Ask any one of my children the one thing they’re supposed to buy for their mother when they grow up and get rich and famous and they will say, without hesitation, an original Romare Bearden. I think I might have whispered that in Mari and Lila’s ears when they were just days old. Romare Bearden, the prolific artist, writer and musician who used his work to chronicle the beauty of black life, is that serious to this art lover. And I don’t miss a chance, ever, to see his collages and paintings up close.
Imagine, then, how excited I was to find out that Macy’s is celebrating his 100th birthday by hosting satellite exhibits of Romare Bearden’s artwork in select Macy’s stores nationwide? Last night, I had the great pleasure of joining the opening reception of the Bearden exhibit at Atlanta’s Macy’s at Lennox Square Mall with a host of art lovers who share my enthusiasm for all things Bearden. There, we got to see up close hand-signed fine art prints of Bearden’s collages, watercolors and oil on paper works, dating from 1964 to 1984, when Bearden was at the peak of his artistic power—many of them loaned from the Romare Bearden Foundation.
Also on hand was works by artists inspired and influenced by Bearden’s life and legacy, and a jazz band that performed Bearden’s music—yes, Bearden, who hung with Duke Ellington, penned songs that were later recorded by Tito Puente, Billy Eckstine and Branford Marsalis. Additional in-store celebrations will include children’s collage-making events, special readings of Bearden’s children’s book, “Li’l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story” as well as cooking demonstrations from local chefs featuring Bearden’s favorite recipes and Caribbean dishes (his wife was wife, Nanette, had a home in her native St. Martin and he often celebrated the beauty of the Caribbean’s lush landscapes in his work) from the out-of-print cookbook, “Ma Chance’s French Caribbean Creole Cooking,” which Bearden illustrated.
Though I was super excited to see my blog homies at the Macy’s Lennox Square event—Akilah of Execumama.com, Christie of Chatterbox Christie, Lorraine of Run Wifey, Run, Kia of Cinco Mom and event hosts Ronnie and Lamar Tyler of Black and Married With Kids and Danica of beEverywhere were in the building while I was there with my daughter, Mari, and my buddies EPayne of Makes Me Wanna Holler, Terrance of BrothaTech came after we left (doggonit!)— I honestly needed a minute to be one with Romare. I told a few folks that maybe they should consider knocking me out with some spray if I got too close to his work; though I looked lovingly at the collages from behind the velvet rope, I seriously wanted to touch them and hug them and bring them home with mama. Every last one of them.
The one that stood out to me, though, was “Morning,” (pictured above) described as a celebration of the black family and African American family life. In it, a mother is loving on her baby in the kitchen, next to a table full of flowers, a rocking chair and a pot-bellied stove, a nod, the gallery notes, to Bearden’s desire to “squarely locate the black family within the realm of traditional domesticity.”
This is why I adore Bearden; to me, “Morning” and certainly a large part of Bearden’s work, including my personal favorite, “The Block,” is a celebration of us. Our lives. Our space. Our normality. Our beauty. Our human. He was so incredibly dedicated to his art and his culture and his people—and through his work, his life and that dedication, I’ve come to learn that telling our authentic story is just as strong a political statement as protest. Witness what playwright August Wilson (another artist I’m absolutely fanatical about) had to say about Bearden’s work:
What I saw was Black life presented on its own terms, on a grand and epic scale, with all its richness and fullness. It was the art of a large and generous spirit that defined not only the character of Black American life, but also its conscience.
I took my daughter to see the exhibit because I wanted her to see Romare Bearden’s work up close, particularly since, as part of her class’s study of the Harlem Renaissance, she was working on a huge report and oral presentation on him and his art, due, ironically, today. I encourage you, too, to take your kiddies to the Macy’s exhibit, which will be at Macy’s Lennox Square through February 12. You can check out similar Romare Bearden exhibits at Macy’s stores in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia now through February 12th, and in Philadelphia, Houston, Miami, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. from February 16th to 19th. The Macy’s exhibit ends in Romare Bearden hometown, Charlotte, North Carolina, on February 25th, where there will be a huge children’s celebration featuring storytelling, arts and crafts, live music, face painting and, of course, children’s collages.
Plus, with any purchase of $50 or more in Macy’s during the exhibit’s run, you’ll receive a complimentary scarf printed with one of Romare Bearden’s most revered work, “The Lamp.”
For a complete listing of events and directions, check out Macy’s Celebrates Black History Month here.
To learn more about my hero, Romare Bearden, visit The Romare Bearden Foundation.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.