The Johnson Collection of Spartanburg is mounting a new exhibition at its TJC Gallery called “Elevation from Within: The Study of Art at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” The show is curated by Leo Twiggs, a graduate of Claflin University in Orangeburg, where he now holds the position of distinguished artist in residence.

“‘Elevation from Within’ pays homage to HBCU alumni and professors whose educational backgrounds chronicle a vital chapter of American history and whose aesthetic achievements have made an indelible mark on this nation’s art,” The Johnson Collection said in a statement.

The show is on view Feb. 20-May 10 at the downtown Spartanburg gallery, 154 West Main St. It features works drawn from the Johnson Collection’s holdings of paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture. On view are works by 20th- and 21st-century artists John Biggers, Beverly Buchanan, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas, James Herring, James Porter, Alma Thomas, Leo Twiggs, Charles White, Ellis Wilson and Hale Woodruff.

HBCUs got their start during the antebellum period, but multiplied significantly after passage of the Second Morrill Act in 1890, which paved the way for the funding of land-grant institutions for black students in Southern states.

Early HBCUs, based on the ideas of Booker T. Washington, emphasized vocational training and self-sufficiency. Eventually, many of these schools embraced a wide-ranging liberal arts curriculum in which fine arts programs could flourish.

“Elevation from Within” marks the second collaboration between Twiggs and the Johnson Collection, which sponsored the 2016-17 tour of Twiggs’ powerful “Requiem for Mother Emanuel” exhibition.

“For African Americans living in a segregated society, the sources for our creative expression came from within,” Twiggs said in a statement. “Our hardships are expressed in our blues, our many moods in our jazz, and our relationship to God in our spirituals. Painting, sculpture and dance, became a way to express all of it visually.”

Last year, Twiggs received the Gibbes Museum’s prestigious 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art in recognition for his work’s contribution to “a new understanding of the American South.” This month, he will be presented with the Georgia Museum of Art’s Larry D. and Brenda A. Thompson Award, which honors living African-American artists with a connection to that state.

In 1970, Leo Twiggs became the first African American to earn a doctorate in art education from the University of Georgia. As a professor at South Carolina State University from 1972 to 1998, he taught generations of aspiring artists and established the college’s museum.

The Johnson Collection is organizing several events in Spartanburg to coincide with the exhibition.

  • The PBS documentary “Tell Them We are Rising” will be screened at TJC Gallery at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21.
  • The Johnson Collection’s free public lecture series “Voices in American Art” will continue with an address by Tuliza Fleming, curator of American Art at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Chapman Cultural Center.
  • The gallery will host a 6 p.m. reception for HBCU alumni at the March 21 ArtWalk.
  • Twiggs will offer a 6:30 p.m. gallery talk and share personal reflections during the April 18 ArtWalk.

Details on these events can be found on the Johnson Collection’s website, The gallery is open to the public without charge noon-4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons, as well as the first Saturday of each month.

Contact Adam Parker at or 843-937-5902.