Walter’s World: Romare Bearden: Idea to Realization

March 5, 2011

By Walter Rutledge

Recently the exhibition Romare Bearden: Idea to Realization was on display at the DC Moore Gallery. The exhibition consisted of a series Maquettes by the artist. Maquettes are small-scale models or sketches for larger works; Bearden created these for murals, mosaics, and book projects. On March 4th the Romare Bearden Foundation co- director Diedra Harris Kelly discussed the show at the DC Moore Gallery over coffee and croissants.

These were works that were not intended for public display. Ms. Kelly explains that Bearden treated his art with a sense of improvisation, and would sometimes begin a work at the ends and work towards the center. It was the interplay that Bearden enjoyed and this accounts for the fact that there are not extensive sketches of the projects.


Bearden’s mastering of mixed media in these collage works, and his attention to detail was immediately apparent. What was also clear was the strong story telling and narrative power of the works. We credit this to his understanding of compositional structural, and use of classical design to create a visual perspective. In many of the works the action is not frozen in time but extends beyond the canvas.

One of the most impressive Maquette was Pittsburgh Recollections (1984). The Maquette measures just over ten and a half inches high and fifty inches long; but the final mosaic measures thirteen feet high and sixty feet in length and consist of 780 ceramic tiles. Pittsburgh that played an important part in Romare’s art and life, the mosaic as a bold narrative; which chronicles the history of city.


Pittsburgh Recollections became a major subway mosaic. It was installed in the downtown Gateway Center Station in 1984. Over the years the mural suffered damage.

It was removed from the station and is currently being restored and eventually moved to a new location. The mosaic was recently appraised at fifteen million dollars, which sparked a debate over municipal funding of the insurance and restoration. Private donors stepped in to defray the cost and soon the mural will return to a public space.

About ten years ago I had the good future to find a copy of the 16th century artist turn arts critic GiorgioVasari’s books Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects (Volume l and ll). What was so enlightening was the way Vasari shared personal details of the lives of these most renowned renaissance masters. This turned them into people, who lived, loved and created in their world.

His approach was honest, and some times salacious. Vassar was an artist and architect who surrounded himself with greatest. His accounts shed light on the artists and the men who courted favor with Borgias, DeMedicis, Popes and Kings.

Romare Bearden has been referred to as “the Ellington of twentieth century painters”. His genius extends far beyond the black and white collages we all revere and associated with this dynamic artist. He was a water colorist, a painter, and worked in many media. His show gave us a glimpse into another aspect of his creativity.


The Romare Bearden Foundation is planning a spring funding raising event in preparation for the celebration of Bearden’s 100th birthday. The event will take place on Monday April 11, 2011. For more information about this and other events planned for the celebration contact Centennial Headquarters at 212-665-9550 or on line at

Artwork in Photographers: 1) Bearden Profile 2) Pittsburgh Recollections 3) Hartford Mural

Videographer: Deandre Deas

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