The John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art

The Hewitt Collection of African-American Art consists of works by renowned artists including Romare Bearden, regarded as one of the greatest American artists of his generation; Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the first African-American artists to achieve acclaim in both America and Europe; Elizabeth Catlett; Jonathan Green; Jacob Lawrence; Ann Tanksley; and Hale Woodruff. Bank of America acquired the Hewitt Collection in 1998 from John and Vivian Hewitt, and pledged it as a cornerstone of the Gantt Center's permanent collection.

Dedicated collectors despite their financial limitations (John was a freelance writer and Vivian a librarian), through their 50 years of collecting, the Hewitts became close friends with many of the artists. By the 1970s they were opening their home to showcase the work of Hale Woodruff, Ernest Crichlow, Alvin Hollingsworth, and J. Eugene Grigsby, a cousin of Mrs. Hewitt's.

The Hewitts were newlyweds when they bought their first piece of art, a Picasso reproduction. In 1960, they acquired their first original painting while on vacation in Haiti, and added to it one painting at a time, commemorating special occasions in their lives with art. "Our collection…until 1960, it would be called eclectic," Vivian stated. "John decided we should be more focused. For 15 years, we focused on Haitian art. (Later) my husband said, 'We know most of these African-American artists. We had better back up and collect some from our own culture, while we can afford them."

Vivian's cousin, J. Eugene Grigsby, is an artist and internationally acclaimed art educator who also introduced the couple to numerous artists, many of whom wrote personal inscriptions or notes on the pieces the couple purchased, increasing their value both monetarily and sentimentally. For 10 years the Hewitt collection has toured the United States. The Gantt Center is very pleased to serve as its home.

The Hewitt Collection of African American Art, is an assemblage of fifty-eight works that celebrates the expression and passion of twenty artists, including Romare Bearden, Margaret Burroughs, Jonathan Green, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.

See Beyond the Museum Walls

Image credits: Courtesy Vivian Davidson Hewitt