The Kinsey Collection: Where Art and History Intersect

Bernard Kinsey discusses the meaning of Samuel L. Dunson’s artwork, The Cultivators (2000), which is presented in The Kinsey Collection exhibit at MOAD. Photo by Adam Turner.

By Ashley Chambers A few hours or more spent viewing the Kinsey Collection will put you in touch with the legacy of Black history in its original powerful form. Examine the iron shackles used for female slaves, the bill of sale of William Johnson sold for $550 in 1832, or look at the insightful drawings and paintings by Black artists from then to now to gain a deeper appreciation of the emotional journey that African Americans endured during and after slavery. Presented by Wells Fargo, The Kinsey Collection offers an exhibit of American history through African American art and culture. The exhibition is open at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) until May 19, Husband and wife Bernard and Shirley Kinsey began collecting artifacts of African American history to dig deeper into the lives of their ancestors. “About 30 years ago, we got our first piece of African American art, because everything else had been photography,” Bernard Kinsey said at a press event for the collection. “I got an 1832 document of William Johnson sold for $550 dollars in Alabama, and when I held this paper in my hand, I felt like I was holding this brother in my hand,” he said. “I wanted to know how did he get into this predicament, and that started this intensive reading about African American life.” From there, the Kinseys travelled and studied every fragment of history they could discover. Their collection grew into a cultural experience, intersecting art and history with photographs, paintings, sculptures, and historical documents such as the original order of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862. “This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to honor the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation as well as to celebrate impassioned collectors Bernard and Shirley Kinsey,” said Grace Stanislaus, executive director of MOAD. Among the exhibits are a 1773 book of poems by Phyllis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker’s Almanack of 1796, a bronze sculpture of Frederick Douglass, letters of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the works of artists Gordon Parks, Romare Bearden, Richard Mayhew and Artis Lane. The collection also features Artis Lane paintings of the Kinsey family. “Let me tell you what we’ve done. When we tell you we know a story, we know everything about the story,” said Bernard Kinsey. “We’ve read three or four books just on picking cotton, or tobacco, or sugar cane, because only when you read this do you nuance how our people had to deal with it.” The Museum of the African Diaspora is located at 685 Mission St. in San Francisco. For more information, visit www.moadsf.org or call (415) 358-7200.

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