About the Project
The Muscarelle Museum of Art and the Greater Williamsburg Women’s Association (GWWA) would like to welcome you to the Art in a Box Virtual Exhibition. 54 students, hailing from Williamsburg, Yorktown, and James City County were invited to participate in this special communal art initiative that exposed them to two iconic African American artists of the 20th Century.
The project encouraged them to create an original contemporary piece of artwork inspired by the artist contained in their box.
We are in the midst of unprecedented times in our world and faced with a myriad of challenges – we are keenly aware that creative expression is a way to ease our worries during these challenging times.
This project was specially designed for our community, in that it continues to teach students about the beautiful creative minds that have graced this earth, and it encouraged them to use their imagination to look deep within themselves, and harvest the greatness within.
We at the Muscarelle Museum of Art and the GWWA understand the importance of the arts and creativity in the face of great challenge.
The two focus artists were: Elizabeth Catlett and John Biggers. When we return to some sense of normalcy, we invite you to come to the Muscarelle Museum of Art to see their masterworks in person in our collection.
Each participating student was asked to read about the artist, study their style, and try to decipher the meaning of the art, paying close attention to the way they use the elements of design (Color, Line, Texture, Value, Form, Space, Shape) and the way they use the principles of design (Pattern, Contrast, Emphasis, Balance, Proportion, Unity, Variety, Rhythm) to communicate to their audience.
Enclosed in each student’s box were pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, sketch paper, a canvas, and oil pastels. After reading about the artist the students had a series of prompt questions to encourage them to create their original artwork inspired by the master artist. Upon completion of their artwork, they submitted their work to the Muscarelle Museum of Art for the virtual exhibition.
The Muscarelle Museum of Art and the Greater Williamsburg Women’s Association would like to sincerely thank all of the student artists that participated in this special community initiative, we value your vision, your voice, and we are proud to share your art with the world!
Director of Community Engagement,
Co-Coordinator of Art in a Box
Students read about these artists, studied their style, and tried to decipher the meaning of their art.
Elizabeth Catlett, Artist (1915 – 2012)
Elizabeth Catlett was an African American artist who specialized in printmaking and sculpture. She explored themes related to feminism and race. Catlett stated, “I have always wanted my art to service my people—to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.” Elizabeth Catlett was born on April 15, 1915 in Washington, D.C. She was awarded a scholarship to attend the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh—but it was rescinded on the basis of her race. She then went to Howard University and later attended the University of Iowa to study under Grant Wood (American Gothic), becoming the first African-American woman to graduate with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in the United States.
In the 1940s, she traveled to Mexico on a fellowship. The Mexican muralist’s spirit of activism inspired Catlett to produce works that reflected African-American women in the South.
One of her iconic works was titled the Sharecropper (1952). Her work is a mixture of abstract and figurative in the Modernist tradition, with influences from African American, African, and Mexican art traditions. According to the artist, the main purpose of her work is to convey social messages rather than pure aesthetics. Catlett lived and worked between Cuernavaca, Mexico and New York, NY, and died on April 2, 2012 in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the age of 96. Today, Catlett’s works are in personal collections, public spaces, and museums around the world, including at the Muscarelle Museum of Art.
John Biggers, Artist (1924 – 2001)
John Biggers was an African American artist who specialized in drawing and painting. Early in his career he explored themes dealing with racism, poverty, despair, and social realism. Biggers believed “that self-dignity and racial pride could be consciously approached through art.” John Biggers was born on April 13, 1924 in Gastonia, North Carolina. As a boy, Biggers attended Lincoln Academy, an all-black boarding school in nearby Kings Mountain, where pride in the students’ African heritage was stressed.
He attended Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, (now known as Hampton University,) in 1941 to study plumbing. After a first semester course with the Jewish émigré artist-educator Viktor Lowenfeld, Biggers changed his major to art, and Lowenfeld became his mentor. Biggers attended Penn State University and received his BA, Masters, and Doctorate degrees between 1948 and 1954 in Art Education.
Biggers moved to Houston Texas and started the art program at Texas State University, now Texas Southern University.
After a trip to Africa on a fellowship in the 1950s, African and African American themes, a semi-abstract style, and symbolism became the center of his artistic expression.
Biggers died on January 25, 2001 at his home in Houston. His work is in personal collections, public spaces, and museums around the world, including at the Muscarelle Museum of Art.
© Estate of Elizabeth Catlett / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
© John T. Biggers Estate / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY,
Estate Represented by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
All other content © 2021 MUSCARELLE MUSEUM OF ART.