Fine Art

Grace Visits: Art Collector Johanne Bryant-Reid

Johanne Bryant-Reid is passionate about the arts and about being a collector of art. She is a woman whose lucid, dark eyes sparkle with delight, whose resonant voice magnifies with intensity as we tour her art collection. It includes paintings, prints, and drawings by Elizabeth Catlett, Roy Crosse, Jacob Lawrence, Carole Byard, Charles White, Norman Lewis, Charles Alston, Thornton Dial and Romare Bearden, among others. Throughout the tour, we occasionally pause for Johanne to share stories about specific works. Her humor and sense of personal discovery are intermixed as she tells how she unearthed these artworks and became so enamored with particular artists that their relationship developed into lifelong friendships.

For Johanne, art is not purchased to decorate a home. Art becomes, to quote Wassily Kandinsky, “. . . an inner necessity.” Artists need collectors like Johanne to complete and expand the life of their inventions: a conversation and collaboration intrinsic to the cycle of creation.

Johanne Bryant-Reid retired as a First Vice President of Merrill  Lynch where she directed their human resources department at a time when the company was looking to diversify and be more inclusive in their hiring practices. Through Merrill Lynch, she supported artists by setting up art exhibits, exposing her colleagues to a range of African American, Hispanic and women artists. Today, she is the co-director of The Romare Bearden Foundation. She’s also served on the boards of institutions such as National Council of Negro Women, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Manhattan Community College and Artists Space.

In the early 1980s, the trajectory of  Johanne’s  life changed when a friend invited her to visit the artist Romare Bearden in his  studio in the (then) “industrial wilderness” of Long Island City, New York. Bearden was generous with his time and spent an entire afternoon with them. Johanne described this experience as pivotal. “He was the first one to open my eyes to art . . . there is nothing like being in a Romare Bearden studio while he is working on a piece, and explaining it to you . . .” she recalls.

The artist’s hospitality was also peppered with a directness that made Johanne re-evaluate her priorities. She was wearing what she characterized as “fancy-dancy” shoes. Turning to her, Bearden asked, “Do you collect? In life, you need to do something besides buying shoes.” Johanne  interpreted this to mean she should invest in objects that have real value.


jbr-and-jacob-lawrenceJohanne Bryant Reid with a print by Jacob Lawrence from his “John Brown Series, 1970s.”


Johanne Bryant-Reid was born and raised in a coal mining community in West Virginia called  “Number 9” by its inhabitants — the official name was Consolidated Coal Company #9,  also known as Farmington, West Virginia. At the time, towns were referred to by the coal company number — an indication of the overwhelming  influence that coal manufacturing wielded in the area. Tragically, her father was killed in a coal mining accident when she was thirteen years old. For Johanne, that loss was akin to “taking the heart out of a family with four kids . . . [which left her] walking through life without a father figure . . .” Yet his memory and powerful presence had a striking influence on Johanne’s own choices. Her father was the first black man working in a coal mine to become treasurer of its union. It demonstrated his call to civic involvement, which Johanne has also committed to throughout the course of her life. Interested in electronics and a consummate craftsman, Johanne’s father built storage units, swinging shelves, furniture, and constructed his own radio — instilling in his daughter an eye for the aesthetic elegance of handmade, custom built objects. The familial influence also extended to her mother who was an accomplished cook and caterer.

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  • Rosemary Hathaway August 16, 2021 at 7:56 am

    Grace, I’m so grateful to have come across this wonderful article! I’m a folklorist in the English Department at WVU, and I’m trying to contact Johanne for an oral-history project I’m doing about Black student activism at the University in the late 1960s/early 1970s. If you are still in touch with her and are willing to share her contact information with me, please email me! My address is [email protected].

  • Russell Goings January 8, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Thanks For Sharing Your Gifts!

  • Darlene Peaks December 23, 2016 at 10:06 am

    I have known Johanne since our roommate days at West Virginia University. She has always been passionate about life! A natural leader, she was determined to better herself through education and by promoting social awareness and justice. She was also so much fun to be around! She has always walked through life with a balanced combination of gusto and grace…loved the article! You captured the Jo we know!

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard December 29, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      Darlene – lovely that you were roommates and know Johanne all these years.

    • Rosemary Hathaway August 16, 2021 at 7:58 am

      Darlene, I’m a faculty member at WVU getting started on an oral-history project about Black student activism at the University in the late 1960s/early 1970s. I’d love to talk with you about your experiences if you’d be willing! Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you’d like more information about what I’m working on.

  • Patricia A. Patton December 23, 2016 at 3:15 am

    Excellent interview. I learned specifics about Johanne.

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard December 29, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      Patricia – so glad you read this article – I met her through Roy.

  • Jeremy Lentz December 20, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Wonderful and insightful article on a great lady with a fascinating collection. Thank you for sharing and telling her story ! A treat to read!

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard December 29, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      Jeremy – thank you for commenting.

  • Suzan Globus December 2, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I appreciate your introduction of and insight into this woman who has evidently lead a life of grace, crowned by sharing her knowledge of underexposed artists with those who may have may been unaware. You have accomplished the same with this article.

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard December 4, 2016 at 9:08 am

      Suzan -Thank you for reading and commenting. Much appreciated.

  • Cicely Cottingham December 1, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    So happy to be introduced to this wonderful collector and collection. The Jacob Lawrence print is stunning. Jacob Lawrence was my teacher at Pratt and my most influential one. Thank you for this, Grace. Beautifully written and a great window into an important collection.

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard December 1, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      Thank you Cicely – Much appreciated.

  • Phyllis Rosser November 30, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for making me aware of this collector and her beautiful art collection. Every image you showed here and on your blog was stunning. I had no idea Jacob Lawrence had done that powerful John Brown series. Happy to know about the work of this wonderful woman.

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard November 30, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      Phyllis – thank you for reading and responding by writing your reaction.

  • Judith Henry November 30, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Wonderful article about a fascinating woman and her art collection. I love each and every image accompanying the article. So nice to read about a collector for this article in your series about artists. Great!

    • Grace Graupe Pillard November 30, 2016 at 9:31 am

      Judith- Thanks so much. It was an honor to write about you too.

  • Michele November 30, 2016 at 5:37 am

    I worked with Johanne at Merrill Lych format years and she turned into a friend She is the fairest, loveliest caring woman I have ever met she deserves all the accolades she gets. Great article

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard November 30, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      MIchele – thank you for the added insights into Johanne Bryant-Reid.

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. November 29, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for this profoundly moving profile of the art collector, Joanne Bryant-Reid. It was wonderful this morning to read about her journey from West Virginia, to understand her born-with aesthetic passion for both the maker and the art, and to have the opportunity with my morning coffee to have this “conversation” with Ms. Bryant-Reid and you about living a passionate life. Ms. Bryant-Reid is certainly a role model for all women. Grace, we look forward to each of your posts, knowing that our lives and worlds will be enhanced and expanded.
    Dr. Pat

    • Grace Graupe-Pillard November 29, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      I thank you for your comment and for the opportunity to write about many ” special” women. Visiting with Johanne was a great pleasure.