The blues guitar legend Buddy Guy once wrote, "Funny thing about the blues. You play 'em cause you got 'em.…
A printmaking workshop inspires artists to push boundaries
Judy Woodruff: The 50-year-old Brandywine Workshop and Archives in Philadelphia draws in artists, both unknown and very well-known, to push boundaries by producing limited edition prints.
It's also an opportunity to get their work into major museum collections, like the Harvard Art Museums.
That's where special correspondent Jared Bowen of GBH Boston recently took a look.
It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
Jared Bowen: Each of these prints have been a tool for engagement, to interrogate history, to reach for the future, and sometimes just to dazzle.
The need for them came in the 1970s when art world eyes were elsewhere.
Allan Edmunds, Brandywine Workshop and Archives: And there was not a lot of institutional support for people of color back in 1971.
Jared Bowen: So, in 1972, Allan Edmunds founded the Brandywine Workshop and Archives, an art collective originally based in a Philadelphia garage.
What was the intention there?
Allan Edmunds: We decided that there needed to be an institution that could provide that bridge between your aspiration as a young person thinking about a career in art, and it actually creating a path for them.
So it was about providing role models.
Jared Bowen: And a place where artists could come, as they do today, for a two-week workshop to try their hand at printmaking. Fifty years and some 500 prints later, Brandywine artworks are ensconced in an ever-expanding number of major museum collections, including here at the Harvard Art Museums.
What does that do? What does that represent?
Allan Edmunds: To be honest with you, we never envisioned that we would be at Harvard Art Museum with an exhibition. We never envisioned that.
But what we did envision, that if we kept to inclusion as a part of the issue of equality, that, at some point, it would manifest itself into wider recognition outside of Philadelphia.
Jared Bowen: Harvard acquired this collection in 2018. It's a mix of famous names, like Faith Ringgold and Sam Gilliam, but also of artists dressing down history or conversing with cosmology.
They are sculptors or painters or weavers challenged to stretch their skills by making prints.
Elizabeth Rudy is the show's co-curator.
Elizabeth Rudy, Prints Curator, Harvard Art Museums: You see artists doing totally new things in their careers or -- and in their approach to art, which is exciting.
Jared Bowen: Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas made this print titled To Be Sold, juxtaposing high-earning Black athletes and performers with a recreation of an advertisement for the sale of enslaved people.
Thomas appears a second time in the show in the belly of his mother, photographer and scholar Deborah Willis.
Elizabeth Rudy: She wanted to use some old film of herself pregnant when she was at Yale, and she was discriminated against. And she was told by a professor when she entered a classroom -- as a pregnant woman, she was told that you're taking up space for a good man.
And she was separated those words out over her image of herself pregnant with her son, who turned out to be another really famous artist, Hank Willis Thomas.
Jared Bowen: Artist Sedrick Huckaby made more than 100 prints at Brandywine after watching the Occupy Wall Street movement sweep through the country and newfound attention paid to the 99 percent.
Sedrick Huckaby, Artist: But I felt like the 99 percent in my community really wasn't getting heard.
Jared Bowen: So, in Fort Worth, Texas, Huckaby's hometown, he began creating portraits, random people he encountered on any given day. And, as he captured them, he rendered bits of their conversation into the portrait.
Sedrick Huckaby: Some people are more talkative, some people less. And my eye is always just open to trying to get a sense of the person.
Jared Bowen: You said at the outset you wanted to explore who the 99 percent were. And maybe it was a rhetorical question, but did you come away with a more fundamental understanding, an answer to that question?
Sedrick Huckaby: I don't know if it was a question, as much as it was an attempt to hear people better.
And, a lot of times, when you're painting from life, you're sort of metaphorically listening to the person. But, in this case, not only was I looking and responding, but I also literally was listening to them. And I think it ultimately made me more sensitive to the role of listening as a part of my art form.
Jared Bowen: Especially knowing the prints would be distributed widely. One of the central tenants of Brandywine is that it's a place of ongoing communication with our audiences, of charting a course through history, sometimes literally, as we find in a print by Allan Edmunds himself.
It's called 200 Years, and features President Barack Obama atop a heap of history.
Allan Edmunds: And everything else is at the bottom, the slave ship, the arrival, the manifest change. And then, throughout, these names of people who I felt Obama embodied, the writers, the orators, the lawyers, the educators, the community workers, all the names that came before Obama for which, if they didn't, there wouldn't have been an Obama.
He's the summation of all those 200 years of making progress.
Jared Bowen: And for one full quarter of it, Brandywine has been there to reflect it.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jared Bowen in Cambridge, Massachusetts.