Standing beneath one of Aaron Douglas’s murals in the card catalogue room of the former Cravath Memorial Library (now Cravath Hall, the main administrative building) at Fisk University in Nashville are (left to right) Demi Landstadt, Khalila Blake, and Sujin Shin, students in Rebecca VanDiver’s African American Art class. VanDiver, senior lecturer in the department of history of art, led this field trip to enhance their study of Douglas and the Harlem Renaissance and the unique elements of an African American visual aesthetic.
In 1930 Douglas, the foremost visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance and an accomplished muralist, painted murals for Fisk, a small, historically black institution, that narrated a history of African American life. Douglas produced powerful artistic forms that incorporate music, dance, literature, and politics and had a lasting impact on American art history and the nation’s cultural heritage. In the late 1930s Douglas joined the Fisk faculty, and later he founded and chaired the university’s art department, a position he held until his retirement in 1966. The Fisk murals were restored in 2003.