Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art at Lowe Museum

The arrangement of works in the main hallway of the University of Miami's Lowe Museum is quite disorientating. There's an impressive Roy Lichtenstein from 1969 and Duane Hanson's uncanny Dolphins Football Player. But behind a large black curtain towards the back of the museum, you'll find a treasure trove, "The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper."

The Kelleys are prominent San Antonio-based art connoisseurs, who possess one of the most important collections of African American art in the United States. Now, they have brought their traveling exhibition to Miami, adding another jewel to the crown of the contemporary art season to the Magic City. "It's exciting to know about all this activity here," Harriet Kelley says of the buzzing art season.

African American artists of the last three centuries have been a

particular interest to the Kelleys, who began building their collection

with dedicated research and the assistance of Thurlow Tibbs (a

multi-million dollar contributor of African American art to the National

Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.). "Initially, we were only

interested in the past," says Kelley, "but as we've collected over the

years and our confidence has grown, we've looked into up-and-coming

artists as well." Still, the icons of African American art are who is

best represented in the Kelleys' works, including Jacob Lawrence, Romare

Bearden, and Henry Ossawa Tanner (a noted inspiration of Norman


Why strictly focus on this sector of modern art? "We wanted to tell the

story of African American art," she explains. "Just as we learned the

story from being museum-goers in San Antonio. I trained as a docent for

four years, and my husband and I started slowly finding works that were

beautiful to us."

A wide array of paper-based media appears in a dedicated section of the

museum, including linoleum cuts, collage, lithographs, and watercolors.

There's almost a melancholy hint of the struggle and triumph in scenes

of slavery, music, the natural landscape, and community life.


Kelley's collection takes us through turbulent waves of history, be

it the periods of Antebellum, Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement,

or the Postmodern era. Kelley acknowledges that their collection is not

just a stable investment, but a poignant reminder of the peaks and

valleys of their own lives. "We started collecting at a time when my

husband and I experienced many changes and transitions: the death of our

parents, I was gravely ill for a time...this was a kind of therapy for

us," Kelley says, thoughtfully. "It's been an interesting journey."

"The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art:

Works on Paper" is on view at the Lowe Museum of Art, University of Miami

until January 16, 2011. 1301 Stanford Drive, Coral Gables on UM's main

campus. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm,

open Sunday from 12pm to 4pm, closed Mondays. Adults are $10.00,

students/seniors/adult groups over ten are $5.00, and Kindergarten

through College-level group tours are $3.00. Call 305-284-3535 or visit

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Shana Mason