Sargent Claude Johnson created this organ screen for the organ in the auditorium of the California School for the Blind in Berkeley, California. Sound from the organ traveled through the green fabric attached to the wood frame when the students put on concerts for their community.
About the Artist
Johnson was a part of the New Negro Movement, which was connected to the Harlem Renaissance. The New Negro Movement focused on the importance of African art and encouraged Black artists to incorporate both European and African influences in their work. Sargent was committed to drawing upon African artistic traditions, particularly the artistic traditions of West Africa. Explore West African Artworks. Can you identify West African artistic influences in this piece?
Natural Themes, Natural Resources
Explore the influences of the natural world on this artwork using the interactive image below.
One of the rabbits does not have gilded eyes. Johnson likely left the gold off of this rabbit’s eyes to signify that this rabbit is blind. Disability is natural and a part of the natural diversity of our world.
Johnson is best known for his imagery of animals and people. How do we see the natural and human worlds coming together in this piece? This artwork uses musical symbolism to bridge the animal and human worlds. We see children listening to birdsong along with the animals who came out to listen.
This piece includes rabbits and foxes existing together peacefully. In nature, foxes are common predators of rabbits, and rabbits are prey for foxes. By including rabbits and foxes together in harmony, the artist has created a fictional scene using the natural world. What story might he be trying to tell?
The artist uses the grain of the redwood to help create textures and shapes in the work. How does the grain contribute to the textures you observe?
The artist said, “I try to apply color without destroying the natural expression of sculpture, putting it on pure, in large masses without breaking up the surfaces of the form.”
A Story in Three Parts
This work is a triptych (trip-TIK), which means it is one artwork made up of three parts. One way to experience the work is part-by-part. Scroll through the pictures below and consider each piece individually.
Questions & Prompts
for each panel
Look closely for one full minute. What do you notice first? What do you notice after looking for a while?
Describe the nature you see.
In what ways is the panel you chose to observe similar to the other two? In what ways is it unique?
Draw this panel with as much detail as possible.
Work with a peer or in a group. Each person spends 30 seconds (no more) sketching the important features of the panel. After the 30 seconds are up, compare your sketches. What features did you each think were the most important to include? Why?
Once you have engaged with each panel individually, return to the top of this page to revisit the triptych as a whole, single work of art. How do the panels work together to tell one story? What story do they tell you?
References and Resources
Locke, Alain. 1925. “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts.” In The New Negro, edited by Alain Locke, 254-67. New York: A. & C. Boni.
Page, Thea. 2011. “Rare Chance to See Artworks The Huntington Might Purchase.” The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. https://www.huntington.org/verso/2018/08/rare-chance-see-artworks-huntington-might-purchase.
Shaw, Gwendolyn DuBois. 2012. "Creating a New Negro Art in America: Relocating Sargent Johnson’s African-inspired Art.” Transition 108: 74-87. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/478409.
Turner-Lowe, Susan. 2013. “Monumental and Melodious.” The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. https://www.huntington.org/verso/2018/08/monumental-and-melodious.
Underhill, Justin. 2019. “Virtual Model of a Masterful Wood Carving.” The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. https://www.huntington.org/verso/2019/04/virtual-model-masterful-wood-carving.