Romare Bearden (1911-1988), "Conjunction," textile collage, 1971, Tougaloo College Art Collections, 1973.057. Purchased by Tougaloo College with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tougaloo College Art Collections

Tougaloo College has a long history of being a gathering place for artists, intellectuals, and the literati assembling to discuss the fundamental rights of man. One such artist was Hale A. Woodruff (1900–1980), who visited the campus in 1943 to paint and lecture. In 1938, prior to his visit to Tougaloo, Woodruff masterfully painted the famed Amistad murals for Tougaloo’s sister institution, Talladega College in Alabama. These panels visually depict events surrounding the 1841 US Supreme Court case, United States v. Schooner Amistad. These murals are full color and radical. They are reminiscent of works by the great titans of the Mexiccanidad movement, Diego Rivera (1886–1957), José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974.) Woodruff evoked the same themes, symbols, and dramatic style that came to define the Mexican movement and brought visual history lessons to the masses. Woodruff’s depiction of the Amistad civil rights case that begat Tougaloo College and the college’s sister institutions serves as a visual narrative that not only founded Tougaloo College, but established international discourse about the rights of man.

During the turbulent 1960s, a group of New York activists, curators, and critics involved in the struggle for civil rights formed the New York Art Committee for Tougaloo College (New York Committee.) In the spring of 1963 the committee began shipping works by important modern American and European artists to the college, forming the first collection of modern art in Mississippi. This was a watershed moment for the state because the New York Committee sought to bring modernism to Mississippi during a time of profound social change in America.

Members of the New York Art Committee were Dore Ashton, Stephen Ashton, Fritz Bultman, Jeanne Bultman, Jeanne Reynal, Tommy Sills, Hermine Tworkov, Adja Yunkers, and Joan Hall, with Warren Marr II functioning as liaison between the United Church of Christ and the committee. In a letter written by the committee to A. D. Beittel, then president of the college, Dore Ashton outlined the objectives of the committee: “To provide a collection of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, and other fine art objects which would serve not only the teaching needs of Tougaloo College, but also the cultural needs of the area. Our hope is to provide the nucleus of a cultural center. Eventually it is hoped that this collection would serve a broad area around the city of Jackson as an interracial oasis in which the fine arts are the focus and magnet.”

Building on the values of access to the arts established by the New York Committee, art professor and first curator of the Tougaloo College Art Collections, Ronald O. Schnell, began the African American Collection with two linocuts donated to the college by Hale Woodruff during his stay in 1943. The two works were Trusty on a Mule and View from Atlanta. Next, Dore Ashton, chair of the New York Committee, purchased a Richard Mayhew from a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) exhibition and donated it to the college.

In 1971 Tougaloo was awarded a purchasing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to acquire works by living artists. Tougaloo purchased works created by living African American artists such as Romare Bearden (1911–1988), Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), Alma Thomas (1891–1976), Bob Blackburn (1920–2003), and Emma Amos (b. 1938.) Visual artist and professor David C. Driskell (b. 1931) was responsible for the college acquiring works by nineteenth-century artists Robert S. Duncanson (1821–1872) and Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828–1901). Ronald O. Schnell, who worked tirelessly at Tougaloo to care for the art collection while David Driskell championed the collection nationally, explained that “without the help of David Driskell, the Tougaloo College Black Art Collection would not exist. . . . Now it is our responsibility to educate a stewardship of Black art in the future.” During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Schnell collected works of African art ranging from sculptures to textiles. The works come from West Africa, Northeast Africa, and Southeast Africa. In 2002 the Geneviève McMillan-Reba Stewart Foundation donated to the college over two hundred works of African and Oceania art.

Today, the Tougaloo College Art Collections are divided into three areas: (1) the American Collection, (2) the European Collection, and (3) the African and Oceanic Collection. Overall, the college has over twelve hundred works, including works on paper, sculptures, paintings, and textiles. The mission is to enhance the cultural environment at Tougaloo College and the broader global community. The vision, squarely rooted in the goals of the New York Committee and Ronald Schnell, is to serve the teaching needs of Tougaloo College, the cultural needs of the area and beyond.

Further Reading

  • Audrey Peterson, American Legacy (Winter 2000)
  • Amistad Research Center and the New Orleans Museum of Art, Beyond the Blues: Reflections of African America in the Fine Arts Collection of the Amistad Research Center (2010)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Tougaloo College Art Collections
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date January 21, 2022
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 26, 2020