Nelson Stevens Collection consists of a portrait painting of George Washington Carver by Nelson Stevens. The painting is part of the George Washington Carver transformer series as indicated by a note on the back of the work. As with much of Stevens’ work, the portrait contains a broad palette of colors and unexpected lines.
Painter, printmaker, and teacher Nelson Stevens was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1938. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ohio University in 1962 and a Master of Fine Arts from Kent State University in 1969.
Stevens was one of the first members of AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) in Chicago in the early 1970s. Members of AfriCOBRA create art featuring uplifting and inspiring images of the black community. Through bright colors, positive ideas and images, and human figures, AfriCOBRA artists communicate the truth and beauty of self-identity to the African American community.
Similarly, Stevens’ work is known for positive imagery, bold and vivid colors, unexpected and complex lines, and tributes to historical and contemporary iconic figures. Because of his interest in Jazz, musicians are regular subjects of his paintings and drawings. Through complex imagery and use of color, Stevens’ portraits of Jazz musicians vibrate similarly to the way Jazz musicians energize a performance space.
Accessibility and acceptability of his artworks to the black community are important to Stevens. Consequently, his work is available to the public through note cards, posters, and prints which he sells. Additionally, Stevens creates murals to inspire the black community. Notably, in 1980, he created Ascensions at Tuskegee University to commemorate its hundredth anniversary. The mural’s images of historical and famous people, such as Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, linked to the university’s history.
Stevens taught art for Cleveland Public Schools from 1962-66, at Cleveland Museum of Art from 1966-68, and at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb from 1969-72. Beginning in 1972, he taught for over thirty years in the Art Department and Department of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. While at UMass Amherst, he produced Drum magazine, which was devoted to black culture. He also published Art in the Service of the Lord calendar, which contained images of Christian art created by black artists from a black perspective, for four years. When Stevens retired from teaching, he settled in Baltimore, Maryland.
Steven’s work can be found in collections at the Smithsonian Institution, Schomberg’s Library and Research Center in New York City, and the Chicago Institute of Art.
Sharon Reinckens, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum, donated the portrait painting of George Washington Carver by Nelson Stevens to Anacostia Community Museum.
Cederholm, Theresa Dickason. 1973. Afro-American artists; a bio-bibliographical directory. [Boston]: Trustees of the Boston Public Library.
Douglas, Robert L. 2008. Resistance, insurgence and identity: the art of Mari Evans, Nelson Stevens and the Black arts movement. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
Estell, Kenneth. 1994. African America: portrait of a people. Detroit: Visible Ink Press.
Hogu, Barbara Jones. 2012. "Inaugurating AfriCobra: history, philosophy, and aesthetics". Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. (30): 90-97.
Lewis, Samella S., and Ruth G. Waddy. 1969. Black artists on art. Los Angeles: Contemporary Crafts Publishers.
Riggs, Thomas. 1997. St. James guide to Black artists. Detroit: St. James Press.
Thomison, Dennis. 1991. The Black artist in America: an index to reproductions. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.
African American artists
Black Arts movement
Civil rights movements
Color in art
Human beings in art
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum