Something All Our Own
The Grant Hill Collection of African American Art
By Grant Hill, Alvia J. Wardlaw
Duke University Press Copyright © 2004 Grant Hill
All rights reserved.
An Artistic Odyssey
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN
Perhaps the best way for me to express my appreciation for Grant Hill's quest for the beautiful and the meaningful in African American art is to recall my own experience in a similar, though modest, quest. I was in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1960 on a visit that coincided with ceremonies marking the independence of that country. Although I was there to observe some trends in higher education, I had time to take in some of the sights of the new nation's capital. I would stroll about the city in the early morning enjoying the sights and sounds of this, my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa.
On one of those mornings, I passed the studio of a sculptor who had several pieces on display in his window. One immediately arrested my attention. It was a simple, but beautifully carved, mahogany figure of a woman, whose motionless expression conveyed dignity and independence. Her hands were down at her sides, as if she were not about to speak, but neither was the viewer, for I was completely taken by her power and charm. Happily for me, the studio was not open, for I was attempting to persuade myself that I should not purchase the piece.
Each morning thereafter I would go by the studio to have another look at the sculpture. One morning, the studio door was open, and I went inside, ostensibly to see other pieces by the sculptor but actually to inquire if the woman in the window was for sale. The artist, Felix Idabour, greeted me, and when I inquired of the piece of sculpture that I had admired for days, he said that the title of the piece was "Benin Woman." He offered it for sale with one stipulation: that if he held a show in the United States he would wish to borrow it, a favorite of his, for the show. With that understanding, I paid him and took my first art acquisition back to New York, where we were living.
That was the beginning of my quest. It has not yet ended, and if Grant Hill's appetite and tastes are what I think they are, he will be collecting for forty more years. I wish him well.
COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI
I love Grant Hill.
Grant is the epitome of the person and the player that I love to coach and to have play in my basketball program at Duke University. I can still remember the first day I saw Grant on the basketball court and the first time I met Grant and his family. There was something unique and special about him and about his mother and father, Janet and Calvin.
As a recruiter of basketball talent, I certainly wanted Grant to be a part of our basketball program at Duke. And as a person, a coach, and a leader I wanted the Hill family to be a part of my life, for the rest of my life. My instincts were right on, and I can't tell you how glad I have been for the last fifteen or so years I have known Grant and his family.
I remember our first meeting. I told him what I tell all of our recruits at Duke: "I'm not going to promise you anything. If you choose Duke, you have to come in, work hard, and earn everything you receive." Grant took that to heart each and every day while he was at Duke and I believe he still believes that in everything he does.
It is that honest approach in which we began, and which has made an unbreakable bond between the two of us. We have a trusting relationship and one based on telling the truth.
His accomplishments on the court made him one of the all-time greats in not only Duke basketball history but Atlantic Coast Conference history, as he was recently named one of the fifty all-time greatest players in the league. At Duke he is one of just eleven players to have their jersey retired by the school—the highest honor in basketball. He was a starter on two national championship teams.
One memorable story about Grant's playing career shows to me how he really believed in what we are trying to do here at Duke. He has an unconditional belief in me, and I believe in him in the same manner as well.
I speak about the Duke basketball train at practices and at games. The train stops at all games. As a matter of fact, each game is an intermediate stop on our journey. Some nights one of our kids becomes a man. For Grant I remember one of those nights.
It was the 1994 South Regional championship game against top-seeded Purdue in Knoxville, Tennessee. Grant was a senior, a consensus All-American, and a top candidate for National Player of the Year. He was the unquestionable leader of our team.
On the other side, for the Boilermakers, was the player most people considered the other Player of the Year candidate: Glenn Robinson. It was a big game; not only would the winner go on to play in the Final Four, but every fan would compare the two superstars.
During the first half, one of our freshmen, Jeff Capel, was playing particularly well—and I sensed that his matchup was going to be a key for us in the second half. So in the locker room at halftime, when I spoke to the team, I singled out Capel.
"You're the guy in the second half, Jeff," I said. "You're playing a great game." As I walked out of the locker room to talk to our assistant coaches, I heard Grant pipe up in the background: "That's right, Jeff. Coach is right! You can beat that guy. You can be great today."
Here was our team's star player, a senior, encouraging a freshman on the team during a crucial moment. As a coach, I was delighted because Grant's saying that to Jeff was much better than my saying it alone. It was another voice.
We came out the second half; Jeff scored the first five points to give us the lead. With about ten minutes to go, Grant picked up his fourth foul and I distinctly remember saying: "God, thank you. It's been a great run." I knew it was impossible to win this game with Grant on the bench. Of course I didn't let anyone on the team know my feelings at that moment.
With Grant on the bench, I noticed that Jeff Capel pulled the team together for a huddle and said, "Okay, guys. Grant carried us this far. It's time for us to step up."
Our team stepped up and played some of the greatest basketball I've seen. By the time I put Grant back in the game with three minutes to go, our team was well on its way to a thrilling victory and another Final Four. For Grant it would be his third trip during his collegiate career.
Capel ended the game with nineteen points, four rebounds, and seven assists. It was a monster game on a big national stage. That game was one of those magic moments when everything I had taught the players as a team came together. It did not depend on one guy. It did not depend on one voice.
After the game was over, Grant came up to me and apologized. He said, "Coach, I'm sorry." I put my arm around him as we were walking off the court, smiled, and said, "Grant, you won the game for us!" And he gave me this funny look. "No way," he replied. "I almost screwed it up with all those fouls." Then I said, "No, son, you won the game at halftime. You won it when you told Jeff Capel that he could be great today. And he was. In fact, he was the difference in the game when you were out. He lifted everybody else up to a higher level. You won the game for us just as sure as if you had been on the court the entire time. I'm proud of you."
Grant looked at me and nodded. He knew I was right.
As great as he was on the court at Duke, I love Grant even more for being the way he is off the court. He is sensational. He strives to be excellent in all aspects of his life—family, profession, business, and yes, art collecting. To be good at something you have to have passion for it. Grant Hill has passion for every part of his life. I love that about him.
Grant continues to have such a big impact in my life and I consider him a great friend. I look forward to our talks about basketball, or life, or family, or whatever may be on his mind or on mine. I trust his opinion and seek it out as often as I can.
Grant Hill is why I love coaching and why I enjoy what I do, every single day. It's a wonderful experience to be a part of someone special's life and see him grow from a high school kid, to a great college player and graduate, to a successful businessman, professional athlete, husband, and now, father.
Something All Our Own
GRANT HILL & CALVIN HILL
Growing up, I didn't want to "Be like Mike." I wanted to be like my father, to play football, to go to an Ivy League college and to do the things he did. Everyone who knows him knows he is a longtime collector of unique and imaginative art. As a child, our home was filled with paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from places throughout the world, but especially what my father calls "Third World" art. It had a profound impact on me and shaped my own thinking about collecting African American art and sharing my collection in this book. —GRANT HILL
This book reflects our desire to share with others a collection of art and artists who we feel reflect our history, our culture, our heritage, and us. All the works of art in this collection, both individually and together, lift us, inspire us, and give us hope. They remind us of who we are, of what we have endured, of our triumphs and failures, of our hardships and our challenges as African Americans. They are also a constant reminder of the uniqueness and richness of the African American experience. Viewing them gives us courage to go on. We are constantly refreshed in our understanding of who we are, what we have endured, what we have overcome, and how much our contributions mean to American life and culture. We hope you are similarly touched.
All the artists in this collection pursued their creativity in the twentieth century. Most are well known, including giants of the American art world. They include Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, and Hughie Lee Smith. Others are less well known but significant contributors nevertheless. Among these are Arthello Beck Jr. and John Coleman. Like a lot of our history and achievement, our contributions as African Americans to twentieth-century art are less well known than we would wish. Even Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden, clearly two of the most distinguished artists of the past hundred years, are not as known and appreciated as some of their contemporaries in the American art world.
As professional athletes, we are disappointed that African American achievement and artistry are more recognized and appreciated in sports and entertainment than in painting or sculpture. More people know Grant Hill than know Romare Bearden, yet Bearden's career had a longer shelf life and more productivity than that of any professional athlete. Elizabeth Catlett, a native of Washington, is still creating into her eighties. A reigning doyenne of the art world, she lends her unique signature and vision to sculpture and printmaking. Although she has worked across the passage into the twenty-first century, she is only now enjoying the universal acclaim and recognition accorded lesser, mainstream artists. This inequity that befalls all these artists does not deter them from the imaginative spirit that inspires greatness. What a lesson for us all!
We hope you appreciate and enjoy these artists and their work as much as we do.
CALVIN: My interest in art probably came from my mother, Elizabeth Grant Hill, who was a seamstress, crocheter, and quilter. At an early age, she encouraged me to draw and tried to develop my artistic skills. We did not have much money but she also provided me with new coloring books. I always had an array of crayons, fresh crayons, because it was important to her that I appreciate color and the power of color in creative art. Once I was in school, I started visiting the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore with my mother. A scholarship to River-dale Country School in New York meant a new regime, including weekly visits to museums and exposure to classmates who grew up in homes where their parents collected art. It was also the first time I met anyone who, when asked what he did, said he was an artist. No one in my neighborhood in Baltimore "collected" art and, to be sure, no one had a job as an artist.
GRANT: I am not an artist myself in that I do not draw particularly well and I do not think of myself as a creative type. I had very little training in art in the public schools of Fairfax County and, sadly, I know now that I did not avail myself enough of the courses in art history provided at Duke. But I had one advantage that has accelerated my interest in art and collecting: I grew up in a home with parents who collected and appreciated artists and meaningful expressions of heritage and cultures throughout the world. My father, who shared the stories of his youth and the development of his collection, was especially instrumental and inspirational in my decision to collect African American art for my own home and family. The environment in which we live, especially the environment of our youth, influences the direction we take in life. Mine included not only an impressive collection of art in full view, but many trips to museums and galleries with my dad. For years prior to college, we had our father-and-son time together each year at the Final Four. At each location, my dad pushed me into galleries and museums to absorb unique expressions of artistic talent. He probably thought I went under duress. Now he knows the truth.
CALVIN: My art collection is fairly eclectic. I have pieces of African American art, other Third World art, pieces from Japan, China, and many places I have visited and enjoyed. One common theme in my collection is women, especially women of oppression throughout the world. The role of women in Third World societies has been underappreciated and underreported. As a reaction to the Moynihan Report, I did a paper at Yale on the positive role of women in the black American experience. I came to understand that women often keep it together by stepping into the breach to provide for and protect their families. My collection reflects this understanding. It includes sculptures and paintings by dozens of artists, among them R. C. Gorman, Allen Houser, Elizabeth Catlett, Francisco Zuniga, and Peggy Hopper. Their art captures the strength, nobility, and grace of women of color. This is consistent whether it is a painting of Hawaiian women by Hopper, or a sculpture of an African American woman by Catlett, or a sculpture by Gorman of a Navajo mother. These images constantly remind me of my own mother and of other women, especially black women, and the sacrifice and dignity of their lives.
GRANT: I have been fortunate to hear many stories from my parents that define who I am and from where I have come. Getting to know yourself means understanding your background and appreciating those who have come before you. My father has a saying he uses in speeches: To be ignorant of your past is to remain a boy. The interest in my heritage as an African American is reflected in this collection. Maybe my collection is not as eclectic as my father's, but it includes a wide spectrum of well-known and less-well-known African American artists. My wife and I have filled our home with these precious works and we hope to pass that love and appreciation for art to our daughter. The thirteen Beardens in our collection span his career and give us a chance to appreciate the scope of his enormous talent. Arthello Beck's originally untitled painting, now known as Confrontation, was in my home before my birth. Art means different things to different people. His depiction of three torsos struggling together and apart may represent the battle one feels as a black man between emotion and reason. My mother visited Elizabeth Catlett at her home and studio in Cuernavaca, Mexico, while I was collecting her sculptures and paintings. Mrs. Catlett was delighted to learn that Tamia and I already had some of her work and wanted to acquire more. I was able to add several pieces she was working on at that time and to develop a personal relationship with Mrs. Catlett. Maybe I can emulate her and develop a talent that lasts for more than eighty years—much longer than the life of the perfect jump shot.
CALVIN: In entertainment and athletics, we African Americans are incorrectly thought by the mainstream to be inherently talented and gifted. In actuality, our contributions far surpass the capacity to excel at acting, singing, dancing, and dunking. In these pursuits, we are too often viewed as naturally creative and expressive. We have not enjoyed enough recognition of our creative and expressive talents in the world of art, yet there our talents are just as prolific as on the stage, field, or court. It pleases me to see Grant take such an interest in art as a collector and admirer of African American artists. We need athletes and other public figures that recognize their history and forgotten elements of their backgrounds. I hope his collecting and his production of this book will inspire other young people including athletes and entertainers to explore and highlight their heritage and history.
WE SHARE THE PRIVILEGE of an association with the artists in this collection. In some instances we know them personally, but in all instances we know them through their expressions and depictions. The things that inspired them to create each individual piece evoke in us deep feelings of joy, anger, and contemplation. Their ability to use their "crayons" to convey their passion and pride touch us in ways we can hardly express. We invite you to feel this power for yourself. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Something All Our Own by Grant Hill, Alvia J. Wardlaw. Copyright © 2004 Grant Hill. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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