Guide to the Richard Powell Papers, 1960-2011
Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University, where he has taught since 1989. The Richard Powell Papers date from 1960 to 2011 and document Powell's career as a prominent scholar of African and Afro-American art and as professor of art history at Duke University. Materials originate from Powell's student years, travels, research, and work at various cultural institutions, including Duke University, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Washington Project for the Arts. There is extensive material on Powell's books, exhibitions, and other professional activities.
- Collection Number
- Richard Powell papers
- 40 Linear Feet, 30,000 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
- Name Files, 1980-2009
- Subject Files, 1977-2010
- Printed Materials, 1980-2011
- Book Materials, 2000-2008
- Reference Images Series, 1984-2011
- Exhibitions, 1989-2010
- Donyale Luna Project, 2006-2009
- Personal and Early Papers, 1960-2011
- Articles and Lectures by Powell, 1975-2011
- Photographs, 1975-2011
- Works of Art, 1975-1995
- Audio, 1984-1999
The Richard J. Powell Papers document Powell's career as a prominent scholar of African and Afro-American art. Materials in the collection date from 1960 to 2011, with the bulk being from 1975 to 2011, and document most aspects of Powell's career, beginning with his student years and including his travels, research, and work at several major cultural institutions, including Duke University, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Washington Project for the Arts.
The Name Files Series contains Powell's incoming and outgoing correspondence with well-known artists, such as Adrian Piper, Martin Puryear, and Carrie Mae Weems, as well as curators, professors, and other professionals with whom Powell collaborated on exhibitions, books, and other projects. The series also contains personal letters and postcards.
The Subjects Series includes texts, newspaper articles, exhibition publicity, and notes on a range of subjects including major art museums and galleries, publications, courses taught at Duke University, and diverse research topics including the Kongo and Jazz, among others. Many of the subject files also contain Powell's notes and correspondence.
The Books Series contains materials pertaining to the research, writing, and publication of Richard J. Powell's various books: Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture of 2008; Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson of 1991 along with a related exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art; and Black Art & Culture in the 20th Century of 1997.
The Reference Images Series comprises Powell's reference photographs, photocopies, and other reproductions of works of art.
The Exhibitions Series includes information on exhibitions curated by Powell, including Back to Black: Art, Cinema, and the Racial Imaginary (2005), To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (1999), Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott (2005), Barkley L. Hendricks materials (2000-2008), Rhapsodies in Black (1995-1997), The Blues Aesthetic (1996-1998) and Conjuring Bearden (2004-2006).
The Donyale Luna Project Series contains Powell's research on African-American 1960s supermodel Donyale Luna, to whose life and portraiture he dedicated a chapter in his 2008 book, Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture.
The Printed Materials Series contains flyers, booklets, postcards, pamphlets, posters, periodicals, and catalogues from a variety of American and international museums and art galleries.
The Personal and Early Papers Series documents Powell's childhood, collegiate and graduate education, as well as his early years as a member of the Duke University faculty.
The Articles and Lectures by Powell Series comprises articles, graduate research papers from Yale and Howard Universities, and lectures.
The Photographs Series contains images of Powell and others arranged into subsections: Professional, Personal, Portraits, and Artists, Writers, Curators, etc. Among these photographs are images of Powell with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Spike Lee.
The Works of Art Series includes art made by Richard J. Powell and others, and are mostly prints. The Art Subseries is organized by artist.
Finally, the Audio Series contains cassette tapes documenting interviews with artists, such as Jacob Lawrence and Martin Puryear, and events at the National Center for the Humanities and the Museum of Modern Art.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research. Audiovisual materials in Box 58 are CLOSED until use copies can be made.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Richard Powell Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
This series contains correspondence and related material, such as photographs, slides, negatives, transparencies, exhibition materials, articles, newspapers, cards, and notes, which Powell filed by individual name, usually the correspondent, but sometimes the subject. Powell exchanged letters and cards with many notable twentieth-century artists, including Adrian Piper, Martin Puryear, Carrie Mae Weems, and E.H. Sorrells-Adewale, as well as a variety of prominent professors and curators at such places as the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Yale University. These materials, dating from approximately 1980 to 2009, relate to Powell's work on publications, exhibitions, professional development and appointments, as well as his personal friendships and connections. The series includes research notes and plans for exhibitions on the art of Romare Bearden and William H. Johnson, among others, and preparatory work for Dr. Powell's books Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture and Black Art: A Cultural History, topics which are also documented extensively in other parts of the collection.
The materials in the Name Files Series are organized alphabetically by correspondent's last name.
The series includes texts, newspaper articles, exhibition publicity, notes, and letters dating from approximately 1977 to 2010, which Powell maintained by topic or, in the case of cultural institutions, organizational name. The series includes correspondence with museums, such as the Smithsonian African-American Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Addison Gallery of American Art, as well as numerous art galleries in New York and London. There are also materials regarding Powell's publications in the Art Bulletin, his work on various exhibitions, research trips to Barbados, and printed texts that Powell used in his Duke classes, many of which he annotated.
These materials are arranged alphabetically by subject or organizational name.
The Printed Materials series contains exhibition ephemera and catalogues from a variety of museums and galleries along with periodicals.
The series is divided into three subseries: Exhibitions, Periodicals, and Posters.
This subseries contains exhibition flyers, booklets, postcards, and pamphlets as well as some small catalogues from a variety of American and international museums and art galleries.
Documents are arranged alphabetically by the artist's last name (for solo exhibitions) or by exhibition title (for group show).
Includes materials on Dana Chandler and an exhibition flyer for "The Dinner Party" signed by Judy Chicago with a dedication to Dr. Powell
Includes materials on Charles Alston, Dana, Chandler, Beauford Delaney, Mildred Howard, & "In the Spirit of Martin"
This subseries contains various publications, newspapers, and periodicals such as Art Papers, Issue, Autograph, and Tamarind, among numerous others.
Contents are organized by title.
The Posters subseries contains numerous posters for museum exhibitions, talks and lectures, and other miscellaneous people and events. Also includes a small amount of miscellaneous printed materials.
Text and prints: January 3, 1874, August 12, 1876, and September 7, 1878
Book by Dugald Stermer with an Introduction by Susan Sontag
Washington Project for the Arts publication (1986)
This series contains material used in the research, writing, and publication of Powell's books, particularly Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture(2008), Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson, and Black Art & Culture in the 20th Century (1997).
Material related to each publication is grouped together by the publication's title in a separate subseries.
The Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture subseries includes correspondence with various scholars and the publisher, University of Chicago Press; the author's preparatory notes; and research material, including fashion and lifestyle periodicals, scholarly texts, newspaper articles, publications, and images. Several versions of the manuscript are also included, and represent different stages of the editing process. Additional material from this book can be found in the Donyale Luna Project Series, as detailed below.
Folders are arranged according to the type of documents contained: research materials, publicity, manuscript copies, etc.
University of Chicago Press publicity materials and brief review in Duke Magazine
Correspondence, declarations, and permissions for use of copyrighted images
Postcards, gallery publicity, xerox-ed images, photographs, and other reference materials.
Correspondence related to research, writing, and publication of the book.
Correspondence about contracts and editing with the book's publisher.
Copies of manuscript throughout various stages of editing, Illustration List
Periodicals used for research (including Vogue, Ebony, Life, Queen, etc.)
Periodicals used for research (including Vogue, Ebony, Life, Queen, etc.)
The Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson subseries contains extensive material Powell created and compiled in the course of researching and writing about African American artist William H. Johnson for his doctoral dissertation, Fulbright fellowship in Denmark, book, and exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art. These materials include notebooks, a list of contacts in Scandinavia, and various printed texts pertaining to William H. Johnson written by Powell and other scholars. There is correspondence regarding a legal claim made by Johnson's family, publicity materials for the exhibition and numerous reviews in both American and Scandinavian newspapers and magazines, and extensive images. This latter group is further subdivided into two section organized by subject or theme. The first group contains images that chronicle the life of William H. Johnson, such as portraits, group images, and photographs at gallery openings, and the second section documents Johnson's artwork.
Folders are grouped broadly by type of material or subject. Photographs are organized by either life documentation or works of art.
B/w photographs of the artist and his work
B/w photographs of groups
B/w photographs of the artist and his family in gallery spaces.
B/w photographs of the artist
B/w portrait photographs
B/w photographs of people and scenes in France and North Africa
B/w photographs of text, plaques, and articles
B/w photographs of various people and works of art
Color photographs of William H. Johnson's works of art
B/w photographs of works of art depicting music and dancing
B/w and color photographs of works of art depicting landscapes
B/w photographs of works of art with religious subjects
B/w photographs of various works of art: still lifes, texts, etc.
B/w photographs of works of art with military themes
B/w photographs of works of art with historical themes
B/w photographs of works featuring farmyard or outdoor scenes
B/w photographs of works featuring couples and groups
B/w and color photographs of portraits
Includes one notebook on contacts for the project throughout Europe and two with extensive handwritten notes
Reproductions of documents pertaining to the life of William H. Johnson including medical forms, letters, etc. and other related artists
Reproductions of works of art, b/w and color, various sizes
Correspondence pertaining to a legal case about ownership of works by William H. Johnson
Publicity for the exhibition at other institutions including the Florence Museum of Art, Science and History and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell, among others
Includes various articles on the exhibition in Scandinavian newspapers.
This subseries contains research materials and correspondence relating to Powell's 1997 book, Black Art & Culture in the 20th Century. Materials include press releases and reviews of the book, publicity materials, such as a book signing, and extensive correspondence with the book's publisher, Thames & Hudson Limited, concerning the editing and publication of Black Art & Culture. There is also a limited amount of research notes and reference materials.
Folders are arranged by type of material.
This series includes reference images in a variety of formats, most commonly photographs, transparencies, prints, postcards, and photocopies.
The images are organized by size, medium, or subject.
Various works of art on plates produced by the National Humanities Center 2003 Summer Institute
Photographs of various works of drawings, paintings, and prints
Photographs and reproductions of various three-dimensional works of art
Various advertisements and printed images with accompanying text
The Exhibitions Series contains information on various museum exhibitions and catalogues on which Powell worked throughout his career. The files in this series include correspondence and reviews as well as research notes and, in many cases, extensive publicity materials such as pamphlets, press kits, and flyers.
The series is grouped into several subseries by exhibition title or subject.
Back to Black: Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary opened at London's Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2005. Dr. Powell participated as a curator and catalogue contributor. The materials in this subseries include notes, emails, and reference texts pertaining to the exhibition.
Emails, notes, texts concerning Back to Black: Art, Cinema and the Racial Imaginary exhibition at London's Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2005
The 1999 exhibition To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities was shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA. The materials include newspaper and magazine reviews, planning and organizational resources, and correspondence regarding the exhibition. There are also extensive publicity materials, including exhibition cards, a press kit, and press releases.
Correspondence relating to the exhibition To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Corporate and foundation letters of support, project description, information for internships, meetings, and the symposium
Press kit, exhibition cards, press releases, and other materials publicizing the exhibition
Includes materials related to the 2005 exhibition Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott at the New Orleans Museum of Art, for which Dr. Powell as both a curator and catalogue author. This subseries contains correspondence, including a letter on hand-made paper from John T. Scott, research materials, such as newspaper articles and image lists, and publicity information and a media kit from the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Emails and letters pertaining to the organization and planning of the exhibition
Internet and newspaper articles about John Scott and other related subjects, as well as slides. Includes a package of materials prepared by John Scott
Research materials related to Dr. Powell's work on artist Barkley L. Hendricks. Includes material related to the 2001 exhibition at the Connecticut College Lyman Allyn Museum of Art, for which Dr. Powell contributed a catalogue entry entitled "To Be Real" (in The Barkley L. Hendricks Experience) and the 2008 exhibition Barkley L. Hendricks/Birth of the Cool at the Duke University Nasher Museum of Art. Materials include correspondence with the artist, information about the artist's other shows, and Powell's research notes.
This subseries documents Powell's involvement in the 1997 exhibition Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, shown at the Hayward Gallery of London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Washington D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art, among other venues. It includes extensive publicity materials for the exhibition, such as news releases, a press kit, and newspaper and magazine reviews. It also contains a selection of photographs documenting the opening and Powell's visit to London.
This subseries contains documents related to the 1989 exhibition The Blues Aesthetic: Black Culture and Modernism, which shown was at Washington D.C.'s Washington Project for the Arts and other U.S. venues. Powell served as the curator for the exhibition and was extensively involved in the exhibition catalogue. In addition to the exhibition, he taught an undergraduate class at Duke University on the subject in Fall 1998, and planning and lecture materials for this course are included. This subseries contains newspaper clippings and articles concerning the controversial David Hammons work "How Ya Like Me Now?" which was erected and quickly destroyed during Dr. Powell's tenure as curator and acting co-director at W.P.A.
Includes reviews of the exhibition as well as newspaper articles concerning the David Hammons work "How Ya Like Me Now?"
This subseries contains materials related to the development of the Nasher Museum's 2006 exhibition, Conjuring Bearden, which Powell curated with the assistance of students. The subseries includes an itinerary for the group's research trip to New York, publicity cards, pamphlets, and reviews of the exhibition.
Proposal for the Nasher exhibition, including research materials and NYC itinerary
This series contains notes, documents, and other materials related to Powell's research on the African-American 1960s supermodel Donyale Luna, to whose life and portraiture Powell dedicated a chapter in his 2008 book, Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture. The materials include reproductions of Luna's passport applications, death certificates for both her and her father, social security information, and interviews with the model's friends and associates in Detroit, Italy, and France. An exhibition proposal for a show on Donyale Luna, including extensive high-quality photographs, and numerous newspaper articles discussing her life are also included.
This series contains documents pertaining to Powell's childhood, collegiate and graduate education, and early years as a member of the Duke University faculty. Materials include elementary school projects, various versions of Dr. Powell's C.V. and resume, an address book, and publicity materials related to his various lectures and exhibitions.
The series is divided into topical subsections including Elementary School, C.V.'s and Resumes, Morehouse, Yale, Duke, and Personal.
Includes various iterations of Dr. Powell's CV with annotations
Synopsis of scholarly activities and profile, applications for Rockefeller, Ford Foundation, and National Center for the Humanities
Includes a menu for dinner at Bill and Melinda Gates and an invitation for dinner in Dr. Powell's honor at the National Gallery of Art
Misc. correspondence, including a letter from Dr. Powell to First Lady Michelle Obama
Contains materials related to various published articles, graduate research papers from Yale and Howard Universities, and lectures given by Powell. The documents included in this series are notes, research materials, handwritten and typed drafts, and published texts from throughout Powell's career. Also includes some publicity materials and correspondence pertaining to Powell's public lectures.
Folders are arranged by article/lecture title or by type of material.
This series contains photographs of Powell. Contents include two folders of photographs from Powell's professional career, including gallery openings and workshops, containing images of him with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Spike Lee. There are also portraits of Powell from approximately 1975 to 2011, along with photographs of artists, writers, curators, and other notable individuals. There are also snapshots from Powell's extensive travels.
The Works of Art Series includes works on paper (prints, drawings, and watercolor sketches) by Powell and other artists. Some of the works are dedicated to Powell.
Includes offset lithographs: "White Amerika Chauvinist Male Fear Syndrom Series" (ca. 1970-71) and "Genocide Series" (ca. 1970-71)
Includes offset lithographs: "In School Together" (1995), "Malcolm" (1995), "Jack Stones" (1995), "Mother and Child" (1995)
Includes lithograph: Untitled (Bob Marley) (ca. 1980s) and woodcut print "Samella" (2004)
Includes etching: "Lovers" (1997) and hand-colored etching: "Did You Eat Art Yet?" (1990)
Includes etching: "Leopard with Ex-Friend Fire" (ca. 1980s) and etching with surface-rolled color: "Mud Vision" (1990)
Includes ink, colored markers: Group Drawing from Washington, DC (Howard University) (ca. 1977), linocut print: "Gemini" (Undated), and silkscreen: Print/Calling Card (ca. 1980)
Includes crayon: "Portrait of Richard J. Powell-Copenhagen, Denmark" (1984), etching/aquatint: "Puppet Reality" (1974), and embossed print: Untitled (1981)
Includes crayon/pencil Untitled (ca. 1978-79), mixed media: Untitled (ca. 1977), and color etching/aquatint: "Messiah" (1977)
Includes etching: "Edict" (1980), Untitled hand-colored photograph mounted on board (ca. 1900), and etching/aquatint: "Fertility: The Sowing" (1997)
Includes etching: "Floating Mask I" (ca. 1980), ink on paper: "Tablet Head from I Remember Birmingham" (Nov. 30, 1999), and mixed media print: Untitled (ca. 1978)
Includes lithograph: Untitled (Portfolio Exhibition Poster, School of the Art Institute of Chicago) (1981-82), etching/aquatint: "Chili House Bebop" (1977), and pencil on paper: "Study for the Sculpture Gateway for Beckworth" (May 11, 1988)
Includes: Smithsonian Print Portfolio: "Paintings of William H. Johnson," "O Sucesso Nao Acabou So Nos Falta Turismo" (Undated), and "Ori-Scent of Virtue" (Undated)
Includes: Chronicle of Higher Education Dec. 6, 1989 article on "The Blues Aesthetic" and "The State of Georgia" (Undated)
Includes etching/working proof: "Remedial Ear Training" (1977), pencil on paper: "Two Self-Portraits, New Haven CT" (Nov. 21, 1982), and lithograph/watercolor: Untitled (Black Rock n' Roll) (1984)
Includes pencil drawing: "Ying/Yang" (1977), watercolor: "Saint Anastasia" (2000), and watercolor: "Le Kufi/El Bari" (1980)
Includes collage: "Funky Broadway" (1978) and etching/first state: "Oracles" (1975)
Etching/aquatint: "Narrations: Tableau Vivant" Portrait of artist David Hammons, writer Debbie Wood, and RJP (1978-79)
Etching/aquatint: "Narrations: Eurydice in Hell" Powell and actress Marpessa Dawn in Lower Manhattan (1979)
Offset lithographs for Richard Wright Series: "Title Page for Richard Wright Series" (1977) and "Poem: Soulchant for Virgoman" (1977)
Photocopy: "Bon Voyage/Part Art Sale Invitation" (1984), photo-silkscreen: "Studies for Richard Wright Series" (1976), and ink on board: "Before/After" (1980)
"Richard Wright Series #2: The Long Dream" (1976), "Richard Wright Series #3: Subjugation of a Petty Bourgeois Degenerate" (1976), and "Petfood: Death of a Queen" (1981)
"Richard Wright Series #4: Suspended over a Void" (1975) and "Richard Wright Series #10: The Man is Deranged, Life has Not Changed" (1977)
Ink on board: Untitled (1977) and ink/collage on board: "Lost in Music" (1979)
Ink on paper: Untitled (1983) and ink/collage on paper: "Drawing for Petfood Boogie" (1981)
Ink and pencil on paper: "Barry Series I" (1981) and "Barry Series II" (1981)
Ink and pencil on paper: "Barry Series III" (1981) and "Barry Series IV" (1981)
Watercolor on paper: "Question What Would you Buy If You had some Money?" (1983) and ink/collage on paper: "Self-Portrait as Tarzan" (1983)
Includes "My Country's Tears of Thee" (1996) and "Songe Vivant-For my mentor and cherished friend, Rick" (1982)
Includes woodcut print: "Crab" (Undated), "Duke II" (1977), and "Black Girl IV" (1976)
Includes b/w photograph: "Romare Bearden, Blackout, St. Martin" (ca. 1980), photography proof sheet: "Romare Bearden and Nude Model in Studio, Harlem NY" (ca. 1946), and pen/ink: Untitled (undated)
Includes color print: "Brother on the Block" (1977), photograph: "The African American Dance Ensemble" (undated), and ink/crayon on paper: Untitled (1985)
Includes aquatint: "Blues Series #2: The New Colorstruck Blues" (1978), Untitled Artist's Proof (1978), and color lithograph "Concrete Manual" (1981)
Includes Pencil Drawing of Richard J. Powell (1979) and Untitled Haiti (ca. 1960s)
Includes lithograph: "Hello Neighbor!" (1981), silkscreen: "Untitled (Signs) (Undated), and color etching/aquatint: "Beside the Lake Beneath the Trees" (1981)
Includes etching: "Genesis" (ca. 1977), silkscreen: "Bedtime Boogie" (1982), and lithograph "Zero Through Seven" (1981)
Includes lithograph: "Tender be Tough to Die" (1982), etching with surface-rolled color: Untitled (ca. 1980s), and lithograph: "Play it by Heart" (Undated)
Includes etching/aquatint/soft-ground etching: Untitled (1981) and etching/aquatint: "Dressed Up: Betwixt and Between" (1976)
12. Audio, 1984-1999
The Audio Series contains cassette tapes of recorded conversations and interviews with artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Martin Puryear. The series also includes audio from events at the National Center for the Humanities and the Museum of Modern Art.
The cassettes are organized by title and date when possible, although most are undated.
Richard J. Powell is the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University. Powell received a B.A. from Morehouse University in 1975, a M.F.A. in Printmaking from Howard University in 1977, a M.A. in Afro-American Studies from Yale University in 1982, and a Ph.D. in the History of Art, also from Yale University, in 1988. Powell was the Director of Programs at the Washington Project for the Arts before arriving at Duke in 1989. He has written numerous books and articles on African and Afro-American art and is interested in theories of race and representation in the African diaspora as well as media arts and conceptualizations of the "folk" in world art and culture. Powell has received many prestigious fellowships and grants from organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Fulbright Program.
The Richard Powell Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 2011.
Processed by Elisabeth Narkin, October 2012
Encoded by Elisabeth Narkin, Meghan Lyon, October 2012
Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 2011-1040