Over a period of fifty years, Dr. Constance Elaine Clayton—a preeminent educator, philanthropist, and art advocate—amassed an art collection reflective of her love of art and Black creativity. Encyclopedic and diverse, Dr. Clayton's collection is a treasure trove of work created by African American artists, revealing a comprehensive look at Black creative expression that spans the late nineteenth through twentieth centuries. The Clayton collection as gifted to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture reveals Dr. Clayton's commitment to the arts as a tool for education and for teaching Black culture.
Educated in Philadelphia public schools, Dr. Clayton attended the prestigious Philadelphia High School for Girls, earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Temple University, and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. Dr. Clayton eventually became the first Black woman superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. A hands-on administrator who spoke clearly and forthrightly about the issues facing Philadelphia schools, Dr. Clayton was a strong force in the community and respected the opinions of teachers and others on the front lines of excellence. Reflecting on her tenure and accomplishments over a thirty-seven-year career, Dr. Clayton recalled, “I made every decision based on what was good for our kids'. We had no strikes and we did not have a single deficit. We did not delete music or art."
From early on in Clayton's life she was surrounded by family and friends who were artists and collectors. Her aunt created still lifes that hung in her home; her childhood friend, Rae Alexander Minter's home was filled with the artwork of Minter's great-uncle, Henry Ossawa Tanner. These experiences helped develop her love of art, and ignited her desire to collect works by African American artists. Clayton's mother, Willabell Harris Clayton, also nurtured her interest in art with frequent visits to Philadelphia's local art museums. Dr. Clayton went on to gather together rare and renowned nineteenth century artists such as Edward Mitchell Bannister, notable Harlem Renaissance artists Laura Wheeler Waring, Lois Mailou Jones, James Van Der Zee, Ellen Powell Tiberino, and Philadelphia printmaking innovator Dox Thrash.
“A Labor Of Love” illuminates Dr. Clayton's collecting ethos and generosity by exhibiting the thoughtful and comprehensive collection she donated to the Schomburg Center in 2015. This exhibition offers an introduction to Black art over time and shows the impact of Dr. Clayton's gift that fulfills our mission to highlight the culture and creativity of Black people.
This exhibition took place in 2019 in the Latimer/ Edison Gallery.