Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988) is widely considered to be one of America’s most inventive and important artists. Born in Charlotte, NC, Bearden grew up in a middle-class African American family that moved in 1914 to the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Bearden was raised against this vibrant cultural backdrop in the 1920s; his mother was a reporter for a leading black newspaper, and his home life was marked by the social and intellectual gatherings of well-known musicians, writers, and artists such as Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes. These encounters were foundational for Bearden’s life and art, fostering interests in not only visual art, but in music, history, and literature as well. Bearden frequently returned to the South to visit relatives during his childhood; recollections of these experiences, combined with his dynamic Harlem upbringing, would become the subject matter of many of his works.
Although he experimented with numerous artistic styles and techniques throughout his prolific career, Bearden’s principal medium was collage: a richly textured fusion of fabric, painting, and magazine clippings. His socially conscious work largely focused on African American life and the progression of black rights, depicted in images of Harlem life infused with memories of the South. Bearden was an equally important arts writer, activist, and spokesman, and a founding member of the Harlem Cultural Council and Black Academy of Arts. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972. Bearden’s collages appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines in 1968; his work has been featured in numerous posthumous retrospectives, and is represented in public collections throughout America, including the Whitney and Metropolitan Museums of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.