Probably the most famous African-American visual artist of the 20th century, Romare Bearden was best known for a singular approach to collage art that incorporated scraps of wallpaper, glossy magazines, and fabric into a kind of patchwork cubism.
When Bearden was at his height in the late 1960s, he became friends with Russell Goings – a former pro football player, co-founder of Essence magazine, and man about town. They talked sports and went to museums together. When Bearden became ill with bone cancer in the 1980s, Goings never left his side, taking him to doctors' appointments and carrying him up the stairs for his daily visits to the studio.
"Man's dying, so what does he want?" Goings remembers. "Orange juice. Some salmon. Scissors. Glue. Paper. A nice bar of chocolate." Even as his health declined, Bearden refused to stop working. "What Romare did for me was show me what an artist is," his assistant Andre Teabo says. "Here was a man that created up until the last couple days of his life. I mean he just never quit."
Russell Goings recorded hours of his conversations with Bearden in their final months together. Using those private tapes and her own extensive interviews with Goings and Teabo, WNPR's Catie Talarski produced this extraordinary, intimate portrait of a friendship.
The Smithsonian's traveling exhibition Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey is currently on view at the Reynolda House Museum of Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
(Originally aired December 4, 2011)
Slideshow: Romare Bearden in his studio
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