In Memorium

African-American art expert Carroll Greene dies

Savannah News

Doug Wyatt | Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:30 am

A noted cultural historian and lecturer has died.

The body of Carroll Greene, 75, was discovered on Wednesday in his home on Greene Square.

Carroll Greene, Jr.Greene lectured and published widely on the work of African- American artists. He curated numerous exhibitions and was the driving force behind the Acacia Collection, a wide-ranging assortment of African-American artifacts including arts and crafts, furniture, pottery, musical instruments, quilts and tools.

Part of the collection can be seen at Savannah’s Owens-Thomas House in the museum’s slave quarters. More pieces are at the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Walter O. Evans, one of the nation’s foremost collectors of African-American art, said that Greene “was extremely important. He was a giant in the field, a leading proponent of African-American art long before it was a fashionable thing to do. He was someone whose opinion I deeply respected.”

Tania Sammons, curator of the Owens-Thomas House, called Greene “one of my favorite people to work with. He was a very gentle man and very knowledgeable. It was always a good day when Carroll came by.”

Greene began a fellowship in Museum Studies at the Smithsonian Institution in 1968. While at the Smithsonian, he played a vital role in adding to the museum’s previously meager collection of African-American artifacts. He also conducted oral history interviews with such noted African-American artists as Jacob Lawrence.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Greene privately purchased numerous African-American artifacts, securing them from destruction or neglect. Those artifacts formed the basis of the Acacia Collection, which he formally started in 1989.

He also wrote the text for numerous exhibition cata- logs at museums around the nation. Describing Romare Bearden’s major exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Greene called Bearden’s work “an affirmation, a celebration, a victory of the human spirit over all the forces that would oppress it.”

Greene also wrote extensively about the works of the Gullah artist Jonathan Green, which he called “perhaps the most ambitious artistic expression of Sea Islands culture ever successfully undertaken.”

During the 1990s, Greene curated several shows at the Beach Institute in Savannah, including the Ulysses Davis Folk Art Collection. He was honored for that work with the W.W. Law Legacy Award. He was also the guest curator at the Beach for “Look Back, Ponder, and Move On: Glimpses of the African-American Experience in Savannah 1750-1900.”

Frank McDonald, a close friend, said “Carroll was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. He was well-liked by so many people, and he touched the lives of so many others. He did so much with his life.”

Another friend, Anne Roise, remembered Greene’s sense of humor. “He could relate to anyone,” she recalled, “whether he ran a museum or was just someone on the street.”

Roise said friends were planning a memorial tribute. Efforts to reach family members continued Thursday.