Stepping Up

Leslie King-Hammond eager to put together collection, programs that will draw patrons


Leslie King-Hammond is excited, as usual. The ebullient dean of the Maryland Institute College of Art was named chair last week of the exhibits and collections committee of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and she's already brimming with ideas.

"I'll be working with exhibits and programming, docent training, and be a member of the board," King-Hammond says. "We'll be looking at ways to strengthen the programming and increase our partnerships with other institutions to create an inspired museum experience."

Inspiration seems to come naturally to King-Hammond, whatever hat she happens to be wearing at the moment. In addition to being the Lewis Museum's newest board member, she's a nationally respected scholar, educator, author, curator and visual artist in her own right who has organized countless exhibitions and guided two generations of MICA students toward careers in the arts.

"One of the things that always surprises me is how many things Leslie is involved with," says MICA President Fred Lazarus. "Beyond her teaching and mentoring, she certainly knows Maryland and the Maryland community, and she brings to bear a tremendous understanding of African-American artists in this country. Plus she has real understanding of the way exhibitions need to relate to a public that includes everyone from young people to adults. I think she'll be a great resource for the museum and its curatorial staff."

The Lewis Museum will truly fulfill its mission only if it inspires visitors to find out more about and honor the role African-Americans have played in the development of this country. So, planning exhibitions that are imaginative and emotionally compelling - and thus draw crowds - will be an important factor in that success. That's where King-Hammond's critical eye and long experience as a curator come in.

King-Hammond, as usual, sounds like she can't wait to get started. She's already looking toward a major exhibition on slavery that will open in February at the Lewis Museum and the Maryland Historical Society. After that, she's helping plan a re-creation of a historic 1939 exhibition, Contemporary Negro Art, that will be presented jointly by the Lewis Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art. As if that weren't enough, she'll also be combing the state for objects to enhance the museum's collections, working on temporary exhibitions and helping the board advance the museum's educational mission.

"The museum is really about the American experience," says King-Hammond, 61. "We tell that story with specific reference to the African-American heritage, but it touches on everything that has happened in America and the state of Maryland especially. We hold the legacy of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and the Underground Railroad, as well as Joshua Johnson, the first African-American portrait painter in the country. There's a huge legacy to be dealt with here and we have an opportunity to exploit it."

Over the long term, King-Hammond says she hopes to encourage people to donate private collections of documents and artifacts to the museum for preservation. One of her jobs will be figuring out exactly which objects the museum should have and how to coax their owners into giving them up.

"You need somebody to know how and what's to be collected, and that's where Leslie comes in," says Gabriel Tenabe, director of the James E. Lewis Museum at Morgan State University. "There are many things people may want to thrust on them that may not be relevant to the collection," Tenabe notes. "Her committee will assist the staff in deciding what to collect, whether there are the funds to do it and whether it fits into what the mission of the museum is."

King-Hammond has been dean of graduate studies at MICA and on the art history faculty since 1976, and will continue in that role. She was a major scholarly contributor to the catalog of the complete works of Jacob Lawrence and she has mounted many exhibitions promoting young African-American artists that became turning points in their professional careers.

She's also a widely exhibited artist in her own right whose work will be featured this fall in The Art of 9/11, curated by critic Arthur Danto at apexart in New York City, and in the traveling exhibitions Collaboration as a Medium: 25 Years of Pyramid Atlantic and It's for the Birds, organized by the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami.

Leslie King-Hammond



Day Job:

Dean of graduate studies, Maryland Institute College of Art


Born in Bronx, N.Y., raised in South Jamaica Queens, N.Y.


Queens College of the City University of New York; the Johns Hopkins University


Divorced; two sons

Philosophy of life:

"Live life as artfully as possible to the fullest of your potential."


Catalog essays for the exhibits The Many Faces of Beverly McIver, at 40 Acres Gallery in Sacramento, Calif.; Amalia Amaki: Boxes, Buttons, and the Blues at Spelman College and the National Museum for Women in the Arts; Willie Birch: Retrospective at the New Orleans Center for Contemporary Art; and The Plantation in American Art at Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C.

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