UNC’s Center for the Study of American South (CSAS) is hosting an art exhibit this spring titled “Sacred Spaces: A Look Inside the Home of Harlem Renaissance Poet Anne Spencer,” which centers on the life of Ann Spencer, an important yet not-as-visible figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Spencer was a poet from Lynchburg, Virginia, where she hosted many literary extraordinaires from the Harlem Renaissance at her house, which served as somewhat of a hotel and 'southern outpost' for the movement. She was also important in establishing the NAACP in Lynchburg.
The exhibit features brilliant pictures of Ann Spencer’s house in Lynchburg, which is a work of art, according to poet and retired UNC botanical librarian Jeffery Beam, who’s doing a reading of Spencer’s poems at a the reception tonight.
“She was not just a gardener, poet and social activist — she was an important person,” Beam said. “The interior of this house is an amazing artistic creation in itself.”
Beam also mentioned that it’s important for people to put racial stereotypes aside in regard to the exhibit.
“I think the most important thing is that (Spencer and her husband) were part of a successful middle class in the south of black people,” he said. “And particularly, a lot of white people don’t know that these communities existed.”
There is a reception tonight for the exhibit, featuring music, food, poetry, and of course, the photography. Beam said the purpose of the event is to help people understand Spencer better.
“We want to bring attention to Ann and her wider range in creativity,” he said. “We’re trying to make it this experience of being in her home, you're eating her food, hearing her music, seeing her house.”
Patrick Horn, associate director of CSAS, said he felt this was all part of the experience as well.
“All these different aspects give us a different window to experience that culture fist hand,” he said.
Horn also said the center decided to host the exhibit because it wasn’t a well-known story, but very important one.
“We’re always looking for exhibits and it seemed timely with black history month,” he said.
John Hall, whose photos are being shown at the exhibit, said he was not only trying to capture the persona of Spencer, but also her house.
“The house is very evocative and it just has an enormous amount of history and personality,” he said. “So I thought that the thing for me to do was just to try and get as much of that as I could into the images.”
Hall said he hopes people will get as much as he did from the images and really feel the energy behind them.
“I hope that they see how lively and how much fun this place was,” he said. “How full of life it was.”
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