A History of Excellence in Art
Dr. John Biggers, world-renowned artist, established the Art Department at Texas Southern University in 1949 along with Carroll Harris Simms and other key supporters. One of his goals for the University was to develop a collection of traditional African & African American Art. Such collections enable students to develop a "perceptional growth" and cultural sensitivity. Through Dr. Biggers's initiative, the University has developed several collections with over 4,000 works that spark educational curiosity and artistic inspiration.
JOHN T. BIGGERS COLLECTION
Features 20 historic works from John Thomas Biggers (1924–2001) founder of the art department at Houston's Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University) in 1949.
John Thomas Biggers was an African American muralist born in Gastonia, North Carolina. He attended the Lincoln Academy, the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), and then Pennsylvania State University from which he earned a doctorate in 1954. His works can be found at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, primarily in the campus library.
CAROL HARRIS SIMMS SCUPLTURE GARDEN
At Texas Southern University, Simms made four sculptures for the campus and completed commissions from California to Nigeria.
An accomplished scholar, Simms co-wrote Black Art in Houston: The Texas Southern University Experience with Biggers and was awarded two consecutive Fulbright fellowships to study abroad.
His exposure to the British Museum’s collection of Benin and Yoruba art influenced his sculpture and teaching methodology, and he continued his studies of West African art and culture while traveling to Nigeria on a Southern Fellowship grant in 1968.
He returned to West Africa in 1973, lecturing at universities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria; and in 1977, when he participated in Festac ’77, a historic assembly of Pan-African artists.
HANNAH HALL MURALS
The murals of Hannah Hall was an idea conceived and developed by Dr. John Biggers, founder of the Art Department at TSU. The murals were created by senior art majors. Dr. Biggers felt that it was an expression of tremendous artistic growth for each senior art major to complete a mural as part of their graduation requirement.
Students were never censored as to the content of the mural whether it was personal or political; Dr. Biggers gave the students freedom to express whatever was on their minds. However, he was extremely strict in the execution of the murals, and if they were not completed within a timely fashion, or the technique was determined to be weak, the wall was then given over to another student. This happened rarely because all students were inspired by the prospect of creating public art to be seen by hundreds and hundreds of visitors to the campus. As a result of this ambitious program, Texas Southern is the only university in the United States to have over 128 student murals on the campus, dating from 1949 to 2013. Dr. John Biggers has three murals on campus: Web of Life in the University Museum; Family Unity in the Sterling Student Life Center; and NUBIA in the Jesse Jones Business Building.
AFRICAN ART COLLECTION
This collection features works from many tribal groups in the western region of Africa, each with its own culture, language, religion, social order and distinct form of art. From the royal artistry of Benin Iron workmanship to the distinct features of Cameroon "grassland style". Our catalogue includes works from Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Burkina-Faso, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Mali, Zaire, Congo Angola, Kenya and Sierra Leone.
In the early 1970s, S.W. Mothershed, director of the University Library, allocated funds from the library's annual budget to buy a few pieces of African Art. Mr. Mothershed also spearheaded the building of the Central Library African Art Gallery that presently houses the Collection. When the collection was established during the 1970s fewer than one dozen collections of traditional African art were located at historically Black colleges and universities. The Collection contains 247 pieces of art from West, Central, and East Africa.