The Howard University Gallery of Art was established in 1928 by action of the Board of Trustees in response to an offer of funds made by Mr. & Mrs. Avery Coonley of Washington, D.C., for the renovation of an existing University facility. The primary purpose was to make revolving exhibitions of contemporary arts and crafts available for immediate visitation and appreciational study by students of the University. This goal was rapidly expanded to include loan exhibitions of different periods, cultures, and countries [Item 1].
The lower floor of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel was selected and the new facility formally opened with a loan exhibition on April 7, 1930, which suggests that the University collection at that time did not have works of gallery caliber. After the success of the first loan exhibition, a policy and program leading to the development of a permanent collection was adopted as follows: to make good works of art available on a permanent basis to the University community; to establish, at least, the nucleus of a loan collection to be made available for use by reputable cultural and university centers; and to gather into the collection whenever possible, significant works by contemporary artists without reference to the race, color or creed of the individual artist.
Beginning and Building on a Legacy
The first director, James V. Herring, (1887 – 1969), who also founded the Department of Art in 1921, and James A. Porter, (1905 -1970), internationally renowned art historian and critic and the second director, relied upon the generous help of alumni and friends of the University who donated works of art or made extended loans to the gallery to meet the gallery’s first objective. Throughout the years, the same relationship of dependence on interested alumni and friends has proved fruitful. The first work to enter the collection with funds contributed by friends and alumni and some public organizations, for example, was Henry O. Tanner’s, Return from the Crucifixion, an oil-tempera painting which was the last completed work prior to his death in 1937 [Item 2]. Over the years, the collection has grown due to the largess of private collectors, art foundations, various branches of the federal government, and friends of the gallery.
The liquidation of certain army posts throughout the country in the 1940s, Fort Huachuca in Arizona in particular, precipitated the allocation of federally owned works of art that were given to art centers throughout the country. The Fort Huachuca collection was allocated to Howard University, thereby greatly increasing the paintings and prints in the Gallery collection [Item 3, Item 4]. The transference of works of art from other departments of the government to Howard University accounts for further augmentation of the collection.