Established in 1926, the William E. Harmon Foundation is cemented in history as one of the first organisations seeking to honour the works of African American artists of the era. Aside from regularly showcasing works created by African Americans, the foundation continually awarded the most talented among them, forging an impact in the battle for equal rights. Art enthusiasts with an appreciation for African art, such as Tunde Folawiyo and millions of others, may be fascinated by the history of the William E. Harmon Foundation and how its existence came to be.
Upon its creation, the foundation established by real estate developer William Elmer Harmon was intended to support noble causes such as biblical films, nursing programs and playgrounds. However, over time, the foundation’s mission became to recognise the talented works of the era’s African American artists. Mary B. Brady served as director of the Harmon Foundation from its start in 1922 until its end in 1967.
Raised in the Midwest, Harmon’s upbringing undoubtedly played a role in his attitude toward African Americans, a race that often faced discrimination at the time of the foundation’s establishment. After one day meeting a black artist unable to sell his works of art due to racial prejudice, the Harmon Foundation formed a new mission, striving to honour the outstanding works of some of the era’s most promising talents.
The year 1925 saw the beginning of this new direction for the Harmon Foundation and its supporters. With this, the foundation sought to reward African Americans for achievements in eight fields, including education, fine arts, business, literature, music, race relations, religious service and science. Walter White, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes are among the award’s many renowned recipients.
Upon the foundation’s closing in the 1960s, it distributed its wide art collection amongst several institutions with Smithsonian’s American Art Museum among them. The AA/PG Library also holds many of the foundation’s rare exhibition catalogs dating back to the 1920s.
The world of African art is ever changing with new and innovative creations coming to fruition at every turn. As the genre of this art progresses, art enthusiasts such as Tunde Folawiyo may be fascinated by the tales of famed African artists of the past. Whilst years have passed since its creation and closing, the immeasurable impact of the Harmon Foundation’s mission to garner admiration for African art remains one of the most significant strides for the genre today.