Scattered across the three campuses—in Grayslake, Vernon Hills, and Waukegan—of the College of Lake County (CLC) is a permanent collection of art created by some of America’s most significant African American artists.
Artists in the collection include former CLC art faculty member Terry Dixon, who passed away last year; retired CLC art professor and painter Reginald Coleman; Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History; and, writer, artist, and academic Keith Morrison.
Up until now, you’d have to get in your car, drive to each of the three campuses, and walk the halls of various buildings in order to view and appreciate the collection.
Now you can see a curated selection of the collection all in one place. Robert T. Wright Gallery permanent collections curator Ann Rentz has selected 35 works that showcase black artists—images for which have been digitized and placed online. In addition to presenting the images, biographies of each artist are also available.
“Given everything that’s going on, Brianna Bader (gallery assistant curator) and I were talking and thinking that we’d like to find some way to contribute,” Rentz says. “We knew we had several pieces in our permanent collection at the college and we thought that would be a good place to start because they’re rarely seen.”
Over 800 works are part of the college’s permanent art collection. Significant Illinois artists as well as nationally and internationally recognized artists have had their work featured in the Robert T. Wright Gallery since it opened its doors in 1981. The collection reflects a diverse range in media and style. Given recent events, the time seemed right to highlight African American artists.
“We wanted to honor the artists and put out what we had so we could make Black voices be better heard,” says Rentz. “We were excited to find we had quite a few pieces in our collection, and this art is traditionally underappreciated, so we were motivated to shine the light on it.”
A number of the artists featured in the collection were active during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and their work captures a moment in time when they were using their talents to educate the public about what was happening.
“Part of me wanted to draw a parallel between what was going on in their day and what’s going on today, in a little different way,” Rentz says.
For artists— musicians , actors, dancers, painters—a big part of the challenge during the pandemic has been how to continue to find creative outlets for their work when they’ve been limited to the online world due to orders to stay at home. Rentz and the gallery have adapted.
“We were not able to do our annual student show physically in the gallery because of the COVID, so we put the show up virtually,” she says. “We saw it as a temporary Band Aid, and then we thought, ‘Why can’t we do this all the time?’ We’ve planned a complete event schedule for this semester based on the new virtual gallery.”
Perhaps the spirit of the new virtual exhibition is best captured by a work titled “Strollers.” The abstract, acrylic work by Keith Morrison, a native of Jamaica who immigrated to the United States to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, features a Black couple walking past a group of youths. Morrison says the piece reflects both the nomadic spirit of the African American experience as well as the search for sense of place.
“In those strollers, it’s almost as if they’re isolated. The feet to the left suggest they’re youngsters, and whether they think the youngsters are menacing or a threat, that tension means they move slightly to the right,” Morrison says. “It’s like Edward Hopper, in a different way. Hopper is about isolation. It’s about isolation and anxiety.”
You can view the virtual exhibit, “Showcasing Black Artists” from the CLC Permanent Collection, by visiting clcillinois.com/campus-life/arts/ wright-gallery/black-artists-showcase.