Wellesley College exhibition celebrates Black graduates virtually
“Seed to Harvest,” an outdoor photo exhibition at Wellesley College by artist Alexandria Smith, portrays five of the first Black graduates of the college in bold portraits. For her final project, Elana Bridges, class of 2020, brought the show online and drafted in-depth bios of each graduate to accompany the photographs.
“I thought it was important to highlight where they were coming from before Wellesley … to make a point that Wellesley didn’t make them special,” says Bridges. “These women on their own, in their own right, were gifted and deserved to be in this space. Wellesley gave them the tools to continue their social justice work.”
“Seed to Harvest” is the third commission for the Davis Museum’s Windows Invitational, a series of works exhibited on the exterior windows of the museum. Smith, a former professor at Wellesley, embellished the original photographic portraits of the women to create graphic homages to the legacies they built. Smith’s large-scale portraits bring these graduates the recognition and credit they always deserved. The artist names them, crowns them and celebrates them. The virtual exhibition answers the question, what happened next?
For Bridges, it wasn’t just the women’s success at Wellesley that was inspiring, but the social justice work they did after graduation. “I thought it was really interesting that they had gone to this prestigious women’s college and then went back to serve their specific communities,” says Bridges.
Dr. Harriet Alleyne Rice, class of 1887, the first Black graduate of Wellesley, went on to earn her M.D. As a Black woman, she was forbidden from practicing medicine in any American hospital, but she found other ways to help underserved communities. She provided medical care to poor families at Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago, worked as a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center and spent three years as a military physician in France during WWI.
Though the virtual exhibition lacks the scale and texture of the large, vinyl-printed portraits, it does provide many additional materials for interested viewers. Included in those materials is a Q&A with Smith, during which she and Bridges discuss the artist’s process and intent behind the show and how she chose these graduates.
“I think it’s important for every student, not just Black and brown students, to hear their stories and to know that success does not equate to money or status or power,” says Bridges. “I hope people seek to uncover whatever narratives aren’t widely told. Because they are there, and those histories are important.”