The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection

Portraits of the Kinsey Family

Portraits of the Kinsey Family

Art collectors discover and preserve cultural treasures not just for their own enjoyment, but also for the opportunity to share them with others and foster knowledge and understanding of the world. Collectors Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have a passion for art and history and how the two intersect. In particular, they protect and honor valuable objects and records defining the rich cultural heritage and complex social evolution of African Americans throughout time.

Slave Document, 1832

This handwritten document was one of the first to be collected by the Kinseys. It inspired both Bernard’s intensive discovery of both his personal history and the African American historical documentation of perseverance and prosperity.

Bernard and Shirley have created the Kinsey Collection – one of the largest private collections of African American artwork, documents, and artifacts that spans 400 years of history. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History currently hosts a diverse assortment of rare and authentic paintings, sculptures, objects, books, and manuscripts once scattered and now gathered by the Kinseys. Though only a portion of their entire collection is on display in the museum’s Solari Gallery, each piece tells a powerful story of the challenges, perseverance, transformations, and spirit of the African American community at large.

Large portraits of the Kinsey family greet visitors at the gallery entrance. This sets the tone for a public exhibit that has been fueled by one family’s personal journey. Bernard and Shirley became a couple in 1963, when they were actively involved in the fight for civil rights (Bernard first met Shirley after she was released from jail for demonstrating.) Throughout their lives, and along with their son Khalil, they have combined their passions for African American art and history together. Not only through cultural investment, but also through philanthropy – they have raised millions of dollars for scholarships at historically black colleges.

This belief in altruism is likewise reflected in their collected items. The Kinseys are particularly inspired by the work and records of artists, writers, leaders, fighters, businessmen, and statesmen who forged a path for African Americans during times of the greatest adversity. Through the artistic expressions and archival material featured in this exhibit, we see evidence of humanity’s painful brutality through historical events, as well as its profound beauty through creative works of genius.

The Song of Freedom Poster

The Song of Freedom Poster

As residents of California, the Kinseys have gathered many pieces from the West as well as across the nation, and from the distant and not-so-distant past. The exhibit pays tribute to the praised as well as unsung heroes who endured, thrived, and are celebrated for paving the way for future black communities through their contributions of cultural legacy. It includes a blend of pieces from the slave trade, Civil War, post-Reconstruction period, Harlem Renaissance, Richard Mayhew, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Malcom X, Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass and more.

The Kinsey Collection first opened at the esteemed Smithsonian Museum, and since then has been visited by millions in numerous other institutions. The Santa Cruz exhibit will be running until May 22nd, 2016. In true MAH fashion, there is opportunity for visitors to engage with and process the exhibit, by writing and hanging personal notes that express the meaning of freedom, resilience, and identity.

African American Art

African American Art

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