Where Art and History Intersect: The Kinsey Collection and Phoebe Beasley at the Payson Library

Husband and wife collectors and curators, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, started collecting African American art, manuscripts, and ephemera over forty years ago.  Their passion for this art and the very art of collecting has led to a traveling body of work known as The Kinsey Collection.

One of the places the Collection is currently exhibiting is at Pepperdine University’s Payson Library.  Original artworks, books, paintings, posters, letters, and documents are on display.  The Collection’s motto “Where Art and History Intersect” is quite fitting for many reasons.  At the opening, Shirley Kinsey said that one of the multi-layered goals of the Collection is to “preserve the past for the future,” to help remind people “where you are from and where you are going,” and to assure that viewers know “who you are and whose you are.” – Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor.

Come and Join Us Brothers: United States Soldiers at Camp William Penn, 1863, Published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments, Courtesy of The Kinsey Collection.

Slave Treaties – Documents Establishing the Slave Trade, 1712. Courtesy of The Kinsey Collection.

Bernard Kinsey shared similar sentiments, saying that the Collection’s aim is to help shed light on and make viewer’s aware of the myth of absence that is common in America’s history, particularly when it comes to acknowledging the roles of African Americans in that history. “There are the stories that made America and the stories America made up,” he explained. One aim of the Collection then, is to preserve, document, and share unarguable primary documents that make visible many silenced and oft forgotten histories.

Letter from Malcolm X to Alex Haley, December 3, 1963. Courtesy of The Kinsey Collection.

Robert Scott Duncanson, Autumn Landscape, ca. 1865. Courtesy of The Kinsey Collection.

From original recruiting advertisements, to letters from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, to 18th century slave treaties, to paintings by Lois Mailou Jones and Robert Scott Duncanson, to first-edition books, the collection is dense with a rich history, offering aesthetic insight into often-untold chapters of American history as a whole.

Artist Phoebe Beasley’s collaged portrait of Shirley Kinsey is also featured.  At first glance, Beasley’s works appear to be bright and energetic oil paintings, but are actually multi-layered and three-dimensional collages. In conjunction with the Kinsey Collection’s exhibit at Pepperdine, Beasley will be hosting a “pop-up” show of her work on September 17th at 4:00pm.

Phoebe Beasley, Political Postures, 2002, collage, 24 x 36. Courtesy of Phoebe Beasley.

On October 12th, Beasley will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the California African American Museum (CAAM) during their awards gala, An Artful Evening at CAAM.

Dr. Maya Angelou, who has collaborated with Beasley on a limited edition book, has said, “Phoebe Beasley's eye has never failed her; has never lied to her, and her art generously gives us beauty, information and always the truth.”

Given that Beasley’s work will be surrounded by the art and ephemera of the Kinsey Collection on the 17th, the Kinseys’ shared goals and the Collection’s motto seem even more compelling and precise: a current and celebrated artist’s work will be encased with and encircled by documents and art of the past, thus bridging a temporal gap and informing the future through both art and history.

Phoebe Beasley, Rebuilding AMISTAD, 2000, collage, 48 x 36. Courtesy of Phoebe Beasley.

Phoebe Beasley, Wheels Down at LAX, and View the Elegance and Style of Paul R. Williams, Architect, 2010, collage, 36 x 36. Courtesy of Phoebe Beasley.


Phoebe Beasley’s show will be featured at The Kinsey Collection exhibit at Pepperdine on September 17th at 4:00pm.  The public is welcome.  Beasley receives her Lifetime Achievement Award on October 12th at the California African American Museum, located at 600 State Drive - Exposition Park, Los Angeles.

The Kinsey Collection will run at Pepperdine University’s Payson Library through September 27th.  The Collection tours multiple locations throughout the year including the following:

·       Ongoing through 2016: Rediscovering America: Family Treasures from The Kinsey Collection at the American Adventure Pavilion at Epcot, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL.

·       June 29th - October 12th 2013 at The Harvey B. Gantt Center of African American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, NC.

·       November 2nd - March 2nd, 2014 at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Baltimore, MD.

There is also a film series, “Wells Fargo Presents: Kinsey Untold Stories Short Film Series” featuring the following: Tenacity of Hope featuring Lauren London, The First featuring Lance Gross, Genius featuring Jordin Sparks, and Family First featuring Talib Kweli.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

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