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Image credit: Gus Butera
The John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art
The Hewitt Collection of African American Art is an assemblage of fifty-eight works celebrating the expression and passion of twenty master artists, including Charlotte native Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Jonathan Green, Ann Tanksley, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and Henry Ossawa Tanner. Bank of America acquired the collection in 1998 from John and Vivian Hewitt, and pledged it to the then-named Afro-American Cultural Center.
The Hewitts were newlyweds when they bought their first piece of art, a Picasso reproduction. In 1960, they acquired their first original painting while on vacation in Haiti, and added to it one painting at a time, commemorating special occasions in their lives with art. "Our collection…until 1960, it would be called eclectic," Vivian stated. "John decided we should be more focused. For 15 years, we focused on Haitian art. [Later] my husband said, 'We know most of these African-American artists. We had better back up and collect some from our own culture, while we can afford them."
Dedicated collectors despite their financial limitations – John was a freelance writer and Vivian a librarian – through their 50 years of collecting, the Hewitts became close friends with many of the artists. By the 1970s they were opening their home to showcase the work of Hale Woodruff, Ernest Crichlow, Alvin Hollingsworth, and J. Eugene Grigsby, a cousin of Mrs. Hewitt's.
Grigsby, an artist and internationally acclaimed art educator, also introduced the couple to artists, many of whom wrote personal inscriptions or notes on the pieces the couple purchased, increasing the works’ value both monetarily and sentimentally. For 10 years, the Hewitt collection toured the United States before showing at the newly opened Harvey B. Gantt Center.