Lonnie Graham

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Lonnie Graham is a fine art photographer, professor, installation artist, and cultural activist investigating the methods by which the arts can be used to achieve tangible meaning in peoples lives. In January 2013, Graham spoke at the TEDxPSU symposium. His talk is available for streaming through YouTube.[1]

Early studies[edit]

Lonnnie Graham is a Professor of Visual Art at Pennsylvania State University[2] in University Park, near State College, Pennsylvania. He studied graphic design and commercial photography at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1976 he studied fine art photography and drawing at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia where he attended private sessions with photographer Robert Frank and critiques by art critic Donald Kuspit. In 1977 he traveled to the San Francisco Art Institute, and studied with Linda Connor, Jack Fulton, Regan Louie, and Henry Wessel. He was assistant to Larry Sultan and pioneering visual anthropologist John Collier Jr. Graham was mentored in large format photography by Pirkle Jones, close friend and colleague to Ansel Adams who made frequent visits to the Art Institute.

Later career[edit]

From 1990 to 1997 Graham was director of Photography at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild[3] in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an urban arts organization founded by William Strickland, Jr. dedicated to arts and education for at risk youth. Graham developed innovative pilot projects including the Arts Collaborative, which merged an art and academic curriculum. This program attracted the attention of First Lady Hillary Clinton who visited the site, and honored it as a National Model for Arts Education. Professor Graham has served as a panel member and site visitor to the Commonwealth for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He also served in a similar capacity at the national level for National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC.

From 2001 until 2003 he held the post of visiting instructor of graduate studies at San Francisco Art Institute, in San Francisco, California. In 2002, Kimberley Camp, Executive Director of the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania invited Graham to conduct an oral history of the Barnes. He was later made instructor of special programs and continued to teach at the Barnes until 2007. From 2007 until 2009 Graham was the acting associate director of the Fabric Workshop and Museum.

African and Asian trips[edit]

Beginning in 2003 Graham began collaborative photographic expeditions to India, Ethiopia, and Iceland with photographer Linda Connor. He traveled with Jack Fulton to India, Nepal and Tibet in 2007.

Graham initiated a number of funded and self-funded trips to Africa and Asia that relate to artistic and cultural work he had undertaken in Philadelphia with the Fairmount Park Art Association[4] and in Pittsburgh with the support of the Three Rivers Arts Festival. These projects were meant to prove that substantive change could be achieved in people's lives by making the arts a viable solution to common problems.

Toward this end, Graham was awarded a number of major commissions. In 1997, from Jeanne Pearlman at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, commissioned the "African/American Garden Project." This was part of a larger series of an exhibition called "Points of Entry" which included installations from artists, Ann Carlson, Group Material, Michelle Illuminato, Daniel J. Martinez, and Fred Wilson.

The African/American Garden project provided a physical and cultural exchange of urban single mothers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and farmers from a small farming village in Muguga, Kenya. As a result of this project, Graham built a series of urban subsistence gardens as a component to other projects.

In 2001, Mary Jane Jacob invited Graham to participate in the Spoleto Arts Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. She and Tumelo Mosaka curated "Evoking History," which included Graham’s "Heritage Garden Project." Because Graham had visited traditional cultures in Africa and Asia he constructed larger projects including a number of artists and community members. The goal was to establish a method for modern artists to work in a traditional way, addressing the basic needs of a community.

From 2000 to 2010 Graham worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with artists John H. Stone and Art Sanctuary director Lorene Cary on a project commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association,[5] for Project H.O.M.E. in north Philadelphia. In addition to installations, projects and neighborhood events, the result of the commission was a mediation park, which was dedicated and gifted to the community in 2010.

In 1997 Lonnie was honored with a major commission for travel to Papua New Guinea to document the harvest of the Woowoosi tree used by the Maisen tribe to produce ceremonial tapa cloth. He later collaborated with curator Lawrence Rinder on an exhibition of photographs and artifacts produced from that expedition.

Awards and honors[edit]

In the 1995 Colliers Encyclopedia yearbook, Graham was cited as an encyclopedic point of reference for his research and creative accomplishments in the field of installation art. He was also the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts / Pew Charitable Trust travel grant for travel to Ghana. Graham is a four-time Pennsylvania Council on the Arts[6] Fellowship winner. He has been nominated as a DuPont Fellow, and for the Cal Arts-Alpert Award, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship, and a USArtist Fellowship. He was awarded the Creative Achievement Award by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Graham received a Pew Fellowships in the Arts.[7] The Pew is one of the largest individual artist fellowships in the United States. In 2005, he was awarded the Hazlett Memorial Award, conferred the distinction of as Artist of the Year in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and was presented with the Governor’s Award[7] by Governor Edward Rendell.

Catalogue work[edit]

Graham designed the catalogue entitled "Countdown to Eternity,"[8] a collection of photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King by Benedict Fernandez, as well as a traveling exhibition of photographs. He also designed the catalogue for Carrie Mae Weems’ "Kitchen Table Series," exhibited at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia and is known to have worked with Weems collaboratively on other projects at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, including the Adam and Eve folding screen entitled the "Apple of Adam’s Eye," produced in 1992. He collaborated with David Lewis to produce a book about sculptor Thaddeus Mosley, "Thaddeus Mosley, African American Sculptor."[9] Pyramid Atlantic, in Silver Spring, Maryland published his own "Friendship, Strength and Vitality" as a limited edition photogravure edition which resides in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC and the collection of the Schomberg Center in New York City.

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition "A Conversation with the World" has been widely disseminated by Light Work[10] in Syracuse, New York. This project was conceived by Graham and photographer Kevin Martin in 1986, and combines elements of social anthropology and fine art as it utilizes an interview component to engage participants who sit for a large format 4"x5" portrait made using polaroid type 55 positive/negative film. Graham was documented using this process in Houston, Texas at Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses in artist Round 19. "A Conversation with the World" has also been conducted and exhibited in San Francisco.[11] He was commissioned by the San Francisco Art Commission for a public art project that was installed at the San Francisco City Hall and exhibited in public spaces around the city. The project was commissioned and presented in Calgary, Alberta, Eatonville, Florida and Oulu, Finland. In 2005 he was awarded a Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artists in Communities Grant under the auspices of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to produce "A Conversation at the Table."[12] This project invited over 50 artists and four arts organizations to collaborate on a project based on essential aspects of humanity. The project was completed and presented in 2006.

Other work[edit]

The Queens Museum in New York also commissioned him to produce an international garden project as part of their "Down the Garden Path" exhibition presented in 2005. Other exhibitions include an exhibition of photographs at Goethe Institute, Accra, Ghana. La Maison de Etat-Unis, Paris, France produced a full-scale reproduction of one of the educational galleries he photographed for the Barnes Foundation. Graham has shown at the Toyota City Museum in Aichi, Japan. He exhibited a room-sized installation at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Graham's work is included in the permanent collections of the Addison Gallery for American Art in Andover, Massachusetts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 2005 he collaborated with MacArthur Fellow Deborah Willis on "Framing the Diaspora", which resulted in an international conference of artists, photographers, and filmmakers held in Accra, Ghana.


  1. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7xAZ2lrel8
  2. ^ [1] Archived September 13, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ http://www.mercedwib.com/archive/110402_ix._WIB_Exec_Bill_Strickland.pdf
  4. ^ http://www.fpaa.org/about_nlm.html.
  5. ^ http://www.fpaa.org/CommonGroundDedication_000.html.
  6. ^ Pennsylvania council on the arts
  7. ^ a b "PCA - Governor's Arts Awards". Pacouncilonthearts.org. Archived from the original on 2007-06-12. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  8. ^ Fernandez, Benedict J. "COUNTDOWN TO ETERNITY. An Exhibition of Photographs. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , Benedict J Fernandez - Eds Books - First Editions, Photography, Screenplays, Signed Books, Appraisals". Eds Books. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  9. ^ Lewis, David L. "Thaddeus Mosley: African American Sculptor by David L. Lewis — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists". Goodreads.com. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  10. ^ "Contact Sheet 128: A Conversation with the World by Light Work". LibraryThing. 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  11. ^ "Lonnie Graham: A Conversation with the World: San Francisco | SFAC Galleries". Sfartscommission.org. 2010-06-11. Archived from the original on 2014-07-27. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  12. ^ [2] Archived August 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]