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NEW YORK, NY.- Welcome to VFA….Today’s video focuses on the Black artist Barbara Johnson Zuber and her remarkable life.

Barbara Johnson Zuber was a Black American painter who grew up during the Harlem Renaissance living at the famous Dunbar Garden Apartments built by John D. Rockefeller where many notable Black artists, musicians, actors and important civil rights leaders lived. She attended extremely progressive schools at the time such as The Little Red School House and the Walden School whose direction was to develop a student’s identification through the visual and performing arts. She then went on to attend Yale University’s School of Fine Arts and is recognized as the first woman to graduate from the prestigious School of Fine Arts.

Zuber’s art developed in three distinct experiences in her life. The first is from the time she grew up in Harlem being exposed to and interacting with the leading figures in the arts, business, sports and politics. Her circle included Jacob Lawrence, James Baldwin, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Paul Robeson, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Thurgood Marshall, David Dinkins and the playwright Lorraine Handsberry whose 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun” was the first Broadway play written by an African American starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. Barbara’s mother Marion was also one of the first Black fashion designers known as Verta Hayes who had a shop in midtown Manhattan where she catered to clientele such as Eleanor Roosevelt.

Early in her marriage her husband, Paul, would gain notoriety as a leading voice and civil rights attorney winning landmark cases forever changing the landscape of segregated schools in the North. Her art at this time reflected the protests and the civil rights movement, always helping to organize parents in bettering education for their children.

Finally, many of Zuber’s works are influenced by her childhood trips to Jackson, Mississippi where her uncle, Addison Branch, was the vice-provost to Tougaloo College and one of the only all Black private colleges existing. This is where the famous “Tougaloo Nine” meticulously planned the first sit-in at the White-Only Jackson Public Library in 1961. Her exposure to these times were indelible.

From the beginning Barbara Zuber was remarkable in every way possible. Her educational path is unsurpassed by any woman of that time let alone a Black woman. She transferred her passion and dignity through her wide-range of human experiences into her art in the purist of ways.

Vincent Vallarino

Millbrook, NY

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