In commemoration and celebration of Juneteenth, Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center presents Hudson Valley History Reimagined: Vinnie Bagwell’s Portraits of Enslaved Youth will be on view in the Loeb’s new In the Spotlight space from June 5–September 5, 2021.
The exhibition is an effort to bring awareness to aspects of our region’s history that are so frequently left out of the dominant narrative, timed to Juneteenth, a day that memorializes the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. and is celebrated on June 19th. Yonkers-based artist Vinnie Bagwell’s bronze statues of African youth pay tribute to people separated from their families and their homes and sold into slavery in a foreign land. A slide show of a local family album reminds us that Black families not only worked the land but were owners of farmland nearby. Works on paper from the Loeb collection are included as a backdrop for the often-untold stories of African families and their descendants.
“New York State was once the largest slave-owning colony in the North,” notes curator Mary-Kay Lombino. “However, despite their presence and labor, which were central to the advancement of the region, they were not often depicted in paintings, illustrations, or engravings at the time.” This focused exhibition attempts to correct this historical erasure by focusing on the figure more closely.
Among the works featured are:
- Two bronzes by Vinnie Bagwell, 1/3-scale maquettes of life-size statues created for The Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden, an ambitious public art project which is planned to open on the Yonkers waterfront later this year.
- A series of photographs of the Hudson Valley by William Clift capture the stillness and beauty of the region’s cultivated landscape and offer an important, if subtle, reminder that the prosperous beauty of the Hudson Valley is, in large part, thanks to the labor of enslaved individuals who worked the land in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
- A digital slideshow created by scanning the family photo album of Jasper Jackson, who was born in 1847 and lived on the 33-acre farm purchased in 1865 by his parents, Henry and Elmira Jackson. According to his grandson, Patrice Jackson, “A lot of African Americans, after the Emancipation Proclamation, moved to cities, like Poughkeepsie, like my grandfather, Jasper, did.”
- Two small etchings by Mahonri Young (The Hudson from Heine Cooks, 1916) and Harry Herman Wickey (Negro Cabin, 1921) seem to favor the Hudson Highlands, a region of New York state that lies south and southwest of Poughkeepsie. While both scenes primarily feature the rustic, peaceful landscape of the area, they include figures as well.
The exhibition is on view in the new In the Spotlight space, dedicated to special projects that show how the Loeb is expanding beyond its traditional practices of research, display, and interpretation. The Spotlight will illuminate the ways in which the Loeb’s art collection, spaces, and resources can be a catalyst for scholarly, creative, and social justice work by Vassar students and others. These undertakings reflect a commitment to broaden, and amplify, the voices represented in the museum setting, and to ensure that our programs and practices that place the Loeb in conversation with our communities.
PHOTO: Download high-resolution images from the Vassar College Media Relations’ Flickr site