Harvey Art Museum to be Established at Talladega College

Dr. William H. HarveyTalladega alumnus and Hampton University President, William Harvey, and his wife Norma Harvey, have made a gift of over $1 million to establish the William R. Harvey Art Museum at Talladega College. The Harvey Art Museum will be the new home of the acclaimed Hale Woodruff Amistad Murals and kicks off the $5 million Rise Up! Ring True Campaign: A New Home for the Amistad Murals.

Dr. William Harvey is also 100% owner of the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Houghton, Michigan. Born in Brewton, Alabama, Harvey graduated from Talladega College in 1961. Dr. Harvey's 36 years at Hampton University has given him one of the longest tenures of any sitting president of a college or university in the country. Harvey has been appointed by six presidents to White House committees and serves on numerous corporate and philanthropic boards.

William Harvey's passion for African American art began at Talladega College in the class of David Driskell who went on to be a widely-recognized art historian and artist. "My professors at Talladega College gave more than instruction-they taught us about life," Harvey says. "Dr. Driskell cultivated my appreciation and advocacy for African American art. I am so proud to take my Talladega College experience and establish Hampton University's museum collection to one of the largest African and Native American collections in the nation and now name the new home for the Hale Woodruff Amistad Murals."

Answering the call to establish a new home for the Amistad Murals, Dr. Harvey's gift is the lead gift in the Rise Up! Ring True Campaign. The campaign's central focus is to provide a new home for the Amistad Murals and create a space for African American creative scholarship and students to be actively engaged in their creative passion. The $5 million campaign will primarily fund the little over $3 million William R. Harvey Art Museum at Talladega College, an estimated 9,000 square foot facility at the gateway of the campus. The facility, which is still in development, will comprise of three art galleries, a multipurpose creative space, and ample outdoor space with an Amphitheatre, and courtyard. The Rise Up! Ring True Campaign details will be released in the upcoming weeks.

"Talladega College taught every student the greatness of the African American experience through the Amistad Murals. We knew we stood on the shoulders of Cinqué, William Savery, Thomas Tarrant, and other fearless giants," says Harvey. "Talladega College challenged us for greatness. I hope my gift continues the greatness that the college imparted on to me."

A Tree Grows in Talladega

Hale Aspacio Woodruff Scenes from the Underground Railroad, 1940, oil on canvas, 6 x 10 feet.  Talladega College Collection Hale Woodruff at work on The Mutiny on the Amistad, ca. 1941. Photo: Arthur Rothstein, collection of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.The extensive legacy of the Hale Woodruff murals at Talladega College in Alabama is like a tree with many branches.   The webzine that you are reading now is one of the twigs shooting from the branching experiences of artist David Driskell and Hampton University president William R. Harvey, both of whom spent formative years at Talladega. 

The tree is rooted in a bold decision of a white man in the deepest south in 1938 to commemorate, in a big and lasting way, the centenary of the 1839 mutiny led by the African, Joseph Cinqué, on the Amistad slave ship.  Talladega College president Buell Gallagher commissioned Atlanta University art instructor Hale Woodruff to execute the murals depicting the mutiny, the repatriation of the Africans, and the road to freedom that included the 1867 opening of Talladega, one of the nation’s first black colleges, and the construction of Savery Library at the college in the 1930s. When he was a slave,  William Savery had helped build a stately, large, columned, brick school building for white boys.  As a newly freedman, Savery helped found Talladega College and the school for white boys became the college’s main building.

Completed in 1942 and installed in the College’s Savery Library, Hale Woodruff’s six canvas panels have comprised an imposing history lesson for generations of Talladega students.  Last year, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta collaborated with Talladega College to restore the murals and share them with the nation through a traveling exhibition and lavishly illustrated, hardbound book. 

Conservation by the Atlanta Art Conservation Center has revealed the original luster of the fearless Cinqué and other historical figures who now rise up as vividly as they did over 70 years ago when they were created.  

About 14 years after Woodruff competed the murals at Talladega, another pivotal moment in African American art history occurred at the college. The artist and art historian David Driskell recalls the moment in an IRAAA article about how he and other African American artists began to evolve beyond the influence of the European modernists in the mid-1950s: 

After graduating from Howard in 1955, I was incredibly lucky to land a teaching job at Talladega College with only a B.A. degree. I was hired as an assistant professor by Arthur D. Gray, Tallagega's first black president. Near an imposing hall built by enslaved blacks and bought during Reconstruction by the American Missionary Association to serve as a school for freed slaves, Behold Thy Son took form.  (Painted in response to the Emmett Till murder, Behold Thy Son depicts a slain young man whose outstretched arms in the form of a crucifix symbolizes the sacrifice of many young lives from Christ to Till).

Perhaps more than anything else, I felt the richness of the history of this place.  In 1938, the eminent African American artist Hale Woodruff painted the Amistal Murals in Talladega College's Savery Liverary.  The murals illustrate the history and politics of slavery, abolition and African repatriation.

 Indeed, I had to mentally project myself into the 20th century in order to feel removed from the ante bellum presence of the area.  The hot and dusty town square and surrounding areas appeared to register none of the social and political changes then underway....    (From "An Artist Recounts the Creatve Lead and Move into the 1960s" by David Driskell, the lead article in the The Art of Political Struggle and Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s  issue of the International Review of African American Art, 1998.)

Driskell completed this pivotal painting in 1956 and went on to become the "dean of African American art" through his great achievements as an artist, educator, curator, art advisor, art historian and curator.  

In 1957, a 16-year old from Brewton Ala enrolled at Talladega, majored in history, participated in the civil rights struggle, and graduated in 1961:  William R. Harvey.   Like Driskell, Harvey was inspired by the examples of rising up from oppression, black leadership and educational initiatives dramatically chronicled in the Woodruff murals. 

In the early 1970s, when they were both working at Fisk University  (the site of the famous murals by the Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas), Driskell mentored Harvey in appreciating and collecting art. 

The legacy of these associations culminated in 1992 when William R. Harvey, then president of Hampton University, became publisher of the International Review of African American Art.  

The book:  Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College, edited by High Museum curator Stephanie Mayer Heydt with essays by David Driskell (“Witnessing Living History in Hale Woodruff’s Art”), Stephanie Mayer Heydt (Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College), Juliette S. Smith (“Talladega College and the Woodruff Murals”),  Renee Ater (“The Search for a Usable Past: American Mural Painting, 1880-1940”), Larry Shutts (“The Conservation of the Talladega Murals”); 156 pp., 90 illus., 50 in color; published 2012 by the University of Washington of Press and distributed for the High Museum of Art.