“Double Cherry Blossoms,” an acrylic on canvas painting by Alma Thomas, will be on view as part of “There Is a Woman in Every Color” at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

BRUNSWICK — Seeking to address both current events and gaps in its collection, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art presents “There Is a Woman in Every Color: Black Women in Art,” opening Sept. 16.

The exhibition examines the representation of Black women in the United States over the past two centuries, and tells the story through works of art from the Bowdoin Museum collection and loans from other institutions. Curated by Elizabeth Humphrey, a Bowdoin graduate and former curatorial assistant and manager of student programs at the museum, the exhibition explores a history of marginalization of women of color in American art.

While Humphrey was able to identify many works in the museum’s permanent collection that related to the themes of the exhibition, she also found large gaps and looked to other institutions to fill them.

“Black women represent less than 1 percent of the permanent collection,” said Humphrey, who completed her two-year appointment as curatorial assistant in July and is now working toward her doctorate in art history at the University of Delaware. “It was easy to get absorbed in the works that I could count and feel like it was a lot. But when you put it in perspective of the permanent collection, it was a small portion of the story we wanted to tell.”

The lack of representation among Black women in the arts is hardly unique to Maine or Bowdoin, she added. “This is a pervasive issue in a lot of mainstream museums, where representation of people of color in art is significantly less.”

She hopes the exhibition highlights both the contributions of Black women artists, as well as how Black women have been portrayed in the arts over two centuries. She also hopes the exhibition prompts people to think about the art they do not see when they visit a museum or art gallery.


“I am really trying to allow people the opportunity to explore something they have not considered before going into a gallery and museum, and that is to think critically about what is displayed and interrogating when you find gaps in a collection,” she said.

As part of her research, Humphrey helped the museum identify several art objects to purchase for the collection to tell a more complete story, including daguerreotypes and cabinet cards from the 19th century of Black women laborers. Mixing historical and contemporary works, the exhibition includes more than 60 artworks – paintings, drawings, prints, photos, video and sculpture – historical objects and artist books. Among the 20th and 21st century artists represented in the exhibition are Elizabeth Catlett, Alma Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold, Kara Walker, Mickalene Thomas, Ja’Tovia Gary, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Nyeema Morgan.

“The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles,” a lithograph by Faith Ringgold, on view this fall at Bowdoin as part of exhibition about Black women artists and how Black women are portrayed in art. Courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art

It is divided into themes of portraiture, the Black female nude, documented histories, labor, artistic exploration and the influence of literature. The exhibition is installed in the museum’s lower-level galleries and is the first show visitors encounter when they enter the museum.

“There Is a Woman in Every Color” closes at Bowdoin on Jan. 30, then travels to the El Paso Museum of Art in Texas, the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of the museum, said the exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of Bowdoin’s decision to accept women in 1971 and the college’s anti-racism initiative. The project took on greater significance when events of last summer prompted museums and other cultural institutions – and public and private entities across the country – to tackle questions of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Elizabeth’s interest in this topic predates events of last year, but the larger significance of this question about how women of color are represented and how they grapple with the burden of that representation has relevance to a broad audience,” she said.


Co-director Frank Goodyear said the exhibition is an example of an idea that began with a single scholar and evolved “into a conversation that is happening at the museum, throughout Bowdoin College and the community, and more nationally,” he said.

Humphrey, who graduated from Bowdoin in 2014, finished her two-year stint at the museum this summer and will return in September to install the exhibition and later in the month to participate in programming related to the exhibition. It will remain on view through Jan. 30. The museum, at 245 Maine St., is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Admission is free, and masks are required.

In Waterville, the Colby College Museum of Art is showing “Bob Thompson: This House Is Mine” through Jan. 9, the first museum exhibition devoted to the Kentucky-born African American painter in 20 years. Thompson was a colorful, figurative painter who had a brief but brilliant career. Born in 1937, he studied medicine at Boston University in the mid-1950s, dropped out and returned to Kentucky, where he pursued painting at University of Louisville. He moved to New York in the late 1950s, fell into the jazz, poetry and art scene of New York, and began showing  in galleries in the early 1960s.

He died in Rome in 1966 of a heroin overdose. With paintings and works on paper, the Colby exhibition follows Thompson’s career and his interest in themes of justice and bearing witness. It will travel to Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, time is running out to see “David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History” at the Portland Museum of Art. The landmark survey of seven decades of Driskell’s life and art, including his time in Maine, closes Sept. 12.

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