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Missing Narratives


June 18, 2022 @ 11:00 am
September 18, 2022 @ 5:00 pm
Kimmy Cantrell (b. 1957), Asymilate, 2014. Ceramic on board. Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell Collection.

This summer MMoA is honored to present Missing Narratives, a special exhibition of prints, paintings, and sculpture by African American artists, on loan from the collection of Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell.

Missing Narratives features 28 works of art representing 19 artists, including Romare Bearden (1914-1988), Dr. Curlee Raven Holton (b. 1951), Valerie J. Maynard (b. 1937), and Robin Holder (b. 1952). With bold lines, bright colors, and intense imagery, these artists capture observations of everyday life, from quiet family moments to raucous street festivals. They also commemorate historic occasions such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the election of President Obama. Presented from the perspective of the collectors, each piece is accompanied by a recollection from the Mitchells of how it was acquired, including stories and memories shared with them by the artists.

Bill and Paula Mitchell have recently returned to New England after living in Maryland for nearly fifty years. To hear them tell it, there was a time before June 18, 2011, and a time after. On that date, Bill and Paula spent three hours viewing the John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African American Art at the Harvey B. Gantt Museum of African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, NC, absorbing everything on the walls. It was their introduction to a whole new world of art and artists.

The Mitchells are not only collectors of African American art, but allies. As recently as eleven years ago, when Bill and Paula began this collection, the mere fact that an artist was Black reduced the value of his or her art. 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. “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.”

Nelson L. Stevens (1938-2023), Spirit Sister, 2013. Serigraph on paper. Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell Collection.

The earliest artists represented in Missing Narratives were born in the 1910s and 1920s; while others are active today. Their artwork spans the period from women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., and 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.”

Charly Palmer (b. 1960), Across Hope, 2009. Mixed media on canvas. Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell Collection.
Featured Image credit: Gwendolyn Clarine Knight (1931-2005), The White Dress (detail), 1937. Serigraph print on paper. Bill and Paula Alice Mitchell Collection.