Avel de Knight – Ongoing Exhibition
Avel de Knight: Drawings for Army Life in a Black Regiment is on view in the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center at the University of Richmond until April 4, 2012. The exhibition features a series of twenty-two illustrations by African American artist Avel de Knight (1921-1995) created for a never-published version of the book Army Life in a Black Regiment written in 1870 by New England abolitionist, Thomas Wentworth Higginson (American, 1823-1911). Army Life recounts Higginson’s experience as a white commander of the Union’s first official regiment comprised of escaped slaves during the Civil War. De Knight’s illustrations, created in pen and ink with ink wash on paper, convey the strength and bravery of the African American Civil War soldiers.
De Knight created his drawings for Higginson’s book between 1969 to 1973, a time of civil unrest in the United States. The illustrations speak with a subtle and almost romantic imagery to convey the power, authority, and professionalism of a group of African American Civil War soldiers. Higginson portrayed the black soldiers as brave, committed, gentle, and deeply religious; de Knight captured these qualities in his drawings. Strong outcast arms bear tattered flags; wounded bodies fall in graceful demise; heads rise up in song; a new year is celebrated; a baby is welcomed; a fallen comrade is borne by sorrowing shoulders.
Born in New York and raised by his Caribbean-born parents, De Knight attended Pratt Institute, New York, before entering in a segregated U.S. Army Unit during World War II. After the war, under the G.I. Bill, he returned to France and studied in Paris at the École de Beaux-Arts, the Académie de la Grande Chaumier, and the Académie Julian. By the late 1950s, he returned to the United States and began teaching at the Art Students League, New York, and in 1966 he was elected to the National Academy of Design becoming a full academician in 1970. He was an instructor at the National Academy School of Fine Arts from 1981 until his death in 1995. De Knight’s work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Academy of Design, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the University of Richmond Museums.
The exhibition is a visual insight into a contentious part of American history. It illustrates everyday life within a black regiment in the Civil War. There are not only battle scenes but also scenes of funerals, childbirth, social events, and slavery. As America commemorates the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, understanding the social and racial implications of the war is central for our country’s progression forward. It represents the subversive and political insight created through the visual arts.
The exhibition is on view in the Joel & Lila Harnett Print Study Center until April. Admission is free and open to the public.
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
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