Bearden Oral Histories

The Wildenstein Plattner Institute’s Romare Bearden Oral History Series explores Bearden’s life, career, and legacy through interviews with scholars, collectors, collaborators, and family members. These accounts are a companion to the forthcoming Romare Bearden Digital Catalogue Raisonné, offering significant insight into Bearden’s personal and professional life.

Sheila Rohan

Sheila Rohan is the youngest sister of Nanette Rohan Bearden and the sister-in-law of Romare Bearden. She was a principal dancer of the founding company of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Later, she was a soloist and Ballet Mistress for the Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theatre. Rohan was instrumental in the development of the Romare Bearden Foundation and serves on the board of directors. Highlights of her oral history include memories of her time dancing under Arthur Mitchell at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, recollections of visits to St. Maartens with Romare and Nanette, and a discussion of her and her sisters’ work to preserve Bearden’s artistic legacy.

Keywords: Romare Bearden, Nanette Rohan Bearden, Romare Bearden Foundation, 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, The Block, Arthur Mitchell, Geoffrey Holder, Carmen de Lavallade, Staten Island, Cinque Gallery, Cordier & Ekstrom, collage techniques 

Jerald Melberg

Jerald Melberg has owned and operated the Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina for the past forty years. Prior to opening the gallery, Melberg was a curator at the Mint Museum where he curated the retrospective, Romare Bearden, 1970-1980. Having befriended Bearden while working on the exhibition, Melberg subsequently curated several exhibitions of his work at his gallery. Highlights from Melberg’s oral history include anecdotes of his first meetings with Bearden, memories of challenges and triumphs while curating the major retrospective at the Mint, and reflections on Bearden’s legacy today. 

KEYWORDS: Romare Bearden, Mint Museum, curation, Arne Ekstrom, retrospectives, gallerists, art dealers, Al Murray, collages, recordkeeping, Milton Bloch, collective memory

Johanne Bryant-Reid

Johanne Bryant-Reid is the current co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation, as well as a serious art collector and dedicated philanthropist. While working as a Human Resources Executive at Merrill Lynch in New York, Bryant-Reid became immersed in New York’s art scene, often using art as a tool for philanthropic fundraising. She joined the Board of the RBF in 2002, and became co-director in 2009. Highlights of her oral history include her first meeting with Bearden, memories of the artists’ salons and social circles of the 1980s, and reflections on her own art collection.

KEYWORDS: Romare Bearden Foundation, collage, Russell Goings, Cordier & Ekstrom, Roy Crosse, art collectors, Norman Lewis, Merrill Lynch, artists’ estates, E.T. Williams, Grace Stanislaus, Diedra Harris-Kelley, artists’ archives, From Process to Print, Cinque Gallery 

Diedra Harris-Kelley

Diedra Harris-Kelley is an artist, educator, and co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation, the nonprofit organization responsible for preserving and perpetuating the legacy of acclaimed artist Romare Bearden. Harris-Kelley is also Bearden’s niece. Highlights of Harris-Kelley’s oral history include memories of her childhood on Staten Island with her extended family, including Romare and his wife Nanette; discussions of her education and influences as a formally trained artist; and thought-provoking reflections on how to shape an artist’s public legacy after their passing. 

KEYWORDS: Romare Bearden, Nanette Rohan, Romare Bearden Foundation, Johanne Bryant-Reid, Grace Stanislaus, Cinque Gallery, catalogue raisonné, artists’ studios, artists’ estates, experimental art, collage, African-American art movements, Canal Street, St. Martin, Dance Theater of Harlem, art collectors 

André Thibault

André Thibault (Teabo) is a North Carolina-based artist who served as Romare Bearden’s studio assistant and collaborator from 1980 until Bearden’s passing in 1988. Highlights of his interview include memories of working hands-on in Bearden’s studio, the development of particular Bearden works, and Thibault’s own journey with his artistic practice. 

KEYWORDS: Romare Bearden, artists’ studios, experimental art, collage, African-American art movements, Québec, Arne Ekstrom, Barrie Stavis, Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery, ACA Gallery, Canal Street, Myron Schwartzman

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