Collecting piece by piece over period of more than fifty years, Vivian Hewitt and her late husband John were able to assemble what has become one of the most comprehensive and unique collections of African-American art.
The expansive collection includes works by renowned artists such as Romare Bearden, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Elizabeth Catlett, Jonathan Green, Jacob Lawrence, Ann Tanksley, Hale Woodruff and more.
Their life as collectors started modestly enough: the newlywed couple was looking for ways to decorate their faculty suite and while on their honeymoon in New York, they picked up a Picasso print from a museum. This simple purchase ignited what would become a lifelong passion for art collection and a cornerstone of the couple’s relationship.
Soon after, the Hewitts began collecting artwork from their travels in the Caribbean and Mexico. After settling in New York City in the 1950s, the Hewitts quickly immersed themselves in the local art scene, forming the long-lasting friendships that would become their collection’s greatest source. When the couple realized that these talented artists were not receiving mainstream gallery attention, the Hewitts decided to take a more active role.
Although they were working professionals of rather modest income – Vivian was a librarian and John was a teacher and freelance writer – the two made a point of buying artwork they loved and that held some significance to them as a couple. Over the course of their marriage, the Hewitts celebrated each birthday, anniversary, or other occasion by giving each other an original piece of art. Thus, the collection that they have amassed demonstrates not only their keen eye and superb taste but it also reflects the deep love and appreciation that the two shared for one another.
When John’s health started to weaken in the late 1990s, the Hewitts began looking for a prospective buyer to take their entire collection. As fortune would have it, the Bank of America Foundation was looking to purchase some artwork as part of their recent partnership with the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC. The foundation decided to take the entire collection of almost sixty paintings. Over the next few years, the collection toured through major cities in the United States before returning to its permanent home in the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture.
Through this partnership, the Hewitts are not only able to educate visitors as to the importance of these often overlooked masterpieces, but they are also able share their experience as collectors. Demonstrating to a wider audience that one does not have to be rich or of a certain class in order to build a world-class collection of art; all it takes is great passion and dedication.
“Collections: The John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art.” The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://www.ganttcenter.org/web/page.asp?urh=sp_collections>.
Uslan, Rachel. “Eyes for Each Other, and for Painting.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 04 Feb. 2001. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://articles.latimes.com/2001/feb/04/entertainment/ca-20857>.
Linn, Virginia. “African-American Art Collector Vivian Hewitt Recalls How Works Were Found.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. N.p., 18 Jan. 2001. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/art-architecture/2011/01/18/African-American-art-collector-Vivian-Hewitt-recalls-how-works-were-found/stories/201101180180>.