Teenie Harris exhibit acclaimed

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When Lionel Harris walked into the Scaife Galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art to see it filled with nearly a thousand of his late father’s photographs, it took everything he had not to burst into tears.

Even then, he choked up describing how proud his father, Charles “Teenie” Harris, would have been and how grateful he is to see it. He recalled how his father had begun working with Fine Arts Curator Louise “Lulu” Lippincott back in 1997 on a small show of 26 images he still possessed.

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NATIONAL ATTENTION—Johnson Publishing executives Desiree Rogers and Chair Linda Johnson Rice, who serves as national chair for the “Teenie Harris Photographer: An American Story” exhibit, pose at the gallery entrance during the gala opening Oct. 28.

“I have to thank the museum for this amazing exhibit,” he said. “Lulu doesn’t even know how important this was to dad. But I was here with him, and he said, ‘This is where my pictures belong.’ It’s sad he didn’t get to see this, but I am so grateful to the museum because now others can.”

What others can see in the “Teenie Harris: Photographer An American Story” exhibit is the result of what Lippincott described as 10 years of cataloguing, researching, preparing and printing negatives, and two years of arguing over which of the 60,000 images, out of nearly 80,000 in the Harris archive, should be included.

Charles Teenie Harris, who died at 89 in 1998, had his own studio in the Hill District, but took many of the images on display for the Pittsburgh Courier, and the New Pittsburgh Courier where he began working as staff photographer in 1936 and retired in the mid 1970s. He sold the bulk of his archive in later years, but his family and attorney Cindy Kernick of Reed Smith LLP retrieved them after his death. The museum acquired the archive in 2001.

“So, this is the first exhibit that really nails down his life and history,” she said. “And thanks to the 30 people on the design team who worked to pull this off, we have an extraordinary and unique experience.”

Entering the gallery to the strains of an original jazz score composed by Jay Ashby at Manchester Craftsman Gill Jazz, the first hall is filled with oversized images of Harris’ work, cast on the walls from seven different projectors, each showing a continuous loop of photos that takes 24 minutes to repeat.

Like her brother Lionel, Sheryl “Tiny” Harris was overcome with emotion upon seeing the exhibit.

“It’s just so much to absorb. You could spend years in here,” she said. “Dad would be amazed. It’s breathtaking. I’m still dabbing my eyes.”

Crystal Pass, another Harris sibling, called the display “mind boggling.”

“This is by far the best they’ve ever done,” she said.

Arranged by themes such as “Style,” “Gatherings” and “Urban Landscapes,” the loops contain images such as a father and son with their “Courier Racer” soap box derby car; musicians Earl Hines, Errol Garner, Billy Eckstine and Mary Lou Williams all at one piano; Presidents John Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower; and a group of children on Santa Claus’ lap outside a G.C. Murphy store.

The walls of the second hall are belted with a chronological display of Harris prints spanning 1934-1974, arranged five-rows high. Many of the images are cross references with the Pittsburgh Courier Archive. The third hall shows a film of Harris’ life and work, containing remembrances of those who knew him, or subjects in some of the photos. There is also a wall-sized map of Pittsburgh showing his studio in the Hill District, and the locations in and around Pittsburgh where he worked.

Like his siblings, Charles “Little Teenie” Harris said, though he is sad that his father couldn’t see it, the exhibit is astounding, and the museum deserves more thanks than he can give for its work.

“It’s beyond anything I ever dreamed of. Every room you go in is amazing,” he said. “Lulu touched dad in a way that he knew this was the place that would honor and care fore his images—and you can see it.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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