Palmer to open first of two fall exhibitions celebrating black culture, pedagogy

August 06, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Aug. 20, the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State will open its first special exhibition of the fall season with "The Web of Life: John Biggers and the Power of Pedagogy." The exhibit spotlights the work of artist John Biggers in relation to two important mentors, artist Charles White and famed art educator Viktor Lowenfeld.

An acclaimed muralist, draftsman and teacher, Biggers (1924–2001) spent several formative years at Penn State immediately following World War II, ultimately earning three degrees in art education at the University. During a career that spanned more than half a century, Biggers explored his cultural heritage as an African American in a wide range of styles, from early figurative social realist works and majestic images of West African culture to more symbolic murals completed in the last decades of the 20th century.

“Charles White’s powerful depictions of black Americans and commitment to social justice profoundly influenced Biggers when he was a young college student at Hampton Institute,” said Joyce Robinson, assistant director of the Palmer and curator of the exhibition. “But it was Viktor Lowenfeld, a Jewish immigrant who fled Nazi Austria in the late 1930s, who enticed Biggers to Penn State and helped him develop a professional career as both an artist and educator.”

Biggers went on to found and head the art department at Texas Southern University in Houston, where he continued the legacy of powerful pedagogy instilled in him by his mentors for the next 34 years.

Organized by the Palmer Museum of Art and drawn largely from the permanent collection, "The Web of Life" features mural studies as well as drawings related to "Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa," a publication documenting the artist’s six-month visit to West Africa in 1957. Biggers acknowledged being “totally ignorant of Africa” prior to that UNESCO-funded trip and returned to the United States eager to explore his cultural heritage and to “bridge the gap between African and American culture.”

The exhibition is augmented by loans from the University Libraries and the private collection of Lee and Barbara Maimon. Also on view will be the artist’s monumental "Sharecropper Mural "(1948), on loan from the Paul Robeson Cultural Center. The exhibition will be open through Dec. 15.

"Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman," a major traveling exhibition focused on the career of Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage, also explores the power of black art and pedagogy and will open at the Palmer on Aug. 24.

Related programming

Friday, Aug. 30

Gallery Talk: "The Web of Life: John Biggers and the Power of Pedagogy"

12:10 p.m.

Joyce Robinson, assistant director

Join us on Friday afternoons at 12:10 p.m. for interesting, enlightening gallery talks on current exhibitions and selected works from the permanent collection.

Thursday, Sept. 26

Art After Hours: "Art + Activism + Social Change"

6 to 9 p.m.

Explore the artistic, social and historic impact of artists Augusta Savage and John Biggers, and get inspired to create change through art. Participate in gallery discussions, make art and enjoy music in the galleries. 

Join us once a month for evening events designed especially for students. Art After Hours offers multiple activities, programs and performances that help visitors of all ages connect with art in fun and interesting ways.

Thursday, Sept. 26

7:30 p.m. 

Carlos Wiley, director, Paul Robeson Cultural Center

Join us for interesting, enlightening gallery talks on current exhibitions and selected works from the permanent collection.

Friday, Oct. 25

Gallery Talk: "The Web of Life: John Biggers and the Power of Pedagogy"

12:10 p.m.

B. Stephen Carpenter II, interim director, School of Visual Arts; professor of art education and African American studies

Join us on Friday afternoons at 12:10 p.m. for interesting, enlightening gallery talks on current exhibitions and selected works from the permanent collection.

About the Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art on Penn State's University Park campus is a free-admission arts resource for the University and surrounding communities in central Pennsylvania. With a collection of more than 9,000 objects representing a variety of cultures and spanning centuries of art, the Palmer is the largest art museum between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Areas of strength include the museum’s collection of American art from the late 18th century to the present, Old Master paintings, prints and photography, ceramics and studio glass, and a growing collection of modern and contemporary art.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The museum is closed Mondays and some holidays. For more information or the calendar of upcoming events, visit palmermuseum.psu.edu.

Penn State and the Palmer Museum of Art are planning to construct a brand-new University Art Museum located in The Arboretum at Penn State. With nearly twice the exhibition space of the Palmer, new classroom spaces and a teaching gallery, flexible event spaces, and on-site parking, this building would dramatically enhance the museum’s capacity to offer educational and enrichment opportunities for visitors of all ages. It would be integrated with the Arboretum, inspiring collaboration and creating a unique nexus of art, architecture and natural beauty. And like the Palmer Museum of Art before it, it will depend upon visionary philanthropy from the Penn State community. Learn more at artmuseum.psu.edu.

Last Updated August 07, 2019