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Paul Revere Williams Exhibition

U of M's Paul Revere Williams Exhibition Extended Through January 19

For release: January 3, 2011
For press information, contact Curt Guenther (901) 678-2843

The first full-scale museum exhibition of Paul Revere Williams, 20th century African-American architect at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis (AMUM) has been extended through Wednesday, January 19. The exhibition emphasizes the architectural talent of Williams, who worked from the 1920s through the 1960s; but also sheds light on the personal and professional history of this architect whose parents originally lived of Memphis.

During the final days of the exhibition visitors are encouraged to participate in a confidential visitor survey to evaluate the exhibition prior to traveling. Survey participants will receive a unique token of appreciation for their efforts (while supplies last).

Marina Del Rey Middle School (1960)
Photograph: David Horan, 2010
Ritts Kohl Residence (1949)
Photograph: David Horan, 2010

Featuring 200 new images, the exhibit consists of still photographs and slide shows depicting interiors and exteriors of buildings that Williams designed.  The images are of small houses, mansions, business buildings, schools, churches, including the memorial for popular singer-actor Al Jolson. Although not all 3,000 Williams-designed structures are illustrated, the wide range of his styles and the touches for which he became famous are demonstrated. Unique large-scale photo installations provide spectacular details of seven projects: SeaView, Ritts Kohl Residence, Glen Gindler Residence, Baird Stewart Garza Residence, Marina del Rey Middle School, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, Hillside Memorial Park Mausoleum: Al Jolson Memorial.

SeaView, The Monte Carlo (ca. 1960s)
Photograph: David Horan 2010
Baird Stewart Garza Residence (1926)
Photograph: David Horan 2010

Williams (1894-1980) overcame the racial barrier that existed in the United States by his talent, hard work, his astute business sense, and strategic planning of his education and career. As a result, he became one of the most admired and successful architects of the 20th century, the first documented African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the first to become a Fellow.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Williams' work came to define the high-style look of Hollywood in the mid-1900s, and he was well known as "architect to the stars," even though he always considered himself an expert in the design of small homes.  Williams was also a leader in developing new types of buildings that were demanded by the post-WWII suburban economy. His buildings contributed significantly to the image of 20th century Los Angeles and to the California style, but his work didn't stop at the state line or even the national boundary.  Williams was also licensed in Washington, DC, Nevada, New York, and Tennessee, where he designed the original building for St. Jude Hospital and a master plan for Fisk University.  He also had a busy practice in Colombia, South America and projects in Mexico, Europe and Africa.

During Williams' lifetime, his work and his life received extensive media coverage; in fact, Life magazine in 1938 characterized him as "perhaps the most successful Negro artist in the U.S." However, despite his renown and the impact on the architecture of his time, especially on the image of Los Angeles in the popular imagination, today there is only limited and scattered information about him.

His office records were destroyed by fire during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. As of early 2006, the readily accessible body of knowledge about Paul R. Williams consisted of two publications by his granddaughter, Karen Hudson, an elegant 1993 photographic compendium and a children's book about Williams' life, an unpublished 1992 doctoral dissertation by Wesley Howard Henderson about Williams' career strategies, a short list of articles about his work, plus a handful of Williams' own writings.

AMUM,  AIA Memphis, the Memphis chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, the University of Memphis Benjamin F. Hooks Institute for Social Change, and the Departments of Art and Architecture at the U of M have collaborated on a multi-faceted Paul R. Williams Project to bring Williams' career back into focus and to help expand public knowledge about this extraordinary American architect, whose success was achieved against a background of pervasive racism in a particularly exclusionary profession. 

The project, including the exhibit, is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Art and the First Tennessee Foundation.

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