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Saturday, February 24, 2007


By James Brown, Jr.

Once again another treasure that housed art of the African American Artist is gone. Karl Graham has closed the doors of the Graham Collection as of January 31st 2007. This very modest gentleman has been and remains a collector of figurines, dolls and fine art. He has provided a showcase for many Black artists such as Aaron McGruder, Anita Philyaw and Leroy Campbell.

Mr. Graham is a native Washingtonian. He started collecting figurines in the mid 80’.
By 1988 he and a partner Ms Dianne Swift founded the Graham/Swift Collection. This first collection consisted of batik fabrics, clothing and African Art sculptures.

He worked out of his home by doing shows such as Black Memorabilia Shows with Malinda Saunders, Afram & Kunta Kenta Festival. He began building a clientele of figurine collectors.

One day while watching the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Graham saw and heard Jamal Mims (master jeweler). The late Mr. Mims was talking about a group Black artists with studio and gallery space in the 1800 Belmont Arts Building. This three-story leased building housed master jewelers, several fine artists, leather artist, photographer, clothing designer, etc. This building was one of the special places in DC for exhibitions, workshops and a meeting place for artists and collectors.

Karl knew at that moment that this was the place for his collection. He had been working full time as an accountant for the federal government and running the business on the weekend.

In 1994 his business moved into 1800 Belmont in the Adams Morgan district. This was the beginning of a tremendous journey into the world of African American and African art. His clientele of figurine collectors continued to increase. He continued to search the market for as many Black figurine artists he could find, but they were few.

He did find John Sandridge in Alabama who created Black figurines and fine art, he featured his collection. Kim Holt and Delores Garnes, a mother and daughter team from the DC metro area, were also featured Black figurine artists. Christopher Malone, a sculptured doll artist, also had his dolls featured with Graham. His search found the Duncan Royal Figurine Collection that carried a Black line of figurines.

Graham’s collection of artifacts grew, as he became interested in handmade Black dolls. He started collecting Francine Haskins, Paula Whaley and Adrienne McDonald to name a few. He also carried some of Ms.Goldie Wilson’s collection, Ms Wilson also had a shop in the DC area. He cannot say that he inspired them but he did give them space to show in his gallery. He found to his surprise a German artist who created Black doll & figurines that were popular. His collection grew into fine art painting and drawings. 1800 Belmont Arts was a great vision that gave Graham and other an experience of a lifetime.

In 2000, 1800 Belmont closed its doors. Karl Graham was not finished yet providing a service for the Black art community. Graham with the help of artist Francine Haskins located another place at 3518 12th St. NE. Several artists from1800 Belmont along with Graham and Tony Miller, his business partner from his start at 1800 Belmont Arts, Tony Miller, moved into Belmont Arts East/ The Graham Collection. This was 2001, Francine Haskins and Ann Chinn were two of the artists.Ms Haskins had doll workshops and curated several Black Doll shows. Ms Chinn’s collection, The Camel’s Closet focused on interior design items of African artifacts, china, glass and tableware embellished with Adrinka symbols. Every month featured several different fine artists.

By 20003-2004 the economy changed , the first things folks give up is art. Change once again was in the air. Belmont East dissolved leaving The Graham Collection of figurines, fine art, dolls and African artifacts. According to Graham “I knew I was not going to become rich. Through the years I’ve always concentrated on providing space for the Black artist. I love collecting and promoting art and artist. My collection of figurines paid the rent, but fine art sales were not the same.”

One of the young artists Graham showcased, Stan Squirewell mentioned Black Artist DC needed a space to meet and show. Graham Collection committed to Black Artist DC for meeting space and exhibitions. From 2005-06 BADC had two well-received exhibitions “Hidden Treasures” & “Found”. Every month there has been a new exhibition such as: The First Annual Community Art Compitition, Celebrating The Artists of Brookland, Blessings, Love in Me Paintings, The Colors of November, Cheap Threads, Miniature Quilts and Wall Hangings (A Textile Journey) just to name a few.

The final Graham Collection exhibition was “Erotic Blue” Figurative and After Hour Pleasures. This exhibition featured nude and naked figures embraced in love, beauty and sexual fancy. It was well received with oooo’s, ahhhh’s, blushes and sheer delight, especially, The After Hour /peep show.“I feel a lot of magic has happened this 20 plus years”, Graham said. But, it’s not over yet, it’s often said, “When one door closes another will open”. Partner Tony Miller has a vision of another space for art, artists and collectors.

Karl feels another evolution is taking place for him. He has been quietly creating art and hiding it away. He loves art and is ready to discover and develop as a visual artist. “I hope I’ve helped someone along the way.”

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