Collection consists mainly of photographic and some photomechanical reproductions of American fine art and other visual artwork, created by or depicting peoples of African descent, from the 19th and 20th centuries. Also depicted are candid shots and group portraits of artists either creating or posing with their work. Also included in the collection are views of art patrons, students and museum visitors; reproductions of pre-colonial African and 18th century American art; views of art exhibitions; and some views of activities in workshops. Portraits of some artists may be found in the Portrait Collection.
The series depicting African art, American art, and miscellaneous art and artifacts, such as baskets, Haitian, Hispanic, jewelry, and sculpture, consist of reproductions of paintings; illustrations; lithographs; some block and screen prints; wood, clay, stone and metal sculpture; and other handcrafted objects. American art, the largest style represented, consists of paintings, drawings and prints either depicting or created by people of African descent, from the 1800s to 1930s. African art, mainly West African, includes masks, carved figures and objects, and plaques (ca. 13th, 16th-18th century and n.d.).
The artist series, the largest component of the collection, consists mainly of images of African-American artists active during the 20th century. Also included are some non-black artists who depicted people of African descent. The series consists of candid shots and group portraits of artists at work, posing with their work, or attending exhibitions and social functions. Also depicted are examples of artists' work, mostly paintings, drawings and sculpture. Among the artists represented are Benny Andrews, Richmond Barthé, Selma Burke, Elton Fax, Palmer Hayden, Al Hollingsworth, William H. Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Betsy Graves Reyneau, Augusta Savage and Hale Woodruff. Also depicted are Vertis Hayes's group of murals at Harlem Hospital titled "Pursuit of Happiness" (1937-1938).
The exhibitions series depicts the artwork displayed and the activities surrounding various exhibitions from the 1930s to 1980s. The series consists of group portraits and candid shots of artists, exhibition organizers, students, and museum patrons; installation shots; and publicity photographs of artwork used for exhibition. Of note is the group of publicity photographs of art displayed in "The Art of the Cameroon" exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, New York (1985).
The organizations series consists mainly of reproductions of artwork and views of exhibitions organized by art organizations and centers for African-American artists, mainly from the 1930s to 1960s. Also depicted are group portraits of artists, and views of artists at work including a printmaking workshop. Noteworthy here is artwork created through the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project (1936-1942); a group portrait of artists, including Gwendolyn Bennett, Elton Fax, Robert Pious and Augusta Savage, among others, who were WPA teachers at the Harlem Community Art Center (ca. 1930s); artwork created through the sponsorship of the Harmon Foundation (ca. 1930s); and artwork loaned for exhibition, as well as views of the fine art exhibition, at the World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar, Senegal (1966). Also included are two portfolios of photomecanical reproductions, entitled "Sculpture by Richmond Barthé" (ca. 1942) and "Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origins: Painted by Laura Wheeler Waring, Betsey Graves Reyneau" (ca. 1944), published by the Harmon Foundation.