Feature Articles

April 2014

Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC, Offers Look at Early Years of Harlem

The Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC, is presenting Harlem on My Mind: 1900-1939, first organized by the I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC, on view at the York W. Bailey Museum, through May 31, 2014.

Harlem on My Mind: 1900-1939, has only been seen twice in the 45 years since its creation in 1969, first at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and then in 2007, at the Stanback. This the first exhibition in the newly renovated York W. Bailey Museum and the first exhibition presented through collaboration between Penn Center and the Stanback Museum.

Long before Harlem became one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the red-hot real estate market of Manhattan, it was a metaphor for African American culture at its richest. Harlem on My Mind is the classic record of Harlem life during some of the most exciting and turbulent years of its history, a beautiful - and poignant - reminder of a powerful moment in African American history.

The exhibition, created in 1969 for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, records the struggle to establish an urban black culture in 20th century industrialized America. While the entire exhibition documents life in Harlem from just before 1900 to 1968, the exhibition at Penn Center surveys the changing character of Harlem until 1940. By moving through the exhibition, it is possible to witness history unfold and to sense what people might have thought and felt at those times: from white to black Harlem at the beginning of the century, the jazz age of the twenties, depression and hard times in the thirties.

The exhibition opening at Penn Center contains selections from the collection donated to the Stanback Museum by the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where it was housed following the closing of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition features work by some of Harlem’s most treasured photographers, among them James Van Der Zee and Aaron Siskind and includes photographic murals of Harlem, from its literary lights to its everyday people who gave life to this legendary community.

Ellen Zisholtz, Stanback Director, stated, “We are proud to continue the long standing collaboration between South Carolina State University and Penn Center which began in 1937, when Arnett House, built by islanders and students, was used for housing student teachers from SC State who were working in the county schools.” Another important collaboration produced the first Gullah Studies Institute at Penn Center in the summer of 2005.

As Penn Center commemorates its 150th Anniversary 2012-2014, it honors its history as one of the first schools for freed slaves, established in 1862, and the center of activities for Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, when it was one of the few places in the South where diverse people could meet together. Penn Center continues to serve as a national monument promoting historic preservation, as well as a catalyst for economic sustainability throughout the Sea Islands. Its far-reaching impact on local, national and international communities has been the greatest legacy of the Penn Center’s history.

For more info check our SC Institutional Gallery listings or call Victoria Smalls at Penn Center at 843/838-2432.

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