not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today

Edmund Minor Archer (1904-1986)
Susan, circa 1930

Edmund Minor Archer came from a Richmond, Virginia family prominent in the city’s cultural life and showed an interest in art from a young age. After training at the Art Students League in New York and traveling in Europe, he returned to Richmond in 1926 and devoted himself to painting, where he gained a reputation for his sympathetic portrayals and depictions of African Americans.

Susan is one such work, a portrait of a Black woman who sits, hands folded in her lap, her body turned slightly away from the artist. To her left, a vase holds a bouquet of black-eyed Susans that allude playfully to the sitter’s name. While sensitively rendered and free of caricature, the painting nevertheless reveals a curious ambiguity—noticeable, for example, in her expression, which may be read as either pensive or put-upon. We might ascribe this to the unequal power dynamic between this upper-class White artist and his working-class Black subject.

Click here to hear Marsha Coulton speak about this work.

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