BAIA BITS: Beverly Buchanan

BAIA BITS

Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art

Most people aspire to live in a big, fancy mansion, for all its space, opulence, and associated status.

However, there are those who see beauty in a shack.

Such was the case with artist Beverly Buchanan who devoted a substantial part of her career celebrating rural Black culture in the South through her art. Born in Fuquay, North Carolina in 1940, and reared in South Carolina, Buchanan earned several university degrees before working as a healthcare educator in New York. In 1971, she followed her passion and enrolled at the Art Students League where she studied under Norman Lewis and befriended Romare Bearden. Six years later, Buchanan moved to Georgia to become a fulltime artist.

Buchanan was known to tell stories through her art. She regularly attached narratives or “legends” to her sculpture including written text, messages, dialogue, or names of families from her hometown, some of them stapled to the underside of her works. These narratives gave voice to her wide range of subject and characters.

“Beverly Buchanan – Ruins and Rituals” at Brooklyn Museum

A key theme in her works, particularly over her last three decades, was the representation of shacks set in their rural settings. During a posthumous 2021 exhibit, Beverly Buchanan: Shacks and Legends, 1985-2011, the Andrew Edlin Gallery description noted, “The abundance of scribbled lines, cross-hatchings, and squiggles recall the handwritten notes her father made after he had suffered a series of strokes. These motifs serve as ‘conversational script,’ their shape imitating the markings of sea grasses, tall grasses, and marsh grasses, native to the Piedmont region.”

Over time, Buchanan used a variety of materials to construct her sculpted shacks including found wood, corrugated cardboard, recycled pine, commercial lumber, and foam core. The structures resembled the tobacco barns dotting the rural regions of North Carolina where Buchanan once labored as a teenage field hand. She would often singe the wood she used to replicate the weathered appearance of the structures.

Buchanan was the recipient of several major awards and fellowships for her work including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her artwork has been widely exhibited and graces the permanent collections of such prominent New York institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, along with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Beverly Buchanan left this earth in 2015. But her artistic legacy of serving common, everyday folk with her lifelong talent remains. Consistently, she once offered the following: “I want to give people who can neither read nor write but made all the measurements and built their own barns and shacks, a different way of looking at themselves.”

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