Born in the south, Romare Bearden grew up in a middle-class African-American family. About 1914, his family joined the Great Migration of southern blacks to points north and west. In the early twentieth century, Jim Crow laws kept many blacks from voting and from equal access to jobs, education, health care, business, land, and more. Like many southern black families, the Beardens settled in the Harlem section of New York City. Romare would call New York home for the rest of his life.
In the 1920s, Harlem was a rich and vibrant center of cultural and intellectual growth and the focal point of African-American culture. His mother became a prominent social and political leader in Harlem. Frequently, there were well know artists, musicians and politicians in their home. Additionally, throughout his childhood, Bearden spent time away from Harlem, staying most often with relatives in North Carolina and Pittsburgh, where his grandparents lived. All of these experiences had a profound impact on his art.
His memory of these experiences, as well as African-American cultural history, would become the subjects of many of his works. Trains, roosters, cats, landscapes, barns, and shingled shacks reflected the rural landscape of his early childhood and summer vacations. Scenes of his grandparents’ boardinghouse, bellowing steel mills, and African-American mill workers recalled his Pittsburgh memories.
The figure of the dove in Romare Bearden’s collage perches unobtrusively on a ledge above a busy Harlem, New York, street scene.
The artist created the essence of a vibrant, ever changing neighborhood by gluing cut-up photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, and colored paper to a piece of cardboard in such a way that the viewer’s eye, like an inhabitant of the street itself, is constantly on the move, jumping from light areas to dark areas and from pattern to pattern. We glimpse people with large heads and hands and small feet walking, sitting, smoking, and peering from open doors and windows; We eye cats roaming—perhaps looking for a meal—and spy body parts that emerge mysteriously from undefined openings in the buildings.
Amid all this activity it is hard to imagine any sense of order, but Bearden carefully composed The Dove so that, beginning with the white cat at bottom left, we travel into and around the street, always noticing something different.
Consider how we perceive our environment. For example, when we’re sitting in a room or walking down the street, do we see everything at once in equal detail?
We perceive our surroundings in fragments, a little at a time. We see a complicated or an active scene, piece by piece over time. Bearden magnified this in his art.
To learn more about Romare Bearden and his art visit our April 19, 2011 PowerPoint Romare Bearden the Dove
“Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear.” 1 Timothy 1:19