Lenox Library exhibit to feature work of photographer James Van Der Zee


LENOX — The work of photographer James Van Der Zee, a Lenox native known for his images depicting the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s, will be on display at the Lenox Library starting this weekend through June 30.

The exhibition mounted by the Lenox Historical Society will be introduced during a free opening event from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday in the library's Welles Gallery. Van Der Zee, who lived from 1886 to 1983, was a photographer whose studio portraits and other images documented the lives of middle class African-Americans.

Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee will discuss her late husband's career, with a focus on several selected photos, at 3 p.m. during the opening event, a Historical Society announcement stated. Light refreshments will be served.

Van Der Zee was born on Hubbard Street on June 29, 1886. His family lived in a house that was eventually razed to make way for the construction of the Routes 7 & 20 bypass.

He and his five siblings enjoyed rural small-town life in a town that showed little prejudice against African-Americans, according to the Historical Society announcement. As he learned to play the piano and violin Van Der Zee attended grammar school in Lenox, where he painted, drew and developed his interest in photography.

After turning 14, he left school to work, eventually waiting tables at the Aspinwall Hotel and photographing family, friends and summer visitors to Lenox. Moving to New York City in 1905, he pursued his career and eventually opened his own studio.

Van Der Zee's photographs taken during the Harlem Renaissance solidified his reputation as the most influential studio photographer of that time, the Historical Society stated. Using elaborate hand-painted backdrops, he posed families during celebrations and bereavement, in joyful and somber times.

As part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 1969 photographic exhibition "Harlem on My Mind," Van Der Zee's images reached thousands of people who had never known of his life's work.

The Welles Gallery exhibit is open to the public during library hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The Lenox Historical Society's Museum of Lenox History is based at the historic Lenox Academy building, 65 Main St.

For information, call Vickie Salvatore at 413-441-7902.


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