In 2017 I dedicated a series of Artist a Day posts to Ruth Waddy, whose influence guided and amplified the careers of Los Angeles artists in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Her impact and legacy in documenting Black art is immeasurable and “as a champion for African-American artists, Waddy’s advocacy created a powerful network. This constellation of art stars included Noah Purifoy, Samella Lewis, Romare Bearden and Charles White among others.” Culture Shock Art, February 1, 2017
When I researched my post on Waddy 2 years ago, I came across a video about an infamous sketchbook of Waddy’s gifted to her by her close friend Evangeline J. Montgomery. (The story behind the sketchbook is nothing short of amazing as a treasure trove of Black artists honoring other artists, and truthfully, I’m amazed LACMA hasn’t published or digitized it yet). LACMA produced a video that features artists Cedric Adams and Wess Hall recall their memories of Waddy and the sketchbook, while sharing its touching, inspirational inscription from Evangeline:
“To Ruth: May this year be the greatest, Happy Birthday, January 7, 1968. Have your friends fill up this book in 1968 and get us published in ’69. A new thing to think about, Vangie.”
Evangeline Montgomery moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1955 to study art and obtained her BFA at Cal Arts/Chouinard. She became an independent curator in the late sixties and moved to the Bay Area to become the curator for the Rainbow Sign, a cultural collective and private club that showcased writers, poets, and Black artists including James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, and Betye Saar. While doing some research on Rainbow Sign, I came across an interview of Elizabeth Catlett also featuring Evangeline Montgomery which took place at the cultural center; hearing her name triggered my memory of Ruth Waddy and the sketchbook.
Montgomery’s career in art curation led her to D.C. where she worked for the U.S. Dept of State in the 1980s, and throughout her career she produced over 200 shows. In recent years, Montgomery returned to her roots in art, revisiting abstract sculptural, painting and printmaking work that explores memory and the rituals of memorials.
These interconnected stories among artists of the Black Arts movement, on both the east and west coast are nothing short of astounding; the bonds they shared simply cannot remain hidden in archives. This is why the work that’s being done today to amplify these voices is so critically important.
I think back to the powerful words of Berkeley’s Rainbow Sign founder Mary Ann Pollar who described the magical venue as, “A place to honor our past, to be aware of our present, and to build faith in our future.” We really need more Rainbow Signs.
I hope these posts this month gave you a little digital glimpse of the artistic greatness that we have achieved, and the greatness that is to come. My work doesn’t stop on February 28th, there’s much more to come! Thanks for taking this journey with me.