Black History Month at Miami University Art Museum

Of the exhibitions on view at the Miami University Art Museum (MUAM) this semester, there are several works of importance in relation to African American history and culture. Here we highlight a few works and encourage you to come and see them for yourself and reflect during this Black History month.

This year’s Art & Architecture History Capstone exhibition is focused on visual representation and race. Here we highlight a famous and treasured work in our collection by the late Steve Schapiro (American, 1934-2022). Several of his photographs are on display in this exhibition and an entire exhibition of his works (A Lens For Freedom: Civil Rights Photographs by Steve Schapiro) in his memory will be in an exhibition this Fall (August 23-December 10, 2022) at MUAM.

Steve Schapiro
(American, 1934-2022)
We Shall Overcome, 1964
Silver Gelatin Print
15 3/4 x 19 11/16 inches
Partial Gift of Stephen Schapiro and Miami University Art Museum purchase with contributions from the Kezur Endowment Fund

Here is a brief commentary written by Isabella Marino, a student in the Senior Capstone class.

“Steve Schapiro is (was) an American photographer best known for capturing and documenting moments of the Civil Rights Movement, including the Freedom Summer Project of 1964. This project included many volunteers, most of whom were white, who attempted to register African-American voters in Mississippi. This photograph captures volunteers hand in hand singing “We Shall Overcome” to empower them during this project. Schapiro depicts the coming together of many people from various backgrounds and cultures who collectively fought for racial justice.” 

Read more about Freedom Summer ’64 in Oxford, Ohio and Steve Schapiro in this edition of Miami Matters.

Inside our permanent collection exhibition, Art History at a Glance visitors can study and reflect on Missing No. 1 by Phillip Morsberger. (American, 1933-2021)

“Philip Morsberger’s attention to images found in the media connects him to the burgeoning Pop Art movement (1955-1970), which focused on news and consumerism of the time. He painted Missing no. 1 while a Professor of Art at Miami University in the 1960s. Western College for Women, now Miami University’s Western Campus, served as a training ground for civil rights activists during the historic 1964 Freedom Summer. Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner pictured here were among those who trained at Miami to assist with black voter registration in the South. On June 21st, the three men were brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, sparking national outrage. Morsberger’s rendering of the FBI’s Missing Persons poster, washed-out and overlaid with paint, is his response to the murders and the senseless loss of life it represented.”

The Freedom Summer ’64 Memorial, which commemorates the lives of these three activists, stands not far from the Art Museum at Peabody Hall on the Miami University-Oxford Campus.

Philip Morsberger (American, 1933-2021) Missing no. 1, 1964 Oil on Canvas On loan from the Butler Institute of American Art 

The museum has several works by Department of Art Faculty Emeritus and well-known regional artist, Larry Winston Collins. Several of his pieces are also featured in the Reflections exhibition. Homage to John Lewis (below) was created in a style that he first presented in his They that Matter Series which was originally exhibited at Hiestand Galleries in 2019. In 2020, in response to the death of George Floyd and the impact of the Black Lives Matters movement on conversations about race and racial justice, MUAM created this online exhibition with the artist’s permission. In They That Matter, Collins re-creates individual shrines, in a similar way as works featured in his 1990s exhibition All For The Cause, illuminating each person who has lost their life; to show the humanity of the victims and that their lives mattered.

Homage to John Lewis is on view in the current Collections Highlights exhibition at MUAM. Congressman John Lewis, was a veteran of the Civil Rights movement. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, Lewis was instrumental in leading the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 marches to Selma from Montgomery, Alabama. During 1964’s Freedom Summer,  Lewis encouraged college students to help register black voters in Mississippi. Lewis was made a recipient of the Miami University Freedom Summer ‘64 award in 2018, just two years before his passing in 2020. The artwork features Lewis’s portrait, and a part of his famous quote: “Get in Good Trouble” surrounded by scenes from a lifetime of protest and activism.

Larry Winston Collins (American, b. 1955)
Homage to John Lewis, 2021
Mixed media painting/wall sculpture
36 x 36 x 7 inches, MUAM Commission in Honor of Director Robert S. Wicks and his Commitment to social justice on the occasion of his retirement. 2021.1