Governor Maura Healey selected two paintings, both by Black artists, from the Museum of Fine Arts to hang in her office as a continuation of her commitment to representing the state’s diversity in the State House’s artwork, according to a press release from her office.
The paintings, “Black Tie” by Robert T. Freeman and “At the Tremont Street Car Barns” by Allan Rohan Crite, depict Black Americans in society in earlier decades.
“When people walk into the Governor’s office, I want them to feel seen, represented and empowered,” Healey said in the press release. “An important way to do this is by hanging artwork that is representative of the diverse Massachusetts experience.”
“Black Tie” is part of a series of oil paintings Freeman made in 1981 called " The Social Series” to highlight the Black middle class.
The painting depicts Black Americans at a social gathering during racial segregation when Black people had to create a space for themselves in society. The characters are shown directing their gaze at the viewer, which Freeman did with the purpose of engaging the viewer in a dialogue about belonging.
Freeman said the scene he painted is inspired by a time when he and his wife went to a dinner party when they were in their twenties. They arrived to the dinner party late and everyone in the room turned their heads and looked at them as if to ask, “do you belong here?” Freeman said.
“They looked at us like we were in question and I wanted that to be the experience that the viewer feels,” he said.
“If people see pictures of themselves in the State House, their comfort level will be higher,” Freeman said. “It makes a statement to other areas of government that should be doing the same things.”
Crite painted “At the Tremont Street Car Barns” in 1939 to show Black Americans in their everyday life. The painting depicts Black people walking on the sidewalk in the foreground, a bus entering the frame in the middle ground, and a brick building in the background.
“The walls of the People’s House should represent all of the people who make Massachusetts the greatest state,” Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll said in the press release. “Seeing these two works of art as I walk into work every day will serve as a significant reminder of why we do this work and who we’re doing it for.”
Healey and Driscoll called on Michael Bobbitt, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council, Makeeba McCreary, president of the New Commonwealth Fund, Joyce Linehan, assistant to the president for special projects at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Susan Greendyke Lachevre, curator of the State House Art Commission, to help curate the artwork.
“Art truly does inspire and create new opportunities to understand the world around us, and we hope these depictions of the Black American experience resonate deeply with staff and visitors to the Governor’s office,” Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund director of the MFA, said in the press release.
“Both artists hold a special place in the Commonwealth’s art landscape and offer a reminder of how powerful the agency is in who tells the story and where it is told,” said McCreary in a press release from the State House. “It is wonderful to see these works on view in that hallowed space.”
“She’s got it right,” Freeman said of Healey. “She’s trying to make everyone who visits the State House more comfortable and that’s what art does.”