I have been conducting research on artists who were active during the Harlem Renaissance, and I stumbled upon a documentary called Against the Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation. I learned so much about how this one foundation was responsible for launching the careers of so many prominent African-American artists. Although the foundation recognized African-Americans in different fields, I have chosen to focus on the fine arts category for this post to highlight some of the artists who do not always receive the recognition they deserve.
The Harmon Foundation was founded by a wealthy real estate developer, William Elmer Harmon, in 1922 to offer recognition (including cash awards) to African-Americans for distinguished achievement in business, education, fine arts, literature, music, race relations, religious service, and science. Harmon was encouraged to start the foundation by Alain Locke, a professor at Howard University and editor of the New Negro publication. The stated mission of the foundation was to “assist in the development of greater economic security for the race”. The first awards were presented in 1925, and thereafter, the foundation held annual programs.
The program got off to a slow start when only a few people in each category applied the first year, but as it gained recognition, the program received a large quantity of high-quality works of art. In order to foster the careers of the artists who submitted work, the Harmon Foundation began organizing large-scale exhibitions to provide an opportunity for the candidates to show and sell their work to a broader audience. These award exhibitions gained even more national attention when they traveled to art museums, colleges, public libraries, and community organizations across the country Hale Woodruff and Palmer Hayden were the very first recipients of the William E. Harmon Foundation award for Distinguished Achievement among Negroes for fine arts. I have included a gallery of the artists selected by the Harmon Foundation during the years it was in operation. Below, I have uploaded one painting to showcase the talents of these fine artists. For more information on The Harmon Foundation, please refer to Anne Evenhaugen’s excellent article written for the Smithsonian Libraries in 2013 called African-American Art and the Harmon Foundation here