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June 18 @ 11:00 am
September 18 @ 5:00 pm
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Missing Narratives

Mystic Museum of Art (MMoA) advances its yearlong exploration of narrative art with Missing Narratives, a special exhibition of 27 prints, paintings, and sculpture by 19 African American artists including Romare Bearden (1911-1988), Gwendolyn Knight (1913-2005), Valerie J. Maynard (b. 1937), and Robin Holder (b. 1952) on loan from the private collection of Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell. The exhibition will run from June 18 to September 18.

Nelson L. Stevens (1938-2022), Spirit Sister, 2013. Serigraph print on paper. Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell Collection. The model for this image is Valerie J. Maynard (b. 1937), whose work is also represented in this exhibition.

With bold lines, bright colors, and intense imagery, the artists represented in Missing Narratives capture observations of everyday life from their own perspective, a perspective often obstructed or overlooked by racial prejudice and social inequity. They reflect their personal experiences, family histories, neighborhoods, and festivals, as well as historic occasions such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the election of President Obama, and the 2021 induction of “Juneteenth” (the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation of June 19th, 1865) as a federal holiday. The stories and memories surrounding each piece are conveyed by the artists’ collectors and allies, Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell, who also share their story of discovery.

In the Mitchells’ own words, there was a time in their lives before June 18, 2011, and a time after. On that date, Bill and Paula stopped in Charlotte, NC, for a break in a long road trip. They stepped into the Harvey B. Gantt Museum of African-American Arts + Culture, which was then exhibiting the John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African American Art, and spent the next three hours immersed in the exhibition, absorbing everything on the walls. The Hewitt Collection was the Mitchells’ introduction to a new world of art and artists. The experience changed how they viewed art from that day forward.

Kimmy Cantrell (b. 1955), Asymilate?, 2014. Ceramic on board. Bill and Paula Mitchell Collection.

The Mitchells appreciate the directness and power of artwork that appeals directly to the viewer. This art is “understandable, relevant, and accessible,” as Bill Mitchell says. It appeals to intellect as well as the senses, because each piece tells its own story.

The Mitchells continue to be involved with the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora in Maryland, where they lived for nearly fifty years. The Driskell Center has been run by Dr. Curlee Raven Holton (b. 1951), whose work is included in this exhibition, since 2014.

In that Charlotte, NC gallery eleven years ago, Bill and Paula found themselves wondering why this was the first time they had seen this art. More than a decade of educating themselves by speaking with African American artists and curators suggests that it was not just by chance.

Historically, the mere fact that an artist was Black reduced the value of his or her art. This was the simple, daily experience of artists of color. According to a conversation with Nelson L. Stevens (b. 1938), whose serigraph Spirit Sister is included in this exhibition, galleries would not represent Black artists, nor were American museums interested in acquiring their work. “They might let you in the door, but you never had a seat at the table” as artist Faith Ringgold observed. As a result, artists of color had to work twice as hard just to have their artwork seen. “A good piece of art has to make you look, then make you keep looking,” says Bill Mitchell. “These artists have had to work even harder just to get you to look.”

Valerie J. Maynard (b. 1937), Artist Trying to Get it All Down, c. 1974. Linocut print on paper. Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell Collection.

By sharing selections of their collection in Missing Narratives, the Mitchells hope to help redress some of this structural inequity. The earliest artists represented in Missing Narratives were born in the 1910s and 1920s; while others are active today. Their lives span the period from women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.; from the election of America’s first Black president to the Black Lives Matter movement. Over this period, the story of America’s identity has been challenged again and again, and yet, as Paula Mitchell points out, “there are entire narratives still missing.”

Support for this exhibition was provided by CT Humanities (CTH), with funding provided by the Connecticut State Department of Economic and Community Development/Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA) from the Connecticut State Legislature.

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