By Howard Pousner
Hale Woodruff’s impact on Atlanta’s visual arts scene endures, and the High Museum of Art plans to salute the late artist and educator by restoring and exhibiting a series of six monumental murals that are considered among most his most significant works.
The High announced on Wednesday that it is launching a two-year project to restore, research and exhibit Woodruff’s murals commissioned in 1938 to commemorate the 1867 founding and continued success of Alabama’s Talladega College.
Ranging in size from 6-by-10-feet to 6-by-20-feet, the Talladega murals will be exhibited at the High starting in June 2012. Three of the murals depict the story of the slave ship La Amistad, with the companion murals showing themes of the Underground Railroad, Talladega’s founding and the construction of its Savery Library.
The murals have been on view in the library’s lobby since their installation, and will be leaving the school for the first time. Their restoration will address the effects of time.
“Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College” will include other examples of Woodruff’s mural commissions as well as paintings he made in Mexico, where he traveled in 1936 to study mural painting with Diego Rivera.
The exhibit, which will travel to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and other museums to be announced, will also explore Woodruff’s impact on the arts and the opportunities he created for black artists while serving as chairman of the new Atlanta University art department from 1931 to 1946.
In 1942, Woodruff launched AU’s annual national competition for African-American artists who had no opportunity to show at white-only museums. The competitions were held until 1970, providing an important showcase for artists including Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, John Biggers and Lois Mailou Jones.
The 291 pieces by 155 artists that the school collected through purchase prizes are today at the center of Clark Atlanta University’s permanent collection, considered among the finest holdings of African-American art.