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The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington:

Picturing the Promise

January 30, 2009 - February 28, 2010

Presented in partnership with the National Museum of American History, the exhibition featured more than 100 portraits and other photographs of African Americans taken by the Scurlocks beginning in 1911 and continuing until 1994. Among the portraits are photos of Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington, Ralph Bunche, Mary McLeod Bethune and Muhammad Ali.

Photographs representing nearly a century's worth of creative output from the renowned Scurlock Studio formed the backbone of an exhibition designed to celebrate the legacy of a noted family of photographers and to present a vivid portrait of black Washington, D.C., in all its guises-its challenges and its victories, its dignity and its determination.

The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise, a collaboration between the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History, was on display from Nov. 15, 2009 through Feb. 28, 2010. It featured more than 100 images created by one of the premiere African American studios in the country and one of the longest-running black businesses in Washington; included in the exhibition were cameras and equipment from the studio and period artifacts from the Greater Washington area.

The exhibition was the first to be presented in the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery, located in the National Museum of American History. The museum is using this space until its building opens on the National Mall in 2015.

Beginning in the early 20th century and continuing into the 1990s, Addison Scurlock, followed by his sons, Robert and George, used their cameras to document and celebrate a community unique in the world. They captured weddings, baptisms, graduations, sporting events, civil protests, high-society affairs and visiting dignitaries. It was for portraiture, however, that the Scurlocks became renowned; they continue to be recognized by scholars and artists as among the very best of 20th century photographers who recorded the rapid changes in African American urban communities nationwide.

Among the portraits' subjects are luminaries such as Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington, Ralph Bunche, Mary McLeod Bethune and Muhammad Ali. Many of the photographs show Washington as the mecca for leaders in African American business, culture and higher education long before New York City's Harlem. They depict successful businesses such as the Underdown Delicatessen, prominent churches such as the Lincoln Temple, myriad community and leisure events such as a summer outing at Highland Beach in Maryland and sporting events at Howard University's Griffith Stadium. The images were drawn from the Scurlock Studio Collection, preserved since 1997 at the Archives Center in the American History Museum.

Also on view were items from the National Museum of African American History and Culture's Black Fashion Museum Collection, and artifacts from Howard University, the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and the Scurlock family. Among the featured items was the fur coat worn by Marian Anderson during her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, an event photographed on Easter Sunday of 1939 by Robert Scurlock. The coat was from the collection of the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum.

Co-curators of the exhibition were Michelle Delaney, associate curator of the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History and Paul Gardullo of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The exhibition's richly illustrated, 224-page catalog is available from Smithsonian Books for $35.

The Scurlock Studio Collection has been preserved since 1997 at the Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

George, Robert and Addison Scurlock