‘Humanity and hope’: powerhouse show elevates Black women artists

Kirk Delman, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery registrar and collections manager, at the “Gettin’ It Done” exhibit. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

If there’s one thing the late artist Samella Lewis would have told curator Kirk Delman ahead of last month’s public opening of “Gettin’ It Done,” he said it would have been “It should be bigger. It should be more artists. There are so many artists, they should all be in here.”

“You could have double hung” more art, said Delman, the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery registrar and collections manager. “I think she would have enjoyed it. She was very appreciative of any effort, and she would have told you so.”

A free and public reception for “Gettin’ It Done” is set for 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, September 16 at Scripps College’s Williamson Gallery, 251 E. 11th St., Claremont. The exhibit is up through October 15.

Gettin’ It Done” showcases 48 works from African American creatives Elizabeth Catlett, Lewis, Betye Saar, Alison Saar, Emma Amos, Letitia Huckaby, LaToya Hobbs and Kenturah Davis, that uphold Black history and artists from the 20th and 21st centuries.

“And a special fear for my loved ones,” a linocut on paper by Elizabeth Catlett, 1946-47, on view at Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery as part of “Gettin’ It Done.” Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“The work in the exhibition expresses humanity and hope, while shedding light on the complexities of Black women’s experiences,” Erin Curtis, the Williamson’s gallery director wrote in a statement. “Mentorship is a key theme in the exhibition: Elizabeth Catlett taught Samella Lewis at Dillard University, and Samella Lewis mentored Alison Saar at Scripps College. ‘Gettin’ It Done’ is imbued with Dr. Lewis’ creative force and singular vision.”

Admission is free to the Williamson, which is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Elements of the show are on loan from the Samella Lewis Contemporary Art Collection at Scripps College, which has been elevating works by women and minority artists since 2007. Other works have been loaned by the Talley Dunn Gallery in Dallas, Texas, the Matthew Brown Gallery in Los Angeles, the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation in Portland, Oregon, Hobbs, Robert E. Holmes, Alitash Kebede, JoAnn and James Newton, and the estate of Samella and Paul Lewis.

From portraits of famed and well-known figures like Lewis, scenes of Civil Rights activism as well as themes of connectedness, “Gettin’ It Done” features art from African American women “who have the responsibility and burden of keeping households, raising children and working,” Delman said. “In many cases, they just get the work done, regardless of all the additional responsibilities and burdens that they have. They persevere and I think this group of artists kind of represents this perseverance. They each have their own kind of interest points of view, sensibilities, skills, techniques, but they all are empowering other women as well as other issues.”

The exhibit also spotlights the life and legacy of Lewis, the first tenured Black professor at Scripps College, where she taught from 1969 to 1984. The late Scripps College Professor Emerita of Art History received the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from the College Art Association in 2021. She died in May 2022.

An art historian, curator, visual artist, and the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in fine art and art history at The Ohio State University, Lewis was pivotal in helping to make Black artists seen throughout Southern California. She was often referred to as the “godmother of African American art,” and helped found the Craft Contemporary Gallery in Los Angeles in 1970, the International Review of African American Art in 1975, and the Museum of African-American Artin Los Angeles in 1976.

“She really felt it needed to be done,” Delman said of Lewis’ efforts to expose Black art. “And that was kind of her personally. If she felt it was needed to be done, she did it. And that was kind of arching back to ‘Gettin’ It Done.’ ‘There’s not a museum of African American Art in L.A.? Let’s do it.’ And she did it. She figured out how to do it, who she needed to help sponsor and to promote it and so I think that was kind of her legacy.”

In short, Lewis was allergic to excuses.

“She just did it,” Delman said. “She didn’t allow herself to fall back.”

The free and open to the public reception for “Gettin’ It Done” begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 16 at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, 251 E. 11th St., Claremont. Call (909) 607-3397 or go to rcwg.scrippscollege.edu for more info.


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