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5 Fast Facts: Beverly Buchanan

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A colorful oil pastel work rendered in a basic, child-like style, depicting two square, red shacks with gray roofs and short, gray stilt bottoms sit atop a yellow ground and against a sky blue background.

Happy birthday to artist Beverly Buchanan, who was born on October 8, 1940! Impress your friends with five fast facts about Buchanan (1940–2015), whose work is part of NMWA’s collection.

1. What the Doctor Ordered

Beverly Buchanan held degrees in parasitology, public health, and medical technology. In the early 1970s, while a health educator, she declined acceptance to medical school to become an artist. Buchanan acknowledged that it was a difficult choice, but she desired to “express the images, stories, and architecture of her African American childhood.”

2. Spiritual Structures

Buchanan’s “shack” sculptures and works on paper, such as Red Shack in Yellow Field (2004), reference the Southern vernacular architecture she saw throughout rural South Carolina and in archival photographs. “I’m interested in their shapes and how they’re made and how they reflect the people who built them. I consider my shacks portraits. It’s the spirit that comes through the forms.”

In this painting, two square red shacks with grey roofs and short, grey stilt bottoms sit atop a yellow ground and against a sky blue background. The painting is rendered in a basic, child-like style.
Beverly Buchanan, Red Shack in Yellow Field, 2004; Oil pastel on paper, 9 x 12 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Anna Stapleton Henson; © Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

3. Meaningful Materials

Buchanan’s artwork is about—and often made of—the places she called home. Sculptures created in New York City reflect the urban landscape, specifically demolished structures, and therefore incorporated concrete. While living in Georgia, she used local materials such as granite and tabby, a composite of lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash.

4. Racism Ruins

In 1981, Buchanan strategically placed her Georgia land work Marsh Ruins near the site of the 1891 mob lynching of Wesley Lewis and Henry Jackson and overlooking St. Simons Island, where a group of Igbo people sold into slavery drowned themselves in 1803. This work addresses the soiled history of the South while memorializing victims of racism.

5. Poetic Collaborations

Writing figures prominently in some of Buchanan’s works, both her own words and those of loved ones and creative colleagues. Following Buchanan’s death in 2015, writer Alice Walker penned a poem celebrating the artist’s life and legacy.

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