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Charlotte Celebrates Bearden

Romare Bearden's Studio on Canal Street, 1976.
Romare Bearden's Studio on Canal Street, 1976. Blain Waller

Romare Bearden left his Mecklenburg County home when he just a toddler. But the memories he took with him and later brought to vivid life – in writings, music and, especially, his collages – solidified his place as an iconic American artist, an African American who transcended the categories and limitations that others would place on him. To mark the 100th anniversary of Bearden’s birth on Sept. 2, 1911, Charlotte is honoring him with a months-long celebration, featuring work that reflects his Southern heritage.

Considering the long list of exhibitions, conversations and classes across town, it’s going to be hard not to brush against Bearden. Among the events: a major retrospective at the Mint Museum Uptown, three exhibits at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture, a showing at Jerald Melberg Gallery (which has represented Bearden in Charlotte since 1983) and efforts geared to younger art lovers and, perhaps, future Beardens at ImaginOn. Because of the jazz theme of much his work, there will even be music.

The Mint and the Gantt Center – neighbors in the Levine Center for the Arts on South Tryon street in uptown – are presenting complementary views of the art and life of Bearden, who died in 1988.

At the Mint Museum Uptown, “Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections” – on view Sept. 2 through Jan. 8, 2012 – covers 50 years of the artist’s work with paintings, watercolors and prints from the museum’s collection and private and public collections. The major retrospective of up to 100 works will travel.

Charlotte attorney T. Michael Todd is loaning two Beardens from his collection to the Mint show, including his favorite, “Mother and Child.” “You can almost see the protection,” he says, “you can almost see the love, you can almost see the closeness being exhibited on that canvas. That really touches me in a special way.” In the South that Bearden encountered on visits to his grandparents, “he got a chance to see some things that probably a lot of us did not see,” says Todd. “We’re getting his ideas and his experiences; I can identify with that.”

Selections from Bearden’s “Prevalence of Ritual” series included in the Mint show explore the family gardens, the community activities, the religious gatherings – the everyday Southern scenes that contrast with his urban New York cityscapes. “I am excited to see that the Mint Museum of Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center thought enough for his 100th birthday to bring his work here and to cherish it and to present it to not only to the Charlotte community but to the world in general,” says Todd. “A lot of times museums will present black artists during black history month. Bearden is not a black history month artist — he is an internationally renowned artist.”

Experts agree. “Romare Bearden broke new ground with his innovative collages and left a powerful legacy to generations of American artists,” says Carla Hanzal, the Mint’s curator of contemporary art and curator of the Bearden exhibition.

“What’s great about Bearden is that it is a citywide celebration,” adds Mint Museum president and CEO Kathleen Jameson. “It seems that all the organizations have come together for many different kinds of projects to try to think creatively about how we can join forces to tell a story better or to be more thoughtful or to add another dimension to the story.”

At the Gantt Center, that dimension includes photographs that document Bearden's associations with prominent artists, political and cultural figures in “Romare Bearden: The Life.” “Beyond Bearden: Creative Responses” showcases the work of painters, sculptors, printmakers and mixed-media artists inspired by the artist. “Paper Trail: Romare Bearden Works on Paper” borrows watercolors and prints from Charlotte-area collectors.

“We think it’s going to be extraordinary and we’re working very closely with the Mint,” says David Taylor, president and CEO of the Gantt Center. “I think we’ll have something that’s really historic that people around the country will never have seen before.”

Though the artist is also known for his jazz work and pieces from New York City and the Caribbean, the Jerald Melberg Gallery focuses closer to home. “Romare Bearden: A Centennial Exhibition – An Artist Remembers His Birthplace” includes collages, prints and watercolors based on Mecklenburg County motifs, 24 to 30 at least, says Melberg. He knew Bearden and watched him work. “It flowed out of his fingers. It was just so wonderful watch him draw. He was a wizard.”

“I truly believe that Bearden is one of the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century,” says Melberg. “There’s a phrase that’s been used – he took collage to a particular level so that it’s hard to think of collage without thinking about Romare Bearden.”

What would Melberg’s friend think of this Charlotte birthday party?

“I think he would be pleased. I think he would be humbled. I always found Romy to be a rather humble guy. At the very same time, he knew his role. He was comfortable enough with himself, in himself to know that what he was doing was important and that others looked at it as important as well.” Bearden never could quite understand the fuss. “But he enjoyed the fuss, and he should have.”

An event Melberg believes Bearden would especially want to attend would be at ImaginOn. “Li’l Dan, The Drummer Boy,” a children’s book written and illustrated by Bearden, was discovered and published posthumously. Using text and illustrations borrowed from the Romare Bearden Foundation, ImaginOn has put together an interactive family exhibit about the book, which deals with complex issues of racism, slavery, freedom and war. Whenever you can get new generations interested in an artist of this importance who is from their hometown, says Melberg, “I think it’s spectacular.”

Bearden has been quoted as saying that in his heart, he never left Charlotte. With this citywide celebration, his hometown is returning that affection.

Charlotte-based journalist Mary C. Curtis and her husband, Martin Olsen, recently purchased their first Bearden. The lithograph “Girl in the Garden” will be loaned to the Gantt Center exhibition “Paper Trail: Romare Bearden Works on Paper.”

Bearden 100 Events

Call venues as events are subject to change; for additional events and details, check Charlotte Culture Guide at

Sept. 1-Dec. 31: Before Bearden: In-School Artist Residencies in Conjunction with Bearden 100 Celebration, at several CMS middle schools. Bechtler Museum of Modern Art looks at artists in the collection that influenced Bearden; 704-353-9200.

Sept. 2 – Jan. 8, 2012: Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections, Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Sept. 2-Jan. 22, 2012: Paper Trail: Romare Bearden Works on Paper, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture; 704-547-3700.

Sept. 2-Jan. 22, 2012: Romare Bearden: The Life, photographs by Frank Stewart, Gantt Center; 704-547-3700.

Sept. 2-Jan. 22, 2012: Beyond Bearden: Creative Responses, Gantt Center; painters, sculptors, printmakers and mixed-media artists represented include Betye Saar, Camille Billops, Brett Cook, Louis Delsarte, Howardina Pindell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Kerry James Marshall, Nelson Stevens, Maya Freelon Asante; 704-547-3700.

Sept. 2: “Back Porch Serenade,” a collage being gifted to the Mint by the Romare Bearden Society, unveiled as part of the Mint’s First Fridays event to open the exhibition, 6:30 p.m. At 8 p.m. will be a premiere screening of WTVI's "Charlotte's Bearden 100", presented by Steve Crump. Members from the Bearden Foundation and Nannette Bearden's family plan to attend. Also, a groundbreaking is expected for Romare Bearden Park, corner of Church and Third Streets.

Sept. 3: Conversations at Gantt Public Lecture: Bearden's Role in the Canon of American Art, with Pamela Ford, 6 p.m., RSVP required; 704-547-3700.

Sept. 4: Romare Bearden’s Jazz Compositions in Performance (Charlotte premiere), 3 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Sept. 9-Nov. 12: Romare Bearden: A Centennial Exhibition – An Artist Remembers His birthplace, Jerald Melberg Gallery; 704-365-3000.

Sept. 10: Color Struck - Evidence and Essence (Decoding and Living the Legacy of Romare Bearden), discussion with Hasaan Kirkland, associate professor of fine art, Johnson C. Smith University, 11 a.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Sept. 11: Point/Counterpoint Dialogue: Bearden’s Charlotte Recollections, Dr. Glenda Gilmore, historian, Yale University, and Dr. Richard Powell, art historian, Duke University, 3 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Sept. 15-Oct. 15: Li’l Dan, The Drummer Boy, An Interactive Family Exhibition, on a book written and illustrated by Bearden, ImaginOn; 704-973-2780.

Sept. 15-Oct. 13: After-School Class: Maudell’s Secret Garden (Grades 1-3), create a series of watercolor and collage paintings based on gardens found in Mecklenburg County, 4 p.m., Mint Museum Randolph; 704-337-2000.

Sept. 18: Romare Bearden's Charlotte, 1911. Public debut of the interactive site with historian Tom Hanchett at the Duke Mansion, 400 Hermitage Road in Myers Park at 3 p.m. Part of the ongoing series Explore History! sponsored by Levine Museum of the New South and the Duke Mansion. Free, reservations required: email or 704-714-4448.

Sept. 21, Oct. 16 and Nov. 9: Curator's Tours with Carla Hanzal Exploring Romare Bearden, 2 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Oct. 4, 11, 25, Nov. 1 and 8: Adult Painting and Drawing Class: Toward Paw Creek, 6:30 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Oct. 4, 25, Nov. 1: Lecture series with Davidson College faculty, 7 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Oct. 14: Conversation on the Art of Romare Bearden, with Ruth Fine, Curator of Special Projects in Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, and Herb Jackson, painter and Professor Emeritus, Davidson College, 7 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Oct. 16: Sunday Fun Day, Mint Museum Uptown, drop-in family friendly activities; 704-337-2000.

Oct. 18: Lecture, Kyle Coleman, Columbia Museum of Art, on parallels between Africobra and the Spiral Groups, 7 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Oct. 21: Bearden 100, Celebrating the Man through Music, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Jacomo Rafael Bairos, conducting, 7:30 p.m., Knight Theater; 704-972-2000.

Oct. 29: Center City fun: Events organized by the Arts & Science Council and Charlotte Center City Partners will include: Free admission to the Mint Museum; Discovery Place; Levine Museum of the New South; Gantt Center; and other art, science and history centers. Showcase performances in the Knight Theater and other venues by N.C. Dance Theatre; Children's Theatre of Charlotte; Charlotte Chamber Music; Maha's Dances of India; and other groups. Free tickets to the Charlotte Symphony's Lollipops concert that morning and Pops concert that evening at the Belk Theater. Also, the grand opening of the Wells Fargo History Museum on South Tryon Street, spotlighting Wells' and Wachovia's histories. Plus a chalk-art festival, LEGO sculptures and other family activities in the street fair.

Oct. 30: Carolina Jazz of Coltrane, Monk and Gillespie, UNCC student ensemble, 3 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Nov. 15: Bearden’s Gospel Train with Charlotte vocalists and musicians, 6 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Nov. 20: The Dramatic Vision of Romare Bearden and August Wilson: Celebrating Art, Drama and Jazz, 3 p.m., Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Dec. 1: The Warmth of Other Suns: An Evening with Isabel Wilkerson, 7 p.m., McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square.

Dec. 1: Carolina Shout: The UNC Charlotte Jazz Ensemble Celebrates Bearden, 8 p.m., Anne R. Belk Theater at UNC Charlotte; 704-687-2599.

Jan. 7- 8, 2012: Community homecoming, extended hours, performances, tours, special music, poetry slam, Mint Museum Uptown; 704-337-2000.

Through December 2012: Virginia Paper Co. building, Third Ward, 22 computer-generated panels inspired by the work of Bearden.