Home Culture Art Black Heritage – Part 3

Black Heritage – Part 3


Quite often when browsing stamps I come across items regarding certain people or subjects of which I previously had no knowledge. But that’s part of the fascination of stamp collecting as a hobby – it can be both intriguing and educational at the same time. This is a continuation of articles featuring the U.S.A. stamp series entitled “Black Heritage”. I thoroughly recommend further research of the lives of the persons featured in this series of articles.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was an American artist and the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim.

After his own self-study in art as a young man, Tanner enrolled in 1879 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. The only black student, he became a favourite of the painter Thomas Eakins, who had recently begun teaching there. Tanner moved to France in 1891 to study and continued to live there after being accepted in French artistic circles. His painting entitled “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” was accepted into the 1896 Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Daniel in the Lions’ Den by Henry Ossawa Tanner, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
USA 1975

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) achieved in a very short-lived life what most of us can simply dream of. Born to parents who were enslaved in Kentucky until the American Civil War, Dunbar was prolific during his relatively short career – he published a dozen books of poetry, four books of short stories, four novels, lyrics for a musical, and a play. The musical comedy “In Dahomey” (1903) was the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway in New York. The musical later toured in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Below is one of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poems, “We Wear the Mask”, written in 1896 and perhaps even more relevant in today’s climate: 

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

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