Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination

An Artist's Reckoning with the South

By Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

176 pp., 7 x 10, 34 color plates, 1 drawing, 17 halftones, notes, bibl

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6786-7
    Published: May 2022
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6787-4
    Published: March 2022

Ferris and Ferris Books

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Romare Bearden (1911–1988), one of the most prolific, original, and acclaimed American artists of the twentieth century, richly depicted scenes and figures rooted in the American South and the Black experience. Bearden hailed from North Carolina but was forced to relocate to the North when a white mob harassed his family in the 1910s. His family story is a compelling, complicated saga of Black middle-class achievement in the face of relentless waves of white supremacy. It is also a narrative of the generational trauma that slavery and racism inflicted over decades. But as Glenda Gilmore reveals in this trenchant reappraisal of Bearden’s life and art, his work reveals his deep imagination, extensive training, and rich knowledge of art history.

Gilmore explores four generations of Bearden’s family and highlights his experiences in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Harlem. She engages deeply with Bearden's art and considers it as an alternative archive that offers a unique perspective on the history, memory, and collective imagination of Black southerners who migrated to the North. In doing so, she revises and deepens our appreciation of Bearden’s place in the artistic canon and our understanding of his relationship to southern, African American, and American cultural and social history.

About the Author

Glenda Gilmore is the Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History Emerita at Yale University.
For more information about Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Inspiring...an insightful biography of one of the twentieth century’s most preeminent artists, whose powerful, intimate work illuminates the beauty and resilience of the human spirit."—Foreword Reviews

"A thoughtful, illuminating investigation of Bearden’s place in—and shaping of—20th-century American art...incisive."—Kirkus Reviews

"Like Bearden’s art, Gilmore’s biography pulses with energy and will resonate with readers of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration."—Library Journal

“Glenda Gilmore has given us a miracle of scholarship and insight: the historical Romare Bearden, in place(s), ancestry, and varied influence. The depth of research here is devotional, revealing a profound understanding of the artist’s imagination as it emerges from—and riffs on—his lived experience and that of the people he comes from. Gilmore has given us the gift of deeper understanding of how Bearden’s origins manifest in his work, spark his invention, and complicate his genius.”—Elizabeth Alexander, President, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“This book tells of two lives in one. One life is Bearden’s, which Glenda Gilmore tells in sublime detail. The other is the one that exists purely on the page, the work of Gilmore’s historical art—a rare blend of archival curiosity and ethical commitment.”—Alexander Nemerov, author of Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York

"Glenda Gilmore’s brilliant juxtaposition of history, memory, and visual art shows us—literally—the tensions, even the contradictions, between the facts of Romare Bearden’s lived history and his evocations of Black history in and around the South. Comprehensively illustrated with images of people, history, and Bearden’s art, This book rewards the viewer as well as the reader."—Nell Irvin Painter, author of Creating Black Americans: African American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present