James Museum opens transcendent Black history exhibition in St. Pete

Gallery viewers at The James Museum
Photo courtesy The James Museum

We always love an excuse to visit St. Pete, and an incredible new gallery open downtown is one of the best reasons to head across the bridge this fall (or take the Cross-Bay Ferry and get dropped at their doorstep.) A first-of-its-kind exhibition at The James Museum is showcasing 500 years of Black history in the west through a breathtaking collection of hand-sewn quilts. Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West is open now at The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in downtown St. Petersburg.

This transcendent exhibition dispels the myth that Black people in the old West were mostly cowboys, instead revealing the breadth of their occupations and achievements in society, religion, education, and the arts. Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West builds this timeline through pictorial quilts, using colorful, richly detailed works of art to chronicle the arrival of Africans in the American West in 1528 all the way through the Civil Rights Movement.

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Tierney Davis Hogan, Langston Hughes, Pioneer Poet, 2021, ©Tierney Davis Hogan

A full gallery of 50 quilts was created by the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN) especially for this exhibition. Quilts were chosen as the visual medium for this exhibition because they function to highlight the intersections of African Americans in the Western Frontier while informing others about the art form and its important role in African American history.

Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West was organized jointly by The James Museum and WCQN founder Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, who said this first-of-its-kind exhibition gives voice to Black history.

“Quilts and quilt making are important to America and Black culture in particular, because the art form was historically one of the few mediums accessible to marginalized groups to tell their own story, to provide warmth for their families, and to empower them with a voice through cloth,” she said.

Connie Horne, Black Miners, 2021, ©Connie Horne

Dr. Mazloomi’s quilts have been exhibited extensively in venues such as the Mint Museum, American Folk Art Museum in New York City, National Civil Rights Museum, Museum of Art and Design, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. This newest exhibition at The James Museum is an opportunity to experience the history of America’s Black pioneers, a story that rarely earns the amplification it so richly deserves.

Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West is on view at The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art from September 3, 2022-January 8, 2023. Learn more about The James Museum and plan your next visit at thejamesmuseum.org.

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