As seen in the Daily Southtown:
Residents open their homes to show prized art collections
Joan Dameron Crisler of Olympia Fields, has a collection of about 800 artworks. She is a co-founder of
Diasporal Rhythms, which is promoting tours of art collectors homes, including her residence.
Joan Dameron Crisler has a deep passion for art created by people of African descent. That is why she has a collection of about 800 artworks displayed in her Olympia Fields home.
In Flossmoor, Leona Calvin shares Crisler’s love of such artistic creations. She has more than 100 pieces spread throughout her residence.
The two will open their homes Saturday for others to view their prized collections. The tour is part of the 15th anniversary celebration of Diasporal Rhythms, an organization of African-American art collectors in the Chicago metropolitan area that Crisler co-founded. The Bronzeville-based nonprofit works to encourage the collection of visual art created by contemporary artists of African descent in North and South America, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. It also works to expand appreciation of the work of such artists.
The home tour is a part of a weekend celebration that includes an art exhibit and reception Friday at the DuSable Museum of African American History and an auction Sunday, said D.E. Simmons, the group’s executive director. The south suburban art tour, which will depart from the DuSable Museum at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., also will include stops at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and Arthur Dixon Elementary School in Chicago. There also is a choice of South Shore and Bronzeville tours. The weekend activities cost $75 per person or $50 for just the tours. Proceeds support the organization’s events.
Diasporal Rhythms was launched by Crisler and Chicago collectors Patric McCoy, Carol J. Briggs and Daniel T. Parker after they met as panelists at a forum on art collecting held years ago at the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago, Crisler said.
“We realized we had much in common in terms of our passion for the arts and our passion for educating the community and the public about African- and African-American artists and the importance of collecting their work,” she said. “The arts are a very important part of our culture and history.”
The group has grown to roughly 70 members, said McCoy, its president.
Breaking down barriers that keep people from acquiring art is a focus of the group, said McCoy, a Chicago resident and retired scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Among those barriers are assumptions by people that they can’t afford to acquire art, he said.
He added he has paid as little as $20 and much as $5,000 for a work of art. His collection includes a work by Theaster Gates.
“I tell people I'm not rich. I punched a clock all of my life, and nobody died and left me any money,” he said. “But I have over 1,300 pieces of art and most were not expensive. Artists are willing to work with you. But we have these prejudices that keep us from being engaged.”
Other barriers are assumptions “that you have to know something about art and that there are certain things you’re supposed to get and seek out,” he added. “That is so wrong. You wouldn't approach music that way. You hear something and say, ‘Oh, I like that.’ That's all you have to do with visual art. You see something. You like it. We make this so complex.”
Diasporal Rhythms works to break down barriers by hosting exhibitions of artists, workshops, seminars, tours and special events, he said.
Crisler’s love of art started about 23 years ago at Arthur Dixon Elementary School in Chicago’s South Side Chatham neighborhood. She was principal there for 20 years before retiring 11 years go. She admired the talent of the school’s then art instructor and artist Malika Jackson.
“It began through an appreciation of not only her art but also several artists who I developed collegial relationships with,” she said. “Getting to know them, their artwork and the children creating art which we displayed in the school” helped spark her passion, she said. “I began to collect art for the school before I began to collect for myself personally.”
That extensive Dixon school collection, which includes the work of students and outside artists, was the subject of a 2012 documentary entitled, “The Curators of Dixon School.”
“We had such a wonderful visual arts program,” Crisler said. “I wanted our students to be inspired by art and their environment, so they could feel they could also create pieces that would be relevant and appreciated by others.”
Today, Crisler says she has more than 100 different artists in her collection of paintings, sculptors and mosaics. Most are contemporary artists who are still living. Among her favorites is a mosaic done by Chicago artist Carolyn Elaine. The piece depicts a mother, father and infant child.
“I think it represents myself, my late husband and my late son," she said. "It’s a piece that tells the story of an important aspect of my life, and it’s a visual representation of the love that mothers and fathers have for their children and how having that child completes that circle.”
Calvin’s face lit up as she took me on a tour of her home and talked about her collection. As she gazed at a painting done by Chicago sculptor and painter Dalton Brown, she said, “I brought that piece many years ago, and every morning I get up and I sit at the table with a cup of coffee and look at this piece. Each day I see something different.”
Her art brings her serenity, said Calvin, who retired as a pre-school teacher at Dixon. She has long been a lover of art and noted her mother helped instill in her an appreciation for African-American art.
She and Crisler are participating in the home tour to share their love of art with others, they said.
“I hope people will be able to see that art is beautiful and that we all do not see art the same way,” Calvin said.
She also hopes they will take away the message, “If you are African American, you should have some black art in your home because it’s part of you. It’s part of where you come from.”
For those inspired to start their own collection, Crisler offers this advice:
“Start from a place where you are most comfortable. You can find beautiful, unique and impactful artwork in many price ranges. Buy what you like, what moves you, what speaks to you. Commit to frequenting community art fairs and open studio events where you can interface with the artists on a personal level.”
Some people start collecting as an investment. “But other people collect like me,” she said. “I love beautiful art, how it affects me emotionally and spiritually. It’s very personal.”
For more information about the group, visit www.diasporalrhythms.org.