"Back Home" sweet home

09/02/2011 3:32 PM

09/02/2011 4:05 PM

When the Mint Museum opens its major retrospective of work by noted collage artist Romare Bearden in September, Raleigh and Thelmetia Bynum plan to be among the opening night visitors. But they might feel more at home among these masterpieces than most viewers. Not only do the Bynums have their own collection of works by great African-American artists in their home in the Davis Lake community, but their collection includes an original Bearden. They’ve loaned that work to the Mint for the show. The Bynums’ watercolor will be displayed with approximately 100 other works by Bearden. “Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections” runs Sept. 2-Jan. 8 and celebrates the centennial of Bearden’s birth in Mecklenburg County in 1911. Works will be drawn from the Mint’s extensive collection as well as from many museums and private collections such as the Bynums’. The title and date of the Bynums’ work, “Back Home” (1978), says a lot about the Mint exhibit and its focus on Bearden’s exploration of his Southern roots. Bearden lived here for the first four years of his life, though the family eventually settled in New York, and the artist had an urban upbringing. Early works drew on those childhood memories. But in the 1970s, when he made a return visit to the Charlotte area and saw how much of his childhood neighborhood near Uptown had been demolished, he began to use his collages and paintings to chronicle that disappearing way of life. His wanted to celebrate the rituals of daily Southern life for African-Americans in the mid-20th century, including baptisms, blues music, fish fries, gardening and farming. “Back Home” shows a man playing a guitar outside a red brick house. A woman leans out a window to listen, while another woman and child outside look on. The colors in this painting – bright blues and reds and greens – are characteristic of this phase of Bearden’s work. Visitors to the Mint exhibit also will see other Mecklenburg-inspired collages from this period, including “Of the Blues: Carolina Shout” (1974), in which members of a congregation throw up their arms to celebrate a baptism, creating striking silhouettes against a magenta sky. In “Sunset Limited (Mecklenburg County)” (1978), figures of a man and a woman holding a child are set against rich blues and greens of a field of grass. The Bynums met Bearden during one of his visits back to Charlotte for a reception. “I was impressed with his sincerity and simplicity,” Raleigh Bynum says. “He talked about the areas where he grew up, but we were not familiar with those areas since they were not here anymore.” However, the Bynums did not start collecting art until later, after a grown son who loved art gave his father a print for a gift. Now the Bynums’ collection fills the walls of their living room and dining room and continues throughout their home. The collection includes prints and paintings by Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Jonathan Green and Sam Gilliam, to name a few. They have a large enough collection, Raleigh Bynum says, that they can rotate what’s on their walls. But when their original Bearden watercolor is returned to their living room, it will stay in its place near the Bynums’ five other Bearden prints. “We like to keep our artwork arranged by artist,” says Raleigh Bynum. “And we don’t buy them unless we really like them. Because as you can see, we keep them on display.” “When I’m cleaning the house or going through the day, I stop and sit and enjoy them,” Thelmetia Bynum says. Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections” opens Sept. 2 with a Bearden birthday celebration, 6-11 p.m. at the Mint Uptown, including gallery tours, live entertainment, hands-on collage activities and a cash bar. Lectures, tours, art classes and other related activities are planned through the show’s closing date, Jan. 8. Details: www.mintmuseum.org For a full list of Charlotte Celebrates Bearden events, visit www.charlottecultureguide.com

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