William E. Harmon Foundation

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The Harmon Foundation was established in 1922 by wealthy real-estate developer and philanthropist William E. Harmon (1862-1928).[1] It originally supported a variety of causes, including playgrounds and nursing programs,[2] but is best known for having served as a large-scale patron of African-American art that helped gain recognition for African-American artists who otherwise would have remained largely unknown. Mary B. Brady was the director of the foundation from 1922 until its cessation in 1967.

The William E. Harmon Foundation Award for Distinguished Achievement Among Negroes was created in 1926.[3] It was known as an award for excellence in the visual arts, but was offered for distinguished achievement in many different fields among Negroes or in the cause of race relations. This helped art education programs grow in many areas. Among the many recipients of the awards were Hale Woodruff, Palmer Hayden, Archibald Motley (his winning piece was The Octoroon Girl), Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes.

In addition to the awards, the Foundation is well known for its traveling exhibitions. An annual Exhibition of the Work of Negro Artists, conceived by Mary Brady, was held in 1927 through 1931, 1933, and 1935. Laura Wheeler Waring was one of the artists featured the first year of the exhibitions, and the Foundation commissioned her to do portraits of prominent African Americans. The traveling exhibitions awarded "substantial prizes" together with gold, silver and bronze medals.[4] According to Gates and Higginbotham, "...submissions in the fine arts category was the chief venue open to African American artists."[3]

The Foundation operated until 1967.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Breaking Racial Barriers: African Americans in the Harmon Foundation Collection, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
  2. ^ Anne Evenhaugen, "African American Art and the Harmon Foundation", Smithsonian Libraries - Unbound, February 22, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Gates & Higginbotham, p. 3.
  4. ^ Driskell p. 87.


  • Driskell, David C. (2001). The Other Side of Color: African American Art in the Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Pomegranate. ISBN 978-0-7649-1455-3
  • Gates, Henry Louis, & Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (eds) (2009). Harlem Renaissance Lives: From the African American National Biography. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-538795-7