Dominique Luster first became familiar with the photography of Charles “Teenie” Harris as an undergraduate theater major at the University of Kentucky, using it as inspiration for her lighting and set design work.
Now she will work to have his photography continue to inspire others after having been named as the first permanent Teenie Harris Archivist for the Carnegie Museum of Art and will will manage and oversee the research, digitization, publication, and exhibition of the nearly 80,000 images shot by Harris from the 1930s to 1970s.
“The first…that’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard,” she said. “I genuinely love this collection and am dedicated to making sure it is taken care of and preserved for the community into the future.”
Luster said gained an even deeper appreciation for Harris’ work after coming to Pittsburgh in 2004 to Master of Library Information Science degree in Archives and Information Management at the University of Pittsburgh.
She takes over for a host of people who have helped curate the archive on a part-time basis since its acquisition, including museum Curator Louise Lippincott, Kerin Shellenbarger, and Charlene Foggie Barnett. Her first official day is May 16.
“Dominique will carry on the great work of so many others who have created this powerful archive of images and memories,” said Lippincott in May 12 press release. “I am delighted that we have been able to create a permanent, fully endowed position that guarantees the future of Teenie Harris’s art.”
Museum Director thanked the funders who made Luster’s hiring possible by fully endowing the position.
“As steward of the Teenie Harris archive, the museum has an ongoing responsibility to research Harris’s unique and rich body of work, and make it available to scholars and a broad public. Luster’s position insures that this important work will continue” she said.
“A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and support from the foundations and individuals who matched it, made her position possible, and we are extremely grateful.”
The endowment was made possible by a $300,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the foundations and individuals who matched it. Among them are the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the New Monuments Golf Club, the Massey Charitable Trust and the PNC Foundation.
Individual supports included Margo M. Flood, Richard V. Gambrell, Nancy and Milton Washington, Donna Hollen-Bolmgren Bequest, Judy and Ron Davenport, Cecile and Eric Springer, Charles “Little Teenie” Harris and Clyde B. Jones III.
Though digitizing the remaining color images from the late 1960s and early 1970s be among her first jobs, Luster said she doesn’t have a step-by-step set of priorities for her work with the collection, due to its complexity and its nature.
“There isn’t a ‘first, second and third’ because the collection is large and it’s personal, particularly to the African American community,” she said.
“It’s a complicated process. I run into people all the time who feel a sense of ownership for these images –and they give use the best stories. It’s about the people; a photo can tell one thing or a million things—some tell different stories based on the people in them. It’s not just 80,000 photos—it’s 80,000 memories of a community.”