I visited the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, Massachusetts for the first time this past weekend. It was “established as a grass roots organization in 1975 by a committed group of citizens,” and it feels just like a peoples’ museum, serving the limping industrial towns of the area.
I saw two powerful exhibitions, visual life narratives, that I recommend very highly. The smaller show features silk-screen print reproductions by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) of his original gouache paintings series from 1941 called The Legend of John Brown. The paintings are too fragile to exhibit anymore and so he was commissioned to revisit them in silk-screen. He calls his style "dynamic cubism” and bases it on the sights and colors of Harlem. The captions accompanying the stream of images tell the life story of the abolitionist John Brown with all its intensity and violence.
The paintings of Winfred Rembert (1945 --) filled the exhibition rooms with decorative and brawny designs painted on carved and tooled leather. Using glaring whites and startling bright colors on this unique “canvas,” Rembert references his tumultuous life from his Southern childhood to prison time spent picking cotton on a chain gang (where he learned to work leather) to his activism in the Civil Rights Movement. To learn more about his life, check out the film All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert, which, I just learned, won a prize in the film festival of my local town. It’s online free here.
Both of these African-American artists use their art and words to tell stories that are important to preserve and compelling to observe. Both build on bold compositions: Lawrence’s work is strong and solid, while Rembert’s patterned work employs fascinating perspectives. The shows are up at the Danforth until February 23. Entrance fees are modest and there are many discounts listed on their website. Parking seems plentiful. There is no reason to miss the chance to see such fantastic work.