(Augusta, Ga)—A recent find by Paine College's Assistant Professor of English, Belinda Wheeler, has many in the literary and arts community talking. Over the summer Dr. Wheeler located the only known painting by African American artist, poet, educator, columnist, and editor Gwendolyn Bennett (1902-1981).
Bennett was a significant figure in Harlem during the Renaissance, publishing over twenty two poems, four pieces of cover art, and several short stories in prominent African American journals including Crisis and Opportunity. Bennett also co-edited the literary journal Fire!!, with prominent figures including her good friends Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and she also wrote an arts column, "The Ebony Flute," in Opportunity.
Dr. Wheeler is currently completing a book on Bennett (under contract with UP of Mississippi) which will be the first full-length treatment of this significant, yet frequently overlooked, figure from the Harlem Renaissance.
Earlier in her career Bennett had won several artistic prizes and scholarships that allowed her to study at the Sorbonne, Academic Julian, and Ecole du Pantheon in Paris between 1924 and 1925. Up until Dr. Wheeler's discovery, however, most scholars had believed that Bennett had concluded her painting career after she moved to Florida in 1927 to be with her new husband. Dr. Wheeler's discovery of Bennett's 1931 oil painting shows that she was still pursuing this creative outlet.
"I thought about keeping the painting," stated Dr. Wheeler, "but it needs to be seen and enjoyed by more than me.” Bennett was passionate about sharing her work and the work of others with a wide audience. To keep it in my office would not do her work justice."
About Dr. Wheeler:
Dr. Wheeler's work is changing how scholars view Bennett and her role in the Renaissance. In addition to her book on Bennett she has a forthcoming publication in the Modern Language Association's journal PMLA and she is also contributing several previously unpublished Bennett poems to the Anthology of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry and its accompanying website (edited by Cary Nelson from the University of Illinois).
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Photo caption: GWENDOLYN BENNETT (1902 - 1981), Untitled (River Landscape). Oil on canvas, 1931. 203x305 mm; 8x12 inches. Initailed "G.B.J." and dated in oil, lower right.