In this four-part lecture series, Professor Amy Mooney examines the central role portraiture played in fostering social change in the United States from the 1890s through the 1950s. Drawing from her forthcoming book, Portraits of Noteworthy Character, Professor Mooney considers the strategic visual campaigns generated by individuals and social institutions that used the portrait to advance their progressive political ideologies. From the etiquette texts used at historically black colleges to the post cards produced by Hull-House to the Harmon Foundation’s exhibition of “Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin,” these lectures explore the ways in which the portrait was employed to build social relationships and negotiate modern subjectivity.
The final lecture examines an exhibition generated by the Harmon Foundation in 1944 called “Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin.” This group of commissioned portraits toured the US for nearly ten years with the intention of not only celebrating the contributions of successful African Americans, but also modeling social integration and the possibilities of civil rights. Considering the aesthetics and logistics of the exhibition, Professor Mooney explores the ways in which the philosophies of Alain Locke informed the unabating optimism that portraiture could generate social change.