum, Purchase with Museum Funds, Friends Fund, and Bequest of Marie Setz Hertslet, Eliza McMillan Trust, and Gift of Mrs. Carll Tucker, by exchange, 164:2015

 
Horace Pippin, Sunday Morning Breakfast Puzzle (300 pieces). | Saint Louis Art Museum Shop

This 300-piece puzzle is based on HORACE PIPPIN’s 1943 painting “Sunday Morning Breakfast” from the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) in Missouri, where it is currently on view. Finished size is 12 x 16 inches.

 


Puzzle image features a grid of 40 quilts by GEE’S BEND QUILT ARTISTS.

 
Gee’s Bend Quilt Artists, Puzzle (1,000 pieces). | Amazon

From Galison, this 1,000-piece puzzle celebrates the artistry of the women of Gee’s Bend, Ala., the Pettways, Bendolphs, and more, who have been making masterful quilts, abstract textile works of modern and contemporary art, for generations. The finished size is 27 x 20 inches.

 


MARY LEE BENDOLPH, Get Ready, 2007 (color softground and spitbite aquaint etching, paper size 36 x 43 inches), Edition of 50. | © Mary Lee Bendolph

 
Mary Lee Bendolph, Get Ready Puzzle (1,000 pieces). | Amazon

Described as the matriarch of the historic Gee’s Bend community of quilt artists in Alabama, MARY LEE BENDOLPH, collaborated with Paulson Fontaine Press to create this image made available as a limited-edition print in 2006. From Clarkson Potter, the puzzle version is composed of 1,000 pieces.

 
COMING SOON
 


ESSIE BENDOLPH PETTWAY is a third generation Gee’s Bend quilt artist, following in the footsteps of her mother (Mary Lee Bendolph) and grandmother (Aolar Mosely).

 
Essie Bendolph Pettway, Equal Justice Quilt Puzzle (1,000 pieces). | Amazon

Forthcoming in March, this puzzle follows a limited edition “Equal Justice” print published by ESSIE BENDOLPH PETTWAY with Paulson Fontaine Press in 2020, with the proceeds partially benefitting the Equal Justice Initiative. From Clarkson Potter, the 1,000-piece finished puzzle is 20 x 16 inches. CT

 
FIND MORE jigsaw puzzles featuring works by African American artists
 

BOOKSHELF
“Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle” documents the recent traveling exhibition featuring the artist’s 30-panel “Struggle…from the History of the American People” series made between 1954-56 and shown together for the first time since 1958. “An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden” is a biography of Bearden by Mary Schmidt Campbell. Edited by Robert G. O’Mealy, “The Romare Bearden Reader” gathers a variety of new and canonical writing about Romare Bearden’s life and work. “Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful” was published on the occasion of the current museum retrospective of Alma Thomas, which explores her abstract painting in context with her broader creativity. Also consider, “Horace Pippin, American Modern,” “Njideka Akunyili Crosby: “The Beautyful Ones,” “Derrick Adams: Buoyant,” and “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach.” In addition, two forthcoming volumes consider the work of Faith Ringgold: “Faith Ringgold: American People” documents the artist’s soon to open exhibition at the New Museum in New York and “Faith Ringgold” documents the exhibition organized by Serpentine Galleries in London that traveled to the United States where it was on view at Glenstone in Potomac, Md.

 

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