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Constance Clayton gives PAFA nearly 80 works by African American artists

Clayton's "arc of art history from an African American perspective" will form a 2020 exhibition at the museum.

Detail from Laura Wheeler Waring's "The Study of a Student" (circa 1940s), from the Constance E. Clayton Collection.
Detail from Laura Wheeler Waring's "The Study of a Student" (circa 1940s), from the Constance E. Clayton Collection.Read morePAFA

Former Philadelphia School Superintendent Constance E. Clayton has given 78 works, almost all by African American artists, to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PAFA announced Thursday.

In January 2020, PAFA will mount an exhibition from the collection of paintings, prints, and sculptures, which date from the latter part of the 19th century to almost the present day. Artists such as Henry O. Tanner, Romare Bearden, Barkley L. Hendricks, Dox Thrash, John Dowell, Richard Watson, Charles White, Barbara Chase-Riboud, and many others are represented in the Clayton gift.

“For me, what’s so exciting is that these works form an arc of art history from the African American experience,” said Brooke Davis Anderson, director of the PAFA museum. “The work is on a domestic scale. It feels personal and intimate. This looks like Dr. Clayton’s collection.”

Anderson and PAFA president and chief executive David R. Brigham will co-curate the 2020 exhibition.

In a statement, Clayton said she was delighted that her collection will find “a welcome home at PAFA” and be made available to the public, especially Philadelphia schoolchildren.

“I hope visitors to our city will enjoy it,” she said. “Being at PAFA, it will certainly inspire budding artists to continue making their work and that is important to me.”

Brigham said that Clayton’s gift builds on PAFA’s “ongoing commitment to collecting and exhibiting African American art and artists.”

Several of the artists in the gift attended PAFA or taught there, including Tanner, Hendricks, Watson, Louis B. Sloan, Laura Wheeler Waring, and others.

Clayton, a graduate of Girls High, became the first woman and first African American to serve as Philadelphia school superintendent (1982-93). For many years she chaired the Philadelphia Museum of Art African American Collections Committee, and in 2015, the Art Museum established the Constance E. Clayton Fellowship, given to help provide professional museum experience for graduate students from historically black colleges or other institutions.

Of her long tenure as the city’s superintendent, Clayton told the Inquirer in 2017: "I made every decision based on ‘Was it good for our kids?’ We had no strikes and we did not have a single deficit. We did not delete music or art.”