The Mutiny on the Amistad, 1939. Oil on canvas Overall: 71 1/4 x 125 3/8 x 2 1/8in. Collection of Savery Library,
Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama
The murals were commissioned by Talladega College in 1938 by President Buell Gallagher to commemorate the end of slavery. The intent was no doubt noble, but Woodruff's lively sculpting, eye for detail, and vibrant palette transformed the elegiac exercise into something far greater. Woodruff (1900—1980) went to Paris in 1927 to study, absorbing influences of Cubism that are felt in works such as Two Figures in a Mexican Landscape. And in 1936, he studied in Mexico with the great muralist Diego Rivera. When he returned, he taught for a couple of decades at NYU.
Opening Day at Talladega College, 1942. Oil on canvas. Overall: 70 1/8 x 243 7/8 x 2 1/16in. Collection of Savery Library, Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama
The Mutiny on the Amistad conveys the unbridled anger of the rebels, who had been enslaved in Sierra Leone and rebelled en route to Cuba, ultimately obtaining their freedom in Connecticut courts, and subsequent return to Sierra Leone. Hardwick does not soften the depiction; instead he captures the coiled violence and abject desperation of the moment. In Opening Day at Talladega College, you see the moment of transition between lives based on farming and formal education, and the American promise of a brighter future.
Also on view are a selection of charming, strikingly graphic woodcuts, depictions of a rural Southern black homestead, and comparative studies: The Results of Poor Housing and The Results of Good Housing, perhaps the strongest reminders of the underlying social messages that provide the spine of the exhibition.