Mt. Airy scholar to give Zoom talk on African American art pioneer

by Len Lear
Posted 12/31/69

Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown will host Dr. Anna O. Marley, a 10-year Mt. Airy resident, for an illustrated talk about Henry Ossawa Tanner on Saturday, March 6, 1 p.m.

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Mt. Airy scholar to give Zoom talk on African American art pioneer

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Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown will host Dr. Anna O. Marley, a 10-year Mt. Airy resident, for an illustrated talk about Henry Ossawa Tanner on Saturday, March 6, 1 p.m.

Tanner was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in Philadelphia. In 1879, he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) and was the only African American enrolled there at that time. He is known as a realistic painter and became the first African American painter to gain international acclaim.

Curator of Historical American Art, Anna O. Marley, a native of Montreal who is in her 40s, is a scholar of American art and material culture from the colonial era to 1945 and holds a B.A. in Art History from Vassar College, an M.A. in Museum Studies from the University of Southern California and a Ph.D. in Art History (2009) from the University of Delaware. At PAFA, Marley has curated over 14 exhibitions, including the touring retrospective “Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit” (2012).

We conducted the following interview with Dr. Marley last week:

What is it about Henry O. Tanner that drew you to his work?

“I was drawn to his layered painting technique and his modernization of religious art.”

Of all the exhibitions you have curated, which one(s) meant the most to you? Why?

“'Henry Tanner: Modern Spirit' was my first major exhibition, and I was honored that it traveled around the country and that so many people connected with and loved Henry Tanner's art and story. 'From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic' was based on my doctoral work and focused on 18th- and 1 landscape representation, which is my intellectual passion. These two exhibitions probably mean the most to my heart and to my head.”

What is it about the landscapes of William Trost Richards, another Philly artist you have written about, that appeal to you so much vis-a-vis those of other great landscape painters?

“William Trost Richards is a great Philadelphia landscape painter, and I am really interested in unexplored landscape traditions, so I am particularly drawn to his early landscapes inspired by his German teacher, Paul Weber. I also had the opportunity to curate a show of his miniature watercolor paintings, which are just astounding. He was a great painter in oil and watercolor, and I love his connections to Germantown, the Wissahickon and PAFA.”

When and where did your “The Artist's Garden” exhibition tour?

“The Artist's Garden began in 2015 in Philadelphia and traveled all over the country! It went to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in NC, the Chrysler Museum in Virginia, the Florence Griswold Museum in CT and the Huntington Museum, Library and Gardens in CA.”

How satisfying was that?

“It was wonderfully satisfying. It was a beautiful exhibition and publication, and one of the great things is that it traveled to places where gardening was very important to the community, and indeed, the Huntington even planted a garden in front of the exhibition with native flowers from the period of the paintings. There was also a feature film made of the exhibition when it was at the Florence Griswold Museum.”

Are you an artist yourself?

“I love art, sketching and photography, but I think of my artistry being primarily as a writer and a curator.”

Why did you decide to concentrate on the study of historical American art?

“I originally studied British art and did my undergraduate thesis at Vassar on William Morris, but then when I moved to Yosemite National Park after college and fell in love with American landscape painting.”

How has the pandemic affected your life?

“I work from home instead of in PAFA's beautiful Furness building. I don't miss the commute, but I do miss being with the art and architecture. I miss my colleagues. I miss sharing art with friends. I really miss traveling around the world and country for research and connection. I can't visit my family in Canada, which is one of the worst parts about the pandemic for us.”

What is the best advice you've ever received?

"'Just don't kill the baby.' It was about motherhood, but it works pretty well for life as well.”

What is the hardest thing you ever had to do?

“Climb Half Dome, write a dissertation, give birth to my son.”

How many people have kidded you about “Marley and Me” (a best-selling book and movie about a dog)?

“Very few. People usually ask about (reggae singer) Bob Marley.”

For more information, visit ebenezermaxwellmansion.org. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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