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Evangeline Montgomery

Curator, printmaker, and mixed media artist Evangeline "EJ" Montgomery was born on May 2, 1933, in New York. Her mother, Carmelite Thompson, was a homemaker and her father, Oliver Thompson was a Baptist minister. She discovered her artistic talents when she received her first oil painting set at the age of fourteen. After her parents separated, Montgomery and her mother moved to Harlem in New York, New York. In 1951, Montgomery earned her high school diploma from Seward Park High School in lower Manhattan, where she was a cheerleader, a member of the swim and basketball teams and a member of student government.

From 1951 until 1954, she worked at statuaries, painting the faces on dolls and religious statues. In 1955, Montgomery moved to Los Angeles with her husband and worked for Thomas Usher, an African American jewelry designer. She received her B.F.A. degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in 1969 and she worked as an independent curator to museums, university galleries and art centers where she organized exhibits. In 1971, she served as the curator for the Rainbow Sign Gallery in Berkeley, California before becoming an exhibition specialist for the American Association for State and Local History in Nashville, Tennessee and coordinating eight national workshops on “Interpreting the Humanities through Museum Exhibits.” She also organized national exhibit workshops for the Association of African American Museums. In 1983, Montgomery began her career with the United States State Department as a program development officer for the Arts America Program, specializing in American exhibitions touring abroad. In this capacity, she developed and implemented successful American fine art programs in the United States and throughout the world. In her own art career, Montgomery is noted for her metal work, especially her metal ancestral boxes which were inspired by the Chinese incense boxes her mother used for praying. Her colorful lithographs have also garnered her attention, being prominently displayed in exhibitions funded by the United States government.

In 1997, she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which has made it difficult for Montgomery to work with metal. However, she has not let the diagnosis limit her artistic vision, instead shifting her focus to printmaking, lithographs, and the digital arts. In 2005, Blacks In Government (BIG) began the Evangeline J. Montgomery Scholarship Program, to encourage and fund artists who are interested in working in government to spread the influence of the arts.

Evangeline "EJ" Montgomery was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 13, 2004.

Accession Number

A2004.258

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/13/2004

Last Name

Montgomery

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Schools

Seward Park High School

Los Angeles City College

California College of the Arts

California State University, Los Angeles

University of California, Berkeley

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Evangeline

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

MON03

Favorite Season

April

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Northern California

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

5/2/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon

Short Description

Printmaker, curator, and mixed media artist Evangeline Montgomery (1933 - ) began her career as an arts administrator in San Francisco, California and since then, has worked tirelessly to create opportunities to showcase African American artists.

Employment

Oakland Museum of California

American Association for State and Local History

United States Information Agency

United States Department of State

Favorite Color

Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Evangeline Montgomery's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Evangeline Montgomery lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about being adopted

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about meeting Mary McLeod Bethune

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her home life as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Evangeline Montgomery describes memorable communities in which she grew up

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Evangeline Montgomery describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her elementary school interests and aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her experience growing up as the daughter of a Baptist minister

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her childhood activities

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her move to New York, New York after her parents' divorce

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her junior high school experiences at P.S. 43 in New York, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her experiences at Seward Park High School in New York, New York, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her experiences at Seward Park High School in New York, New York, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about relocating to Massachusetts with her mother after graduating from high school

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her employment in the art industry after graduating from high school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her work in the jewelry field before attending Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Evangeline Montgomery describes the process for designing jewelry with enamel

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her studio art experiences in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about being dissuaded from teaching art

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her impressions of art in Nigeria

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her experience of art exhibitions during the black studies movement

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about coordinating an exhibition on Sargent Claude Johnson's life and art

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Evangeline Montgomery reflects upon the impact of African American art in California during the black studies movement

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about curating African American ethnic art and at the Rainbow Sign Gallery in Berkeley and the Oakland Museum of California

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her work for the American Association for State and Local History in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about working with the Association of African American Museums

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Evangeline Montgomery describes the impetus for creating metal ancestral boxes

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Evangeline Montgomery describes how she came to work for the U.S. Information Agency as its program development officer for exhibitions

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about notable African American artists with whom she worked

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her process for working in lithography

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about the impact of technology on visual art processes and mediums

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about challenges faced by African American artists

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her visual art and metal pieces

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about the challenges she faces as an artist with Parkinson's disease

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her Blacks in Government scholarship fund, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about opportunities for African American artists

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about the demand for African American artwork

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her Blacks in Government scholarship fund, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Evangeline Montgomery reflects upon the importance of the arts

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Evangeline Montgomery reflects upon her experiences as an artist and art administrator

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about inspirational artists

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Evangeline Montgomery reflects upon her artwork and artistic mediums

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Evangeline Montgomery describes her hopes for curating a book art installation in the future

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Evangeline Montgomery reflects upon her life and legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Evangeline Montgomery shares advice for pursuing a career as an artist

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - Evangeline Montgomery talks about her role as art commissioner in San Francisco, California

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

12$4

DATitle
Evangeline Montgomery reflects upon the impact of African American art in California during the black studies movement
Evangeline Montgomery describes the impetus for creating metal ancestral boxes
Transcript
And at the time when the black studies explosion was taking place, what impact do you think that had on African American artists?$$Well, it was great for them because it began to open new doors for them. For instance, I did exhibitions. I organized exhibitions for all the colleges in and around the [San Francisco] Bay Area [California] and some in Southern California even. I was able to bring artists from Southern California into exhibitions in Northern California. I also decided that if I was asked to do a show in a university setting or something like that, that I would try to get an artist from outside of the area as a guest artist as part of the show. For instance, I did an exhibition at Stanford University [Stanford, California] on printmaking. And I invited an artist from Boston [Massachusetts], Calvin Burnett, who is a famous printmaker, and had a dozen of his pieces as part of the show, so that I as introducing a new name, new style, someone who had reached heights in, in that particular medium.$$And were you finding that only African Americans were interested in African American artists?$$No, in California it was truly accepted by everybody in that they came to see. And if, if coordinated in the right way, the, lot of publicity and whatnot, everybody came to see. Now, whether in museums and whatnot, you're not necessarily selling works of art. So--$$You're just showing them.$$Just showing and giving people a history, and a background, and also offering an opportunity to look at abstract work, to look at images of themselves, to look at quality art, new technology, things like that.$Tell us a little bit about the ancestral boxes that you create out of metal.$$Well, my mother [Carmelite Thompson] had an incense burner, and it's a Chinese little vessel. And she used to write notes, and when she prayed over them and thought about them, if the experience that she wanted to happen came to pass in a favorable manner, then she would burn the note. I knew that she was using this incense burner for something. But, and I had seen her place things in it, but I had never looked in it, ever. And when my mother died, the, the first thing I did was to open that incense burner, lift the cover off, and there were two notes placing me in God's hands. Now, I was an adult, but I was divorcing and you know, had problems of my own and whatnot. So she, she was still thinking about me even in her sickest moments. And when I was thinking about an object to, to make, I first made incense burners. And there are three of those incense burners from the first set that I made in the collection of the Oakland Museum in California [Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California]. Then they turned into box shapes, and I began to think about ancestral worship and whatnot and I had seen containers in Africa knew that they make, use them for various things.$$How, how did you make your first ancestral box?$$They're all made out of wax originally, and then they are cast using a method that Africans use a lot.$$What's the method?$$Well, forming them in, in some sort of container situation in a mold, and then burning out the wax, and then pouring in hot molting metal into your mold shape and casting.$$And--$$And I, I feel these boxes are for something precious. They could be used as incense burners whether they're a box or whatnot. But they also could hold like your wedding ring, your tooth, all your baby teeth and, or anything, something.$$How, how big are they usually?$$They're fairly small, two by two, three by three.$$When did you make your first one?$$Sixty-nine [1969].$$What do you keep in yours?$$I don't keep anything in mine (laughter). I just have them. And I recently sold some of the earlier ones. They have been included in exhibitions over the years, and are recorded in several publications.