I first learned about The Kinsey Collection last year when Wells Fargo invited me to participate in a project called “Untold Stories: Our Inspired History.” The project inspired by The Kinsey Collection allowed me to share my family’s stories with a larger audience and encourage others to do the same. That experience gave me a greater appreciation of my family’s heritage and motivated me to capture and preserve our history for future generations.
Thirty years ago, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey embarked on a similar journey. Their impeccable taste and intellectual curiosity allowed them to amass a veritable compendium of sculptures, paintings, photographs, historical documents, and other artifacts related to African American history and culture. The couple continued adding to the collection because they wanted their son Khalil to have a strong understanding of his culture.
The Kinseys never intended their personal collection to become a cultural phenomenon. They simply enjoyed art and history and collected pieces for their personal enjoyment. It was an encounter with a reporter that catapulted the Kinseys and their collection into the national and global spotlights.
“A journalist from the L.A. Times came to our house to interview us for a story about architecture,” said Bernard Kinsey. “When he saw our art collection, he realized that there was a bigger story.”
Since that fateful day, The Kinsey Collection has been seen by over 3 million people in over 100 countries.
Previously, the exhibition has resided is some of the world’s most famous venues such as Epcot Center at Disney World, the Atlanta History Center, and The Smithsonian. Yet in Houston, the Kinsey’s selected the relatively new and modest Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) to display the exhibit.
“This was a no-brainer,” said Kinsey. “Houston has at least 1 million African-American residents and it made sense for the collection to reside in a place that celebrates our culture every day.”
After seeing The Kinsey Collection in Charlotte, NC, HMAAC CEO John Guess started lobbying to bring it to the nation’s fourth-largest city.
“I pushed for the exhibition to come to Houston,” he said. “I wasn’t necessarily pushing HMAAC.”
However, Bernard Kinsey did push for his collection to be shown at HMAAC and Houstonians will benefit from his persistence.
While the focus of the Kinsey Collection is the African American experience, it tells a uniquely American story that covers the Middle Passage, early settlers, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, The Civil Rights Movement, and many other important milestones in this country’s history.
“American history doesn’t exist apart from African American history,” said Kinsey. “It’s all intertwined.”
The entire first floor of the exhibit at HMAAC deals exclusively with black life from slavery through the Civil Rights Movement. So diverse is the collection that everything from the manacles that once bound the arms and legs of slaves to marriage and baptismal records of African Americans from the late 1500s (before Jamestown was settled) are included. There is even a letter from Bernard Kinsey’s school administrator grandfather expressing his outrage at the unequal conditions in Florida schools.
The second floor showcases the Kinseys’ love of art.
“People often want to only discuss our struggle,” said Kinsey. “However, our story transcends struggle. We have a beautiful and rich artistic heritage. I wanted people to see and support this aspect of our culture.”
There are pieces representing Impressionism, Cubism, and even some abstract art. Again, all of the artists featured are African Americans who work in various media including sculpture, drawing, painting, and collage.
“When you look at this together, you begin to understand the remarkable story and contributions of African Americans in this country,” said Kinsey. “That’s at the core of what The Kinsey Collection does.”
The Kinsey Collection is on view until October 26 and is sponsored by Wells Fargo.