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Alumnae Achievement Awards 2010

Alvia Wardlaw ’69
Art Historian, Museum Director, Advocate

Alvia Wardlaw '69

Alvia Wardlaw ’69 is one of the country’s leading experts in African American art. She has been a major force in developing the field of African American Art history, and establishing its place in the larger discipline of American Art. Her two exhibitions and publications devoted to the Houston artist, John Biggers, and the ground-breaking 1989 show she co-curated, Black Art Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art, brought new attention, appreciation and recognition to the previously little known, and largely ignored, African American accomplishments in the visual arts.

Wardlaw’s distinguished appointments and positions include:

  • Professor of Art History, Texas Southern University
  • Director/Curator of the University Museum, Texas Southern University
  • Member of the Scholarly Advisory Council of the (new) Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture
  • Curator, Modern and Contemporary art; Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, 1995-2009
  • Co-founder of the National Alliance of African and African American Art Support groups, 1998

Wardlaw is also well known in her field for the exhibition, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, a collection of quilts by outstanding quilters from Alabama. This exhibit traveled to 11 cities across the country from 2002-2006. Reviewers described the exhibit as “landmark” and “highly acclaimed” and it broke attendance records at major museums.

Another notable curatorship by Wardlaw was Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African American Art. The illustrated catalogue for this collection included an essay by her on the history of African American art collections. This exhibit was on display at eight museums from 2003-2005

Wardlaw’s other notable exhibits and publications include:

  • Thorton Dial in the 21st Century; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, exhibit and catalogue
  • Our New Day Begun: African American Artists Entering the Millennium, exhibition catalogue, LBJ Library and Museum
  • Roy DeCarava: Photographs, exhibition and exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Ceremonies and Visions: The Art of John Biggers
  • Homecoming. African American Family History in Georgia
  • John Biggers: Bridges
  • Notes from a Child’s Odyssey: The Art of Kermit Oliver

Wardlaw has received numerous honors and awards including:

  • Texas Southern University Research Scholar of the Year, 2009
  • African American Living Legend: African American News and Issues, 2008
  • Ethos Founders Award, Wellesley College, 2008
  • International Association of Art Critics Award for The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, 2003
  • Fulbright Award for study in East Africa, 1997
  • Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, 1994
  • The Margaret Hawkins National Arts Award, The Links, Inc., 1992
  • Best Exhibition of 1990 Black Art Ancestral Legacy, D. Magazine, Dallas, 1990
  • Fulbright Fellow, West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal, 1984

Wardlaw received a B.A. in Art History from Wellesley in 1969, followed by a M.A. in Art History from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1986 and then a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996.


For more information about the Alumnae Achievement Awards, please contact us by email at specialprograms@alum.wellesley.edu or call the Alumnae Association at 781-283-2331.