Fine Art

Grace Visits: Art Collector Johanne Bryant-Reid

In the late 1960s, during America’s civil rights era and turbulent time of change, Johanne attended West Virginia University where her social consciousness and imagination expanded. An avid reader, she became keenly aware of the absence of African American Literature and Black History courses in the University’s curriculum. She discovered the power of protest and joined a group of students in targeting the president of the University, holding him in his office, until all their core programming demands were met. The realization that a voice in concert with others’ can precipitate change was revelatory. When she moved to New York City in the late 1970s to begin working for Merrill Lynch, Johanne employed her organizing skills by using her spare time to volunteer at a women’s center, helping to raise money for battered women through the sale of art by artists such as Nanette Carter, Emma Amos, and  Carole Byard. The idea that Johanne was drawn to was “women helping women” — a potent catalyst.


beardenmrs-sleet-and-nieceRomare Bearden, “Mrs. Sleet and Her Niece Aryell, watercolor, 14” x 11”, unknown date.


Heeding Romare Bearden’s advice from years ago, Johanne purchased art, filling her elegant home with a distinctive taste: a totemic sculpture by Roy Crosse residing on a corner wall exuding a magical presence, an amalgam of contemporary materials and a bewitching past. A drawing by Bearden himself (above), fresh and vibrant with a handwritten inscription melding the specific with the universal. A Charles Alston drawing of a seated young boy conveying the awkwardness of youth — fingers intertwined, fidgeting with restless energy. Johanne collected many phases of Norman Lewis’ work from an early realistic watercolor, to an ink nude study, to an abstraction conveying the movement of time rushing by.

Johanne  recalled that when she attended high school, she “didn’t even know there were any African American writers.” This disturbing absence was etched into her sensibility and generated a resolve in her to make African American books and art available to larger audiences. Eventually, wedding her love of prose and poetry with art, she organized a Merrill Lynch event for John Biggers’ lithographic illustrations and Maya Angelou’s poem “Our Grandmothers,” which was published in a book by The Limited Editions Club in 1994.


eliz-catlett-printElizabeth Catlett, “Sharecropper,” linocut, 19” x 20.” Ed.#56/60, 1970.


As I was leaving our tour, Johanne generously gave me a copy of another stunning book, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” She proudly shared that she owns every Elizabeth Catlett linocut print illustrating James Weldon Johnson’s iconic song, “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” regarded as the African American “National Anthem.”

Johanne Bryant-Reid is an extraordinary woman who has devoted her life to the arts, knowing with certainty that it is a glorious path to enriching one’s being.

“These artists had a profound effect on me and  changed my life,” she says of her collection. “Taking nothing and creating something is a phenomenal thing.”

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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.