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Portrait of James Lesesne Wells

James L. Allen

Not on view

James Allen served as staff photographer for the Harmon Foundation. A portrait photographer with a successful establishment on Harlem’s West 121st Street, he was well known for his many portraits of the community’s leading writers and artists. In this portrait of the master printmaker and art educator James Lesesne Wells (1902–1993), a work acquired by Locke himself from the Blondiau Collection once again served as inspiration. Wells holds the ceremonial Kuba drinking vessel included in the exhibition, the anthropomorphic nature of which, together with Wells’s attentive gaze, convey the sense of a tête-à-tête or intimate conversation. Allen’s photograph thus renders in powerful visual terms Locke’s promotion of African art as an ideological tool, empowering African Americans to reclaim their cultural heritage. That Wells was himself among the Harlem Renaissance artists who most fervently embraced African art as—in his own words—a "source of inspiration and pride" only adds relevance to the photograph.

Portrait of James Lesesne Wells, James L. Allen, Gelatin silver print, septia toned

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