While the Center in the Square undergoes renovations (2011 through the end of 2012), the Board Members of the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, Inc. have adopted the philosophy of a “Museum without Walls.” With this philosophy, the Board uses collaborative opportunities to display pieces from its permanent collections, as well as curate new exhibits. Be sure to check regularly for upcoming events!
New Exhibits: 2013
The African Diaspora in Roanoke
A Photo Essay by Stephanie Klein-Davis
The African American community in Roanoke continues to be shaped by a diaspora that is global and diverse. As one of many designated resettlement sites in the U.S. for refugees, Roanoke provides important services to individuals and families fleeing various forms of persecution in their home countries. In turn, these men, women, and children from countries including Somalia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Liberia, Eritrea, and Sudan, as well as from areas in the Caribbean, have enriched and diversified Roanoke. This photo easy by noted Roanoke Times photographer Stephanie Klein-Davis presents a fascinating look at the complexity and diversity of that community, and the ongoing process of cultural acclimation. Photos depicting portraits, work, relaxation, the arts, religion, families, traditions, and the importance of music and the arts, are all part of this insightful and fascinating presentation of Roanoke’s most recent additions to its community.
Antoinette Hale: “I Enjoy the Process of Painting”
Antoinette Hale was one of the most important artists working in the Roanoke Valley in the late 20th century. Her oil paintings document the heritage, ideas, and faces of the African American community of which she was a part. Hale began her artistic endeavors as an amateur, but after her retirement from social work in the late 1980s, painting became a true vocation. Her work, mostly figural, is vivacious and challenging, and offers a broad view of life and culture in the region. Most of Hale’s work is held in regional collections and she is largely unknown outside of southwestern Virginia. It does, however, present a mixture of folk traditions and naïve painting styles so popular in the south-east region of the United States, as well as a broad understanding and influence of other, earlier African American painters. Having had few previous one-person exhibitions, the Harrison presentation affords one of the first times that so many of her works can be viewed together and that the forces of her capabilities as an artist and chronicler of our times, becomes so evident The Harrison Museum is proud to bring together her works in this exhibition, which presents a cultural icon in Roanoke and an integral part of our unique cultural past and present.
Passage to Freedom: Secrets of the Underground Railroad
A Traveling Exhibition
In the three decades before the Civil War, a loose network developed to assist fugitive slaves escaping from the South to reach freedom in Canada and northern U.S. cities. Passage to Freedom presents this dramatic story of the escape of more than 40,000 people from slavery in the United States to freedom in Canada in the mid-1800s. They escaped by learning the secrets that allowed them to flee following clandestine paths northward on the Underground Railroad. On the Underground Railroad, abolitionists and allies— black and white, enslaved and free—served as “conductors,” guiding people from place to place, and “station masters,” providing safe places to rest en route to freedom.
Involvement in the Underground Railroad was dangerous for everyone. Laws allowed slave catchers to apprehend fugitive slaves in both free and slave states and return them to their owners. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, it became a federal offense to harbor escaped slaves. The Underground Railroad linked northern and southern states in a meaningful anti-slavery effort, one that has that has loomed large in our national imagination since the end of the Civil War.
Passage to Freedom explores this important piece of antebellum history. Divided into three sections, “Slavery,” “Escape,” and “Freedom,” the exhibition features slave narratives, a large model of a slave cabin, models of a plantation and safe-house, interactive components, and clues to the secrets about fleeing to freedom. The exhibition presents the story of the Underground Railroad through visual, audio, and hands-on experiences. The Harrison Museum is proud to bring this exhibition to Roanoke as part of its mission to explore the African-American experience.
This exhibition has been organized and circulated by the Welland Historical Museum. It has been generously supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage Museum Assistance Program and the Downtown Welland Development Board.
The Oral History Project
A Special Initiative of the Harrison Museum, Virginia Tech and the Roanoke City Public Library
“Oral history is a history built around people. … It thrusts life into history itself and it widens its scope. It allows heroes not just from the leaders, but from the unknown majority of the people. It encourages teachers and students to become fellow workers. It brings history into, and out of, the community. . . . It makes for contact—and thence understanding—between social classes, and between generations. And to individual historians and others . . . it can give a sense of belonging to a place or in time. In short, it makes for fuller human beings.”—Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History
The Oral History Project is a unique, collaborative project that presents to the community with the ability to hear, and often see, the recollections, memories, and thoughts on the history of the African American community from those who made it, lived it, and helped preserve and interpret its impact and meaning. Using resources from the faculty and graduate students of Virginia Tech as well as the efforts of the city’s public library, the Harrison has create an oral history section in the museum that will present 20 oral histories relating to the extraordinary experiences of members of the community in the past 50 years. Ten of those histories are from graduates of the Christiansburg Institute in Blacksburg, VA, one of the earliest all black educational institutions in this state and indeed the country. The additional ten are oral histories capturing aspects of the history of the African American community in Roanoke. In addition, the museum will be installing a Whisper Room, on loan from the library, to take additional oral histories in the next year. Virginia Tech Professor David Cline will be training Harrison Museum volunteers to take those oral histories and make them accessible to the community. The oral histories will be available on six i-Pads in the museum along with written transcripts of all 20 histories.
No Limits: A Site Specific Installation by Dianne Smith
No Limits will be a site-specific installation constructed out of various materials. The primary source will be brown butcher paper. However, African fabric, rope, string and other natural materials that I may find throughout the landscape of Roanoke will be incorporated. The title of the exhibition was born out of my trip to Roanoke. After visiting three schools, meeting local artists and Harrison Museum board members, I sought to find a title that not only embodied Roanoke’s history but also encompasses its present and future.
The materials will be intertwined, knotted, twisted, woven, crumpled, rolled and crunched to create beautiful organic forms. The connectors will include staples, nails and a hanging system consisting of cable wire. Due to the nature of the space, the work will be hung primarily from the ceiling using the cable wire as an anchor. The walls and ceiling are made of concrete; therefore the cable wire will be drilled into them.
The installation is to be displayed in the non-traditional spaces of the Harrison Museum. Walkways, halls, the entranceway and perhaps certain corners will be the backdrop for No Limits. Based on the type of materials, as well as how they will be manipulated and layered the installation will be fused with color, texture, shadows and patterns. Thus, creating a cohesive whole.
Being responsive to a particular space in the moment creates a certain energy which allows my site specific Installations to be at once spontaneous, yet organized. I will bring that same synergy to No Limits.