Monday, June 9, 2008
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office reading magazines and I came across an article on Bernard and Shirley Kinsey. The article shared how the Kinseys amassed a historical art collection, primarily reflecting the black experience and their philanthropic work. So, I talked the receptionist into letting me take the magazine home so I could learn more about this amazing couple and to get pointers as I’m a budding art collector myself.
For nearly 40 years, the Kinseys have traveled the world, collecting artifacts for their collection, which includes over 240 African American documents, rare books, sculptures and letters. And they are serious about their collection. For a photograph of Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels, an African American who represented Mississippi during Reconstruction, they outbid the Smithsonian.
Bernard Kinsey, a former Vice President of Xerox, and his wife Shirley, a former schoolteacher, are both alumni of Florida A&M University, where they both met. As Kinsey rose the ranks at Xerox, he and his wife traveled extensively to exotic locales collecting artifacts.
The couple’s collection is world renowned, being called one of the most important African American art collections in the West.
In a recent Miami Herald article, Bernard Kinsey shares about acquiring a letter detailing a slave sale:
“Then in 1987, a white friend called to tell Bernard about an unsettling discovery. The man was organizing his late aunt’s estate in Alabama and had found a letter dated in 1832 that told the sale for $550 of an 18-year old slave named William. “ 'He was a little uncomfortable but finally asked me if I wanted it. I said yes, and it was on my desk the next morning,' ” Kinsey says. “I looked at the document, and it just sent chills through me. It was like the spirits were talking.”
Some of the items in their collection includes a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, slave shackles intended for a female slave from 1853, the first edition of a book of poetry published by former slave Phillis Wheatley in 1773, shipping log books documenting the 3.8 million Africans taken by the British, and portraits and paintings by world renowned African American artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Henry O. Tanner and Elizabeth Catlett.
Their fortune has also allowed the couple to give back - raising $22 million over 25 years for issues they care about, such as education and ensuring that youth attend college. They often hold fundraisers at their stunning 7,000 square foot home in Pacific Palisades, California.
If you’re in the Miami area, beginning this month their collection will be on exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art through July 20, 2008. Titled In the Hands of African American Collectors: The Personal Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, it features over 100 items from their collection. Location: 1451 S. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach. (http://www.norton.org/)
For more information on their exhibits, tours and summer programs, visit the website: http://www.thekinseycollection.com/
Photo: Palisades Post