Holidays At The Porters

Article from IRAAA archives

James, Dorothy and Coni Porter, Christmas 1954. Photo: Coni Porter collectionThe winter holiday season was a special time for James A. Porter and his family. Porter's daughter, Coni Porter Uzelac, recalled festive holiday gatherings at the Porter home in an article published in the print IRAAA (v. 20, n. 3, 2005). 

Known as the “father of African American art history,” James A. Porter (1905-1970), wrote the first detailed history of the topic spanning the craftspeople and artists of 18th-century colonial period, through the 19th century, to the painting, sculpture, graphic arts of the first four decades of the 20th century.  His Modern Negro Art was published in 1943. Porter spent his career teaching at Howard University (1927-1970).

For 43 years, Porter’s wife Dorothy was director of at Howard’s collection now known as the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.  Under her supervision, the collection developed into a major archive of books, and other print materials, photographs, and historical documents by and about black people that is second only to New York's Schomburg Collection.   

James A. Porter with his painting, The Family, 1940 (Photo: Coni Porter Collection)In their personal lives, the Porters also shared a strong penchant for collecting, James acquiring African American, African and Caribbean visual art as Dorothy amassed materials relating to African American history and culture.

The couple's only child, Constance (Coni) Burnett was born August 22, 1939.  Coni grew up in a small house at 738 Gresham Street, NW, a half-block from the university campus. The family moved to 1201 Girard Street, NW in 1949.

Coni Porter Uzelac recalled Christmas gatherings and New Year's parties with people who were "just friends of my parents,” in the 2005 IRAAA article. She later realized that these friends were great artists and scholars: poet Sterling Brown, anthropologist Montague Cobb, sociologist E. Frankiin Frazier, and, later, Porter's protege, David Driskell, among others.

The Porter home on Girard Street was filled to over-flowing with art, books, artifacts and stimulating ideas, she recalled. 

Coni Porter Uzelac became a medical librarian but devoted much of her life to organizing and managing the Dorothy Porter Wesley Research Center, an archive of items from the estates of her parents and historian Charles Harris Wesley. She transitioned in 2012.