History of the Collection


On April 19, 1942, the painter and printmaker Hale Woodruff instituted an annual juried competition in Atlanta, Georgia, entitled Exhibitions of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists in America. Drawing upon his intimate knowledge of the exhibitions organized by the Harmon Foundation – as well as his experiences with artistic communities in France, Mexico, and various parts of the United States – he created a national forum for artists of African descent that included a cash prize and critical feedback about their work. The Atlanta University Annual, as the competition came to be known, lasted until 1970 and resulted in the development of a significant collection of twentieth-century African American art that is currently held at Clark Atlanta University. Nine hundred artists participated, and 291 of their works were purchased. These works comprise the core strength of Clark Atlanta University’s permanent collection, which now totals 1,220 objects.

At its inception, the acquisition goals of Clark Atlanta University Art Museum were tied to providing exhibition opportunities for formally trained African American artists who had been excluded from or marginalized by mainstream arts spaces and circuits. Hale Woodruff felt that critical public engagement would strengthen the participants’ artistic skills. As exhibition opportunities opened during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the significance of the Atlanta Annuals diminished. Acquisitions, therefore, shifted to artists who were either contemporaries of the participants during the first two decades (e.g., Margaret Burroughs) or contemporary artists residing in the South (e.g., Sheila Pree Bright, Alfred Conteh, Fahamu Pecou, and Phoenix Savage).


“Art of the Negro” Murals

Installed in the Aspacio Atrium of Trevor Arnett Hall are the Art of the Negro murals, painted by Hale Woodruff in the 1950-51.  Consisting of six panels on canvas, the murals depict the cultural art history of African and other tribal art forms, which subsequently impacted Western art. Explicit attention is given to the emergence and presence of the visual artist in the African Diaspora. The Art of the Negro series is considered to be among the more outstanding murals in the American art tradition.

Historic and Modern African American

Anchored by paintings by the some of the earliest formally trained African American artists, like many of the canonical African American artists of the mid-twentieth century (William H. Johnson, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, Jacob Lawrence, and Norman Lewis).

Contemporary Art 

The contemporary art collection is comprised of works artists who have spent a significant amount of time in the Atlanta area, like Benny Andrews, Radcliffe Bailey, Sheila Pree Bright, Kojo Griffin, and Larry Walker. Due to donations by Samuel and Dorothy Rosenman and Chauncey Waddell, a former Trustee of Atlanta University, the twentieth century collection also includes nearly 85 works by artists such as Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Alexander Calder, John Marin, Irene Rice Pereira, Gerard Ernest Schneider, and Zao Wou-Ki. This collection also includes works by self-taught artists like Thornton Dial and Nellie Mae Rowe as well as crafts such as sweetgrass baskets and quilts from Gee’s Bend.

African Art 

Although the collection is primarily discussed as consisting of mid-twentieth-century American art, it also includes a sampling of African art and twentieth-century art of people not of African descent. The African collection consists of 382 works of traditional art, primarily from West Africa, with a few innovative pieces from Central and East Africa.