New exhibit celebrates artists who broke color barrier

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The DuSable Museum of African American History has put together an exhibit celebrating artists who broke the color barrier in American art. (WLS)

There's an exhibit in Chicago celebrating artists who broke the color barrier in American art.

The DuSable Museum of African American History has put together an exhibit that excites the eyes and stirs the soul, called the DuSable Masterworks Collection. It consists of paintings from the late 1800s up to the 1950s - all of them done by black artists. But as a rule, their talents were not accepted by the white world.

"Actually that's how our history has been written," said Leslie Guy, general curator at the DuSable Museum. "It's not that work has not been done. It's just that the artist has not been recognized."

The paintings are as varied as colors on a palette. They are far from just about black and white, but they do have a common denominator. The artists all grew up in a segregated society.

"What we have here is a group of artists here who really endeavored despite discrimination to become excellent artists," Guy said.

Many of the paintings have nothing at all to do with race; they are just beautiful art. But deep down, maybe there's more.

"I think the struggle against racism was an integral part of every artist's lives but it doesn't necessarily have to come through in each and every work," Guy said.

This is a painting called "The Thankful Poor" by Henry Tanner. He was born in Philadelphia in 1859. He was very talented and extremely successful, but not here in America. He was chased by racism to Paris.

"He was influential to other black painters who subsequently went to France to study under him. Henry never returned to the United States and he became a member of the French Legion of honor," Guy said.

The show runs through next January and visitors are all reminded that this isn't just a show about African American art - it's about American art.
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