Mellon Diversifying the Field

Exploring Modern African Art

A Chrysler Museum of Art and
Hampton University Museum Partnership

Hello! I am Tashae Smith, the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow. I am excited to begin this journey with you as we explore and document the Harmon Foundation Modern African Art collection located at Hampton University and the Traditional African Art collection located at the Chrysler Museum over the next three years. There is a great deal of information to share about the two collections but before we get there, I would like to share more information about myself. 

After graduating high school, I made the decision to study history and museum studies in college in hopes of becoming a museum curator. I have always enjoyed learning history and grew up watching the History Channel for fun. I also loved museums and the information and ideas I could absorb from them. Of course, I also loved to share the information I learned with others. Before college, the information I obtained was often regurgitated to friends and family whether they wanted to hear it or not.

I entered Manhattanville College in 2013 with a major in History and a minor in Museum Studies. My time at Manhattanville College, under the guidance of the History department and African Studies Department, helped me to refine my research, writing and public speaking skills. I took many eye opening classes such as A Survey on African Art and The Nude: The Female Body Through Art. During my Sophomore year in college, I applied and received a historic preservation grant from the Open Space Institute. With the grant and support of countless people, including my mentor, Professor Colin Morris, I was able to complete almost two years of research to create a five site African American walking tour titled, “In Washington’s Shadow”. Each site tells the story of forgotten and lost aspects of Newburgh’s African American history. This grant allowed me to not only share this important history with my friends and family but with my community as well.

After graduating college in 2017, I started my museum career as the Education Coordinator for Hudson River Maritime Museum located in Kingston, New York. In 2018, I enrolled in the Cooperstown Graduate Program in order to receive my Master’s degree in Museum Studies. During this time, I was able to further my interest in curatorial work by interning with the Curatorial Department at the Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown, New York and interning at the American Civil War Museum located in Richmond, Virginia. At the American Civil War Museum, I worked within different departments to create a comprehensive exhibit proposal titled “Lost: Artistic Reflection on the Lost Cause”. The proposal focused on using objects in the collection and art based on these objects to discuss the lasting effects of the Lost Cause on our society today.

As the Mellon Curatorial Fellow, I will build upon my work of creating a walking tour and exhibit proposal by researching and utilizing the Harmon Modern African Art collection to create two exhibits. I look forward to this ground-breaking work in order to provide more insight into the collection and to further establish myself as a professional curator.

Explore other articles like this

Our Adventures in Music City

Article by Elizabeth Robson and Tashae Smith

With the research and professional development funds provided by the Mellon Grant, we were recently able to view an exhibition of artwork closely related to our own, which opened at Fisk University Galleries at the beginning of October. We also visited Frist Art Museum and other sites around Nashville, connected with colleagues, and explored the fabulous Music City!

Read More

A Conference in Detroit: MRCG Symposium 2022

Article by Elizabeth Robson

At the end of September, I was able to attend the Annual Symposium of the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild (MRCG) in Detroit, Michigan. It was a great opportunity to give a presentation about the Mellon project to a group of friendly and insightful conservators. After lots of networking and nerdy conservation discussions, I made it back home, despite the best efforts of Hurricane Ian! Read more about the trip here.

Read More

Christianity, Art, and the Harmon Foundation: Part 2

Article by Tashae Smith

For Part 2 of Christianity, Art, and the Harmon Foundation, we will be examining artworks from Brother Francis Musangogwantamu and Elimo Njau, to see how they were interpreting their Christian faith through art. 

Read More