Robert S. Duncanson Society growing, plans two big events

Some Monroe area artists recently started an organization to honor of one of their predecessors.

About a year ago, the Robert Seldon Duncanson Society was formed by several artists, including Dora Kelley, Sandy Vanisacker, Jeff Albergo and Patrick Barley, its founder and president.

Today, its membership and support have grown, and the society is preparing for its biggest events to date:  Feb. 19’s “Robert Seldon Duncanson’s Legacy: A Celebration of Black Artists” and a month-long art exhibit featuring African American artists.

The newly formed society is named for Duncanson, an African American landscape artist who lived from 1821-1872. He came to Monroe at age 7.

Robert Seldon Duncanson

Duncanson and his brothers worked as house painters in Monroe, according to research by Florence Buchanan. Later, Duncanson expanded to glasswork and portrait painting.

At age 19 he left Monroe and found his claim to fame: landscape art. Duncanson became one of the few African American 19th-century landscape artists and achieved international fame. He’s buried in Monroe.

“He lived here as a child. We consider him a Monroe native. He still has relatives in Monroe,” Vanisacker, an area artist and society member, said. “We are definitely keeping his association with Monroe right here in Monroe.”

Duncanson’s art was appreciated in his day, but today, his popularity has exploded.

“His art is in the Smithsonian. It’s selling many places around the world. Now, his artwork is basically unattainable, even in Paris,” Vanisacker said.

“A lot are selling over a $1 million. Duncanson’s sold more painting than Van Gogh,” Albergo said.

Artist Jonathon Harris' acrylic painting of an older gentleman is on displayed at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Education Center.

Last year, the Bidens chose Duncanson’s piece “Landscape with Rainbow” for the White House.

“That got all this going,” Kelley said.

Soon after, a local committee was formed. Its purpose was to recognize Duncanson’s 200th birthday, but things spiraled from there.

Barley secured grants from the La-Z-Boy Foundation, City of Monroe, Monroe NAACP, Monroe Rotary Club, individuals and others.

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