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Museum receives $2M photography collection

February 8, 2018
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David Pilgrim
David Pilgrim. Courtesy Ferris State University

A museum in the region focused on chronicling racist portrayals of African-Americans in America has received a donation of David Levinthal photographs worth an estimated $2 million.

The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University said today it received the collection, pending appraisal, from an anonymous donor.

The gift includes 135 large-format Polaroids, primarily from Levinthal’s “Blackface” series, but also from his “Barbie” and “Mein Kampf” series. 

With this donation, Ferris believes the museum might now possess one of the largest collections of Levinthal’s “Blackface” originals in the world. 

Museum officials have catalogued all of the items and are preparing many for exhibition. A grand-opening event for work is expected to occur in December.

Once he was contacted by the donor’s representative — David Pilgrim, VP for diversity and inclusion at Ferris and founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum — immediately knew the impact of the collection.

“(Levinthal) used his camera to document the ugly representations of African-Americans in the toys, games and dolls played with by this nation’s children,” Pilgrim said. “These images both reflected and shaped attitudes toward black people. Levinthal’s prints will be invaluable teaching tools for the Jim Crow Museum.”

The “Blackface” series is an exhibition of black memorabilia and racist household objects, such as blackface figurines, many of which are currently collected and displayed as part of the museum’s educational and scholarly mission to use objects of intolerance to examine expressions of racism and promote social justice.

“This wonderful gift to the Jim Crow Museum and Ferris is one of the most significant gifts that we have ever received,” Ferris President David Eisler said.

Museum officials are also eager to display the works from the “Barbie” and “Mein Kampf” series. Pilgrim said some of those prints will go to the museum’s companion facility, the Museum of Sexist Objects.

Levinthal, who has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, has works included in numerous museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and The Menil Collection.

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