Maya Angelou was a poet and an activist whose works are still being used today. One fact about her that may not be so commonly known is she was an art collector. Angelou had a variety of art pieces in her collection.
South Floridians now have the opportunity to see pieces of her collection for the first time in the exhibit, “The Art of a Caged Bird Singing: The Personal Art Collection of Maya Angelou.”
“We wanted to bring this exhibit to the people, our people so they would not have to go through a lot of hurdles to come and enjoy this,” said Elliot Jones, owner of “The Art of a Caged Bird Singing” collection and Maya Angelou’s grandson.
“The Art of the Caged Bird Singing” is hosted at the Historic Ward Rooming House in Overtown. The exhibition kicked off in July and will be on view until Sept. 3. Access to Angelou’s collection is free to the public.
“What we have here is museum-quality artwork that you can't find anywhere else and it’s free,” said Christopher Norwood, co-founder of the Hampton Art Lovers. The Hampton Art Lovers is a nonprofit organization that seeks to make Black fine art more accessible. It is the group who is presenting Angelou’s collections along with another exhibit called FrancoFiles, Code Noir: A Visual Exploration of Negritude in New Orleans, Haiti, and Senegal at the Ward Rooming House.
“People travel to feel the communities that they visit and here we have museum-quality artwork that people want to see,” said Norwood.
Angelou’s collection is composed of paintings and hand-drawn pieces from various artists from across the world. The collection is named after her 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The pieces that are featured in the exhibit are based on the Limited Edition Club books. These are a series of books that contain images of art made from the interpretation of poems of famous authors.
For example, The artist Phoebe Beasley made silkscreen images of her interpretation of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Sunrise is Coming After A While.” Angelou has a book based on her poem “Jazz River Down Deep Into My Soul” that was illustrated by Dean Mitchell. According to Norwood, these books are one out 400 in the world and are no longer being created.
Jones also explains how these pieces are very emotional to him and he feels his grandmother’s spirit.
“For me, this is a personal look at my grandmother's legacy. There is a lot of emotional attachment to the pieces I've collected because every single one reminds me of her,” said Jones.
Jones wants to take the pieces to another museum in America. Locally, there is still work to do on behalf of Angelou. Jones assists a foundation named after Angelou that raises money for students to go to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Angelou has a school named after her in Allapattah. Maya Angelou Elementary is located at 1850 NW 32 St., Miami.
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools named an elementary school after her. She came down for the ribbon cutting and was there for the first day with the principal,” said Jones. “When I moved down here in 2010 she made it very clear I had to work with the school.”
Angelou’s spirit and identity is felt in her exhibit. If you want to see what art moved Angelou, visit The Art of the Caged Bird Singing at the Ward Rooming House, located at 249 NW Ninth St., Miami. For more information, visit https://www.hamptonartlovers.com/.