Jessica Lynne

  • Hampton University Museum, Virginia, 2016. Center: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Banjo Lesson, 1893. Photo: Alexander Kravits.

    SCHOOL SPIRIT

    IN A SMALL GALLERY on the second floor of Virginia’s Hampton University Museum hangs Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Banjo Lesson. A young boy sits in the lap of his grandfather, learning to play the titular instrument, the pair surrounded by the evidence of life lived: clothes hung in the background, a loaf of bread and a white pitcher on a table, cooking pots at their feet. Color and shadow blend exquisitely to create a subtle glow that is cast onto the pair together at the fireside.

    Tanner is widely regarded as the most important Black American artist of the nineteenth century, and this 1893 oil