From Oct. 27, 2018, to March 3, 2019, the Chicago Cultural Center is holding a free exhibit called African American Designers in Chicago. The Chicago Cultural Center, opened in 1897, is the U.S.’ first cultural center and one of Chicago’s most visited attractions. It was also Chicago’s first public library. The center has free admission and is home to many different exhibits of all different styles
This exhibit showcases the work of many Chicago designers spanning from 1912 to the 1980’s. The Chicago Cultural Center stated that the purpose of this exhibit is to celebrate the lives and works of African American designers, who created a future for the “Negro Artisan.” The art exhibit includes over 19 different pieces that offer a range of variety from paintings to concert posters.
The exhibit is split up into 5 sections; Futures, Renaissance, Abundance, Revolutions, and Coda. Part of the exhibit (Future) focused on the turn of the 20th century in Chicago. During this time racism was very prevalent and the pieces in this section reflects that. One of the pieces in the first section is a pamphlet by anti-lynching activist and newspaper editor Ida B. Wells and her husband Ferdinand L. Barnett, who was also a newspaper editor, called “The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition.”
The pamphlet was intended to be a political statement illustrating the high amounts of anti-black lynching that was still going on. Wells’ main hope for this paper was to open the eyes of Americans who celebrate the progress that was happening instead of them still fighting and pushing for more civil rights.
The second section of the exhibit called Renaissance focused on life after the Great War when large amounts of African Americans were moving to Chicago from the Jim Crow South. The people moving in called themselves the ‘New Negros’ and this was the start of the renaissance in Bronzeville with so much new talent flooding in. One piece in this section is the Feb. 16, 1955 cover of the magazine Jet.
This magazine captivated African-American readers with its appeal to both men and women. The contents of the magazine included a wide range of topics from serious events to pictures of models and actresses.
Section 3, “Abundance,” focused on the rise of black designers in Chicago. One of the main outlets for black designers between the 1940’s and ‘50s was creating album covers. Three pieces in this section include three albums designed by LeRoy Winbush, Sylvi Abernathy and Pedro Bell.
“Revolutions,” the fourth part of this exhibit, displayed work from the late ‘60s into the early ‘70s. This time period brought a lot of mainstream attention to black designers like Tom Miller and Charles Harrison who lead the way for designers of color everywhere. Miller and Harrison created well-known tv advertisements and logos such as the redesign for 7 UP in 1975 which can be seen in the exhibit. Harrison himself designed furniture for Sears during the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The section of the exhibit also included the work of Emmett McBain who made a name for himself as the art director for Playboy in the ‘50s and is most known for his campaigns for McDonald’s.
The part of the exhibit, “Coda,” shows the progress in the ‘80s with Chicago’s first black mayor and black designers having a critical role in mainstream professions as well as in their own community but also the difficulties of being a black designer.
This exhibit includes various milestones for the black community in Chicago, as well as designers and is a beautiful way to learn about its history.