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Entertainment The Arts

July 31, 2023

The Vault provides a glimpse into four private collections of African American ephemera and works by Black artists.

by Audrey Knaack

An invitation to visit someone’s home fosters two kinds of relationships: intimate time spent with the homeowners, and intimate time spent among their belongings. Four Charlotte couples have been sharing their art collections with guests for years, as they have adorned their homes with beautiful, and, often, powerful capsules of Black history and art from significant 20th- and 21st-century artists.

With the vision of guest curator Jessica Gaynelle Moss, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, these private collections are brought into the public eye like never before. Enter: The Vault

The exhibition, which opened on July 1 at Mint Museum Uptown, unlocks the privilege of stepping into the homes — and impressive collections — of Judy and Patrick Diamond, Nina and James Jackson, Christy and Quincy Lee, and Cheryse and Christopher Terry. With Moss’ direction, each couple adds a personal flair to the space their art occupies.

Christy and Quincy LeeTerry. Photograph by Breonna T. Collier 

According to Moss, even the way visitors enter this sacred space is intentional. “One entrance to the exhibit is institutional, the other has a curved entry, which feels like a doorway with a portal you are entering, like a home space.” Much of the work here has never been publicly viewed or acknowledged, which allows for multiple ways to experience and appreciate the collectors’ custodial outlook toward preserving Black art.

An entryway of faces greets visitors upon walking into the exhibition. About half of these portraits, photographs and masks are displayed in a bedroom at Christy and Quincy Lee’s house — much to the delight of their guests, Quincy Lee says. Many works in the couple’s collection are by North Carolina-based artists, including Juan Logan, Antoine Williams and Bryan M. Wilson. One prized piece, a mixed-media work titled “Water” by J. Stacey Utley, speaks to challenging stereotypes by showing what water means to Black culture. “Water for Black people, there’s a positive and a negative,” Lee explains. “It’s really positive because we think of baptism and church. That’s registered here. … But it also speaks to how we got here in America,” he adds, noting the work’s reference to the Middle Passage. “You see Katrina, the boats, the people saying ‘Help’ on the rooftops. So it speaks to all those different things.”

Cheryse and Christopher Terry. Photograph by Sancho Smalls

Patrick and Judy Diamond’s collection stands out with black-and-white photographs and prints, sculptures, and artisan-made crafts. Items from the Diamonds’ collection have been displayed at museums across the United States, but many of the works presented in this exhibition have never been viewed publicly. “None of this belongs to us — it’s in our care,” Judy Diamond says, speaking to one of the most important themes of the exhibition. Judy and Patrick, who have been married for nearly 50 years, collected their first sculptures as newlyweds in Tanzania. Two sculptures purchased from Maya Angelou’s estate, part of her sculpture garden in Winston-Salem, are displayed alongside these. Other items on view include works by Elizabeth Catlett, Nellie Ashford and Hale Woodruff, plus South Carolina sweetgrass baskets the couple have acquired over the last 15-20 years. 

Judy and Patrick Diamond. Photograph by Carey J. King

Around the corner is an air of Christmas cheer. Nina and James Jackson didn’t plan to start a collection when they began purchasing festive Black Santa Clauses and angels for their Christmas trees and mantels — they simply wanted decorations that represented who they were. Near the beginning of their marriage, two days before Christmas, the couple went out to purchase holiday decorations. “None of the Santas or the angels were attracting me, and I didn’t understand why,” Nina Jackson recalls. “I realized that I was kind of into something different. I wanted a tree that was reflective of us in our marriage, and there wasn’t a Black Santa.” With Moss’ urging, through this exhibition the Jacksons bring an uncommon tradition into the spotlight. 

Nina and James Jackson. Photographs by DaRemen J.

The final installation brings Cheryse and Christopher Terry’s living room to life. The vignette looks like it’s straight out of a movie, with hundreds of Ebony and other magazine covers on the walls alongside records, more than 30 Afro picks, and sleek midcentury-modern furniture, including an iconic, boomerang-shaped Noguchi coffee table and a Charles Eames lounge chair. Cheryse Terry, a native Charlottean, reflects on how being adopted instilled a love for taking care of things, such as the couple’s art. “Just as my mom saw the value of me, being adopted, I see the value in things that should be kept and repurposed.”  SP

Discover The Vault at Mint Museum Uptown, on view through September 17. 

Photographs courtesy The Mint Museum

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