About Romare Bearden


Romare Howard Bearden was born on September 2, 1911, to (Richard) Howard and Bessye Bearden in Charlotte, North Carolina, and died in New York City on March 12, 1988, at the age of 76. His life and art are marked by exceptional talent, encompassing a broad range of intellectual and scholarly interests, including music, performing arts, history, literature and world art. Bearden was also a celebrated humanist, as demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists.

After joining the Harlem Artists Guild, Bearden embarked on his lifelong study of art, gathering inspiration from Western masters ranging from Duccio, Giotto and de Hooch to Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse, as well as from African art (particularly sculpture, masks and textiles), Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints and Chinese landscape paintings.

Most artists take some place and like a flower they sink their roots.
My roots are in North Carolina. I paint what people did
when I was a little boy. -Romare Bearden

From the mid-1930s through 1960s, Bearden was a social worker with the New York City Department of Social Services, working on his art at night and on weekends. His success as an artist was recognized with his first solo exhibition in Harlem in 1940 and his first solo show in Washington, DC, in 1944. Bearden was a prolific artist whose works were exhibited during his lifetime throughout the United States and Europe. His collages, watercolors, oils, photomontages and prints are imbued with visual metaphors from his past in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Harlem and from a variety of historical, literary and musical sources.

Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden

Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden had a prolific and distinguished career. He experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages, two of which appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines, in 1968. An innovative artist with diverse interests, Bearden also designed costumes and sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and programs, sets and designs for Nanette Bearden's Contemporary Dance Theatre.

Among Bearden's numerous publications are: A History of African American Artists: From 1792 to the Present, which was coauthored with Harry Henderson and published posthumously in 1993; The Caribbean Poetry of Derek Walcott and the Art of Romare Bearden (1983); Six Black Masters of American Art, coauthored with Harry Henderson (1972); The Painter's Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and Space in Painting, coauthored with Carl Holty (1969); and Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story, a children's book published posthumously in September 2003.

Mecklenburg County-Maudell Sleet's Magic Garden - 1978
Mecklenburg County: Maudell Sleet's Magic Garden - 1978

Bearden was also a respected writer and an eloquent spokesman on artistic and social issues of the day. Active in many arts organizations, in 1964 Bearden was appointed the first art director of the newly established Harlem Cultural Council, a prominent African-American advocacy group. He was involved in founding several important art venues, such as The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Cinque Gallery. Initially funded by the Ford Foundation, Bearden and the artists Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow established Cinque to support younger minority artists. Bearden was also one of the founding members of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970 and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.

Before Dawn
"Before Dawn"
From the Mecklenburg County Series - 1985. Bearden's masterpiece was turned
into a glass mosaic and installed in Mecklenburg Mainbranch Library in 1998.
The installation was made possible by Charlotte-Mecklenburg's
Art in Public Places Program and The Chalotte Observer.

Bearden's work is included in many important public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. He has had retrospectives at the Mint Museum of Art (1980), the Detroit Institute of the Arts (1986), as well as numerous posthumous retrospectives, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (1991) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2003).

Bearden was the recipient of many awards and honors throughout his lifetime. Honorary doctorates were given by Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College and Atlanta University, to name but a few. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972, received the Mayor's Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Ronald Reagan, in 1987.

Romare Bearden Celebrates Mecklenburg County
Through His Art

A Sampling:

"Before Dawn"
(From the Mecklenburg County Series - 1985;
Installed in Mecklenburg Mainbranch Library
as a Glass Mosaic in 1998)

"Mecklenburg Autumn" (1981)

"Mecklenburg Autumn - Indian Corn" (1983)
"Mecklenburg Autumn - Morning Ritual" (1983)
"Mecklenburg Autumn - November Early Frost Cherokee Lands" (1983)
"Mecklenburg Autumn - October Toward Paw Creek" (1983)
"Mecklenburg Autumn - The China Lamp" (1983)
"Mecklenburg County - Early Carolina Morning" (1978)
"Mecklenburg County - Madeline Jones’ Wonderful Garden" (1977)
"Mecklenburg County - Maudell Sleet's Magic Garden" (1978)
"Mecklenburg County - Morning of the Rooster" (1980)
"Mecklenburg County - Spring Fever" (1978)
"Mecklenburg County - Sunset And Moonrise: Maudell Sleet" (1978)
"Mecklenburg Evening" (1984)
"Mecklenburg Interior Morning" (1988)
"Misty Morning - Mecklenburg County" (1982)
"Of the Blues: Mecklenburg County, Saturday Night" (1974)

View A Slide Presentation of Bearden Celebrating
Mecklenburg County Through His Art

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