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Howard University receives African American art collection worth $2.5 mil

District of Columbia

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 1/17/2020, 9:44 a.m.
An art collector and widow of a former Howard University...

An art collector and widow of a former Howard University professor has donated 152 works by African American artists to Howard University, reports WAMU.org. The collection, valued at $2.5 million, includes some of the earliest surviving works by African Americans in this country.

“Many of the earlier artists — what I call the masters — didn’t make any money off their art,” says Patricia Turner Walters, who started collecting in the late 1980s. One of her favorite pieces that she’s donating is the oldest work in her collection — an 1864 landscape by Robert S. Duncanson. Walters made the donation to Howard to honor the legacy of her late husband, Dr. Ronald W. Walters, an influential political scientist with an expertise in Black politics.

Dr. Walters taught at Howard for 25 years and served as the chair of the political science department for nearly a decade. As a 20-year-old in 1958, he organized a sit-in at a drug store in his hometown of Wichita, Kan., which ultimately led to the desegregation of drugstores across the city. He also helped lead the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in the 1980s. The NAACP presented him with an award for his role in the civil rights movement in 2006.

Walters also taught at Brandeis, Syracuse and Princeton universities, as well as Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, but his “pride and joy was Howard,” Mrs. Walters says. The Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center is named for Dr. Walters, who died in 2010 at the age of 72.

The university also plans to establish an endowed chair for race and Black politics in his name. “This gift comes at the perfect moment to expand our students’ involvement in the political conversations of our time,” Howard President Wayne Frederick said in a statement following Mrs. Walters’ donation. Pieces in Mrs. Walters’ collection have been highly sought by collectors and museums.

“Back when I started collecting in the eighties,” she says, “African American art was not really a high-profile entity.” Whereas back then a piece by Norman Lewis would sell for $5,000, today it could cost upwards of $1 million, she says. “It’s an exciting time to be passionate about African American art,” she says.

Prior to her announcement about donating the collection to Howard, she said she received frequent calls from museum leaders asking to purchase pieces. Her collection includes work by earlier masters such as Lewis, Jacob Lawrence and Grafton Tyler, a well as contemporary artists including Kehinde Wiley (the artist behind Barack Obama’s presidential portrait), Barkley Hendricks and Kerry James Marshall.