Meadows Museum of Art acquires new paintings by local Black artists
SHREVEPORT, LA — Centenary’s Meadows Museum of Art recently acquired new paintings by Black artists who lived and worked in Shreveport. After two separate donors approached the museum last year, the museum’s permanent collection now includes paintings by Shreveport residents Frances Drew (1949-2007) and Milton Fletcher (1906-1992).
When items are considered for accession into the Meadows’ permanent collection, they undergo a rigorous process that includes analysis and voting by the Meadows Museum Collection Management Committee and final approval by the College’s Provost. The Collection Management Committee includes representation from Centenary’s faculty, staff, and student body.
Items being considered for accession into the collection are evaluated on a variety of factors, including their significance relative to comparable works, relevance to the collecting and programmatic goals of the museum, compatibility with Centenary’s curriculum, and overall condition and stability. In the case of the new Drew and Fletcher works, the process from donation to final hanging lasted approximately six months.
“The fact that these pieces were by artists of color was heavily considered by the committee,” explained Alissa Klaus, director of the Meadows Museum. “While the museum was gifted collections of Haitian, Inuit, and African art, there were previously four artists of color collected individually in the permanent collection: Clementine Hunter, Emilio Amero, John Scott, and Jacob Lawrence. Works by these four artists account for just 34 of over 1,600 works at the Meadows, which does not accurately represent the skill and impact of artists of color in our region.”
Klaus researched the artists and their significance in the local art community to present to the committee and recommended that the works be added to the collection. While works must pass a simple majority to be added, the committee was unanimous in its vote to accession both of these works.
Frances Drew was a lifelong resident of Shreveport and played an active role in the local art community. A Black artist known for her bold and richly-colored regional scenes, she was an accomplished folk artist, painter, ceramic artist, poet, and teacher. She was also an accomplished scholar, having completed a Master’s degree and worked three years towards a doctorate. In 1995, Drew and fellow artist Barbara Abbott constructed two quilt kiosks at the corner of Texas Street and McNeil Street in downtown Shreveport. Made of concrete, ceramic tile, and glass, the mosaics were arranged in patterns found in both African-American and Anglo-American quilt designs. One kiosk still stands, though badly damaged from a car accident.
Drew often incorporated religion into her artworks, and included a church in the background behind her subject in the 1991 piece that has now entered the Meadows’ permanent collection.
A Black artist from Mississippi, Milton Fletcher moved to Shreveport in 1946 to take a job as the executive secretary of the YMCA. He established the George Washington Carver Branch, which still operates today, and organized a credit union. Following retirement, Fletcher pursued painting, primarily sharing scenes from his youth.
This work depicts a classroom full of pupils ready to learn, with a few notable exceptions: one student turns around in their chair, one sleeps on their desk, and another sits on a stool in the corner wearing a dunce cap. At the back of the room, a chalkboard displays the alphabet, an arithmetic problem, and two figures labeled as “teacher” and “teacher’s pet.” While the students have a variety of skin tones, this painting likely depicts a segregated classroom. Fletcher would have been 48 years old when the Brown v. Board of Education ruling occurred in 1954, and the first black students didn’t enter white schools in Fletcher’s hometown, Yazoo City, until 1967 when the city lost federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare over the issue.
After the Drew and Fletcher works arrived at the Meadows and paperwork was completed for the gifts, studio art professor Shea Hembrey worked with Klaus and student intern Emma Foster to clean and stabilize each piece. For one piece, this included removing the deteriorating dust cover or backing paper from the frame, sealing the back of the work with GAC 100 - a clear acrylic polymer, and refinishing the back of the frame. The paintings were then entered into the museum’s collections software by student intern Emily Grant.
“It is fitting that these works will be displayed for the first time during Black History Month,” said Klaus. “With this acquisition, we celebrate and honor the BIPOC artists in our community and collection and take on the responsibility of preserving, interpreting, and providing access to the works in our care as we continue to diversify our collection.”
These artworks, along with a mural designed and facilitated by Centenary’s Black Student Union, will hang in the museum’s first floor hallway throughout the spring 2022 semester.
About the Meadows Museum of Art
The Meadows Museum of Art is located on the campus of Centenary College of Louisiana at 2911 Centenary Boulevard in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Museum is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Museum is closed on Sundays and College holidays. For more information or to schedule field trips, call the Museum at 318.869.5169 or visit themeadowsmuseum.com.