When one of my more astute comrades alerted me that Valerie Maynard had joined the ancestors on Sept. 19, I wasn’t exactly sure who she was, though the name rang a long time ago. Then she became clearer in memory from her days at the Studio Museum where I was a spectator at many of the exhibits and that’s where I remembered the name. Then there was memory of her work “Send the Message Clearly,” in the catalogue “Black New York Artists of the 20th Century” from the Schomburg Collection.
Still I was not absolutely sure who she was and what her claim to mention in many volumes was attributed to. Researching her life led me to a resourceful essay by Karen Berisford Getty that was published in scholarscompas.vcu.edu at Virginia Commonwealth University in December 2017. Getty’s article was titled “Searching for the Transatlantic Freedom: The Art of Valerie Maynard: Black Artists of the New Generation.”
Like me, Getty was searching and she disclosed biographical information that was not available about Ms. Maynard in other places, other than the fact she was born in Harlem in 1937. Getty adds, almost definitively, Maynard’s early years after graduating from high school and taking classes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a year beginning in 1954. “She then went on to study at the Elaine Journey Art School, New York (1955-1960), and the New School, New York (1968-1969). She received her Masters of Fine Arts from Goddard College, Vermont (1977). She was an instructor at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1969-1974),” Getty cites meticulously.
There follows a long list of academic stints from Howard University in 1974 to the University of Rochester in 1994, where she either lectured, exhibited or was the recipient of an award. “She has been a visiting professor, artist-in-residence, and Rockefeller Humanities fellow at the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Studies, University of Rochester, New York (1992-1994). She has been the recipient of the Riksututallningar National Museum purchase/travel/lecture grant, Stockholm, Sweden (1975); Virgin Islands Humanities Council research grant (1986- 1987); Atlanta Life Insurance Sculpture Award (1990); New York Foundation for the Arts grant for printmaking (1990); New Forms Regional Initiative grant, New England Foundation for the Visual Arts grant (1992); Artist of the Year, MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire grant (1992); MacDowell Colony Fellowship (1992-1993); Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship (1992-1994). Maynard has had individual exhibitions at the American International College, Springfield, Massachusetts (1971); Howard University, Washington, D.C. (1973); University of Massachusetts Amherst (1974); Riksutställningar National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden (traveling) (1975); Reichhold Center for the Arts, University of the Virgin Islands, Saint Thomas (1983); New Visions Gallery, Millersville University, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (1988); Caribbean Cultural Center, New York (1988); Hammonds House Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia (1989); Roadworks, Dorsey Gallery, Brooklyn, New York (1990); Towne Art Gallery, Wheelock College, Boston (1991); Compton Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (1992); Roots Through the Heart, Hartnett Gallery, University of Rochester, New York (1994),” is a slice of these endeavors Getty presents.
“When I was director of education at the Studio Museum in Harlem,” said Bill Burger III in an email, “Valerie was one of our pioneering artists in our Artists in Residence Program with Carole Byard, Leroi Clarke, and James Phillips. She was a major sculptor and printmaker artist and forceful advocate in the Black Arts Movement of the 1970’s. She will be missed. All praises due!”
While most of her creations focused on social and political equality, none resonated more personally than her sculpture “We are Tied to the Very Beginning,” dedicated to her brother who was wrongfully convicted and served six years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He was eventually vindicated. More recently, she was part of a group exhibition “Labor, Love, Live Collection in Context,” held between 2007 and 2008 at the Studio Museum.
Travelers not caught in the rush at the 125th Street subway station should take a moment and see her work “Polyrhythmics of Consciousness and Light.” This is a forever landmark of Maynard’s connection to Harlem and global Harlem, past, present, and future.