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Carnegie Museum of Art Receives Grant from NEH for Teenie Harris Exhibition
Charles "Teenie" Harris (American, 1908–1998), Woman outside Kay's Valet Shoppe, c. 1938–1945, black-and-white negative, Heinz Family Fund. Teenie Harris Archive © 2006 Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art announces a $250,000 grant awarded to the museum by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to fund the development of the exhibition Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, which will travel to additional venues after debuting in Pittsburgh.

The retrospective was created by Carnegie Museum of Art with help by an advisory committee of African American scholars and educators; this will be the first large-scale exhibition devoted to the works of Harris. During his 40-year career as a staff and freelance photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, the preeminent national black newsweekly, Harris produced nearly 80,000 images documenting daily life in the black communities of Pittsburgh, particularly the Hill District, which was dubbed “the crossroads of the world” during its heyday of the 1940s.

According to NEH advisory panelists who reviewed the proposal, the exhibition will make important contributions to public understanding of “the urban African American experience” and contribute to existing scholarship on black life during and after the Great Migration from the South to the North. Panelists called Harris’s photographs “compelling and beautiful” and stated that the exhibition will showcase the work of an “artist/photographer who captured the richness and complexity of (African American) life.” According to the award letter, the panelists were also impressed by the well-conceived exhibition plan and the strong team of scholars behind the exhibition.

Bridging artistic and humanities disciplines, Teenie Harris: An American Story is one of 216 projects that were awarded a total of $18.8 million in awards and grants by the NEH. According to the NEH, these projects highlight some of the most innovative work happening in the humanities today. A complete list of state-by-state NEH-funded projects can be found online.

An American Story will be on view at the Museum of Art from October 29, 2011, until April 8, 2012, and will showcase Harris’s remarkable body of work. Featuring some 1,000 images, the exhibition will include a large-scale multimedia installation, a chronological display of his greatest photographs, engaging interactive computer stations, an exploration of Harris’s working process and artistry, and a variety of educational resources. The museum is co-publishing with the University of Pittsburgh Press a book to accompany the exhibition.

After its Pittsburgh unveiling, a portion of the Harris retrospective will travel as a smaller-scale exhibition of prints. The first museum to host the exhibition will be the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, a large interpretive museum and research center focused on documenting the Civil Rights Movement and related struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibition will be on view in Birmingham from August to October 2012.

Charles “Teenie” Harris
Working from the 1930s to the 1970s, Harris trained his camera continuously on Pittsburgh’s Hill District, capturing scenes of everyday life—weddings, funerals, family portraits, parades, church events, street scenes, graduations—as well as the great men and women who visited Pittsburgh, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Robeson, John F. Kennedy, Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jesse Jackson, Lena Horne, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), and Muhammed Ali, among others. Harris’s images recorded some of the country’s finest jazz musicians—Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ahmad Jamal, and Duke Ellington—whom he photographed alongside bartenders, waitresses, and dancing crowds. He also photographed the two legendary Negro League baseball teams, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays, while showing the determination and dignity of the players.

Similar to playwright August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle, Harris’s images transcend place to tell the story of African American life in the 20th century. Powerful and personal, they connect today’s viewers with a proud past and a vibrant artistic and cultural heritage.

“Like legendary portrait photographers James VanDerZee and August Sander, Teenie Harris demonstrated an innate artistic ability in the way he composed his images,” said Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art and organizer of An American Story. “His judicious choice of vantage point, attention to choreography, and acquired knowledge of lighting all come to play in the thousands of pictures he made. Harris had great empathy with his subjects and a talent for storytelling. We hope that through this retrospective and traveling exhibition Harris will be established in the canons of art, history, and photography.”






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