Romare Bearden Exhibit Opens at Atkins

J. Murrey Atkins Library presents "Li’l Dan the Drummer Boy," an exhibition of original watercolor and marker drawings from the only children’s book ever written and illustrated by legendary American artist and Charlotte native, Romare Bearden (1911–1988).


Bearden's book, Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy: a Civil War Story, is the story of Dan, a slave on a Southern plantation who loves to play his drum. When a company of Union soldiers announces that the slaves have been set free, Dan has no place to go, so he follows the soldiers, who make him their mascot. When Confederate soldiers attack, Dan discovers that he is the only one who can save his friends.

Completed in 1983 and published posthumously, the book contains a personal introduction by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., describing his own memories of the artist while Bearden created this memorable tale. The “Li’l Dan the Drummer Boy” exhibit consists of 23 framed illustrations with accompanying text panels, and will be on display on Atkins Library’s first-floor exhibit space until May 5. The exhibit is made possible by Jerald Melberg Gallery.


Romare Bearden's Li'l Dan the Drummer Boy: Literary Perspectives

with Professor Mark West and Associate Professor Janaka Lewis
Department of English

Monday, April 16, 5-7 pm
Halton Room - Atkins Library

Janaka Lewis: "Children's Narratives of Freedom: Romare Bearden's Li'l Dan the Drummer Boy."
Mark West: "Romare Bearden's Artistic Influences as Reflected in Li'l Dan the Drummer Boy."

Light refreshments will be served.



Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1911. Although he spent the majority of his young adult life in Pittsburgh, PA and later moved to New York City, he made frequent visual reference to his North Carolina roots when his artistic career blossomed during New York City's Harlem Renaissance in the mid-20th century. During this period, he developed his famed collage methodology, which remains his strongest legacy today. The richness of his work can be attributed to his acknowledgement of a diverse array of influences that include old master religious works, modernist paintings, African ritual objects, Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints, Chinese paintings, and the harmonies and rhythms of jazz and the blues.

Throughout his life, Bearden depicted many rituals and social customs of twentieth century rural Black America. The images of spiritual ceremonies, baptisms and burials, industrial factory life, musical arrangements and daily life recalled from his childhood in North Carolina, have become the themes that critics and collectors most frequently associate with his work. Romare Bearden's collages and prints are beautiful to behold and fantastic to contemplate.

Though Bearden is best known for his collages, he is also acknowledged for his works in watercolor. These watercolors were largely created during the winters Bearden spent with his wife Nanette in her native St. Maarten and they reflect the tropical vegetation and vistas of the region. Additionally, he produced editions of prints based on many of his collages.

Bearden received numerous awards and honors during his lifetime, including the National Medal of Arts in 1987, the State Medal of North Carolina for Art in 1976, and the Frederick Douglas Medal of the New York Urban League in 1978.  

Romare Bearden's most comprehensive retrospective to date premiered in 2003 at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  Past traveling retrospectives have been organized by the Museum of Modern Art (1970), the Mint Museum of Art (1980), the Detroit Institute (1986), the Studio Museum in Harlem (1991), and the Council for Creative Projects (1992).

Bearden’s works are now housed in the permanent collections of major American museums, including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Brooklyn Museum, The High Museum of Art, The Hirshhorn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Mint Museum, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Studio Museum of Harlem, and The Whitney Museum of American Art.