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The collectors 

Personal art collection becomes a national treasure

While other newlyweds feather their nests with toaster ovens and china, Vivian and John Hewitt did a highly unusual thing with the gifts of cash they received at their wedding in 1949.

They bought art.

Honeymooning in Manhattan, John and Vivian purchased prints at New York's museums to decorate their faculty suite back in Atlanta where Vivian taught at Atlanta University and John at Morehouse College.

For the first 10 years of their marriage, Vivian Hewitt recalls, "It was an eclectic collection" sprinkled with Picasso and Paul Klee prints.

But when the couple moved to New York City in 1952, their collecting took a dramatic turn.

Suddenly surrounded by a pool of talented African-American artists, the Hewitts began devoting a portion of their modest educator salaries to purchasing works by Hale Woodruff, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and emerging African-American artists, many of whom became the Hewitts' friends.

"We absolutely never, ever went into buying art with the idea of it being an investment. Never ever," says Hewitt. "We bought it to live with, to enjoy, to enrich our lives. To put beauty into our home."

Decades later, those important purchases of African-American art have grown from a beloved avocation into a nationally recognized collection. In 1998, the Hewitts' collection was acquired by Bank of America. Celebration and Vision: The Hewitt Collection of African-American Art features 54 works and appears in Atlanta at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech as part of the National Black Arts Festival.

Vivian, who is 85 and lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, lost her husband in 2000. But the collection they built together, out of an almost uncanny shared taste, will outlast both of them.

The Hewitt Collection is a testament to the power of collectors to trumpet under-recognized artists. The Hewitts focused principally on collecting paintings, collages and prints. The collection reflects the Hewitts' personal taste in colorful, figurative, uplifting imagery, often centered on family life.

Though the Hewitt Collection has been called one of the nation's Top 100 Treasures by Art & Antiques magazine, Hewitt acknowledges the personal side of collecting.

"We are an excellent example that you do not have to be rich to love art, to collect art. "We mentored other people who were starting their collections. I can't begin to tell you how proud and pleased we are to have young people come up to me and say, 'Mrs. Hewitt, you've inspired me. I'm starting to collect.'

"And I tell them, 'Don't hesitate. Just do it. Just start.'"

felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.comhighlights of Other NBAF art showsMothers and Daughters: Sisters of Tomorrow

Photography by local artist Sheila Pree-Bright at Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries, Trevor Arnett Hall, second level. 404-880-6102. www.cau.edu.

Maximum Flavor

Group show by cutting-edge African-American artists at Atlanta College of Art Gallery, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5050. www.aca.edu.

The Internal Dialogue

Work by Tina Dunkley and Norman Lewis at Hammonds House Galleries, 503 Peeples St. 404-752-8730. www.hammondshouse.org.

Casting Shadows: Photographs By Edward West

Kiang Gallery, 1545 Peachtree St., Suite 225. 404-892-5477. www.kiang-gallery.com.

Random Access: Drawings by Charles H. Nelson

Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, 80 Forsyth St. 404-651-0280. www.rialtocenter.org.

Dark Roots: Remembering the Atlanta University and Atlanta Life Art Annuals

Survey of historical work by African-American artists in Atlanta at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, 1447 Peachtree St. 404-881-1109. www.mocaga.org.

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