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RG 30/361 - Sharon F. Patton (1944- )

Sharon F. Patton was born in south side Chicago in 1944. As a child she realized that she had a talent for drawing. After high school she attended Roosevelt University in Chicago, earning in 1966 a B.A. magna cum laude in humanities with a concentration in studio art. She enrolled at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and received an M.A. in 1969, with a thesis on Georgione, a 16th century Italian Renaissance painter. She then enrolled at the University of Chicago and, in 1970, entered the doctoral program in Art History. In 1980 Patton received her Ph.D. in African Art History at Northwestern University. She studied Museum Management in the Museum Studies Program at the Smithsonian Institution (1988) and was part of the Management Development Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (1996).

Sharon Patton’s professional experience began in 1968 as an instructor in the Art Department at Mankato State College, Minnesota, where her specific interest in African-American Art began to grow and where she developed her conviction that it is difficult to separate art from the culture that produced it. Subsequently, she served on the faculties of Lake Forest College, Illinois (1971-72), the Virginia Commonwealth University, at Richmond (1972-73), and the Art Department and African-American Studies Program at the University of Houston, Texas (1976). She served as assistant professor in the Art Department at the University of Maryland from 1979 to 1985, becoming Director of Art Galleries at Monclair State College, New Jersey, in 1986 and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York in 1987. In 1991 she moved to the University of Michigan as an associate professor in the Art History Department and the Center for African-American and African Studies, becoming director of the latter in 1996. Two years later, in 1998, Patton was named the John G.W. Cowles Director of Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum. In 2003 Patton moved to Washington, D.C. to become director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Patton has organized nearly 20 exhibitions, of which three, mounted in the Studio Museum in Harlem, received much critical acclaim: “Memory and Metaphor, the Art of Romare Bearden, 1940-1987”; “Home: Contemporary Urban Images by Black Photographers”; and “The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s.” Patton’s first book, Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden (Oxford University Press, 1991) grew out of the Bearden show; and her second book, African American Art (Oxford, 1998) garnered Choice’s Outstanding Academic Book of the Year Award.

Among the catalogues Patton has compiled are Traditional Forms and Modern Africa: West African Art at the University of Maryland (1983); Witches, Demons and Metamorphoses (1987); and Vincent C. Smith, Reding on a Blue Note (1990). She is a prolific writer of articles and essays relating to many aspects of art, and has delivered many papers, lectures, and presentations to a variety of groups, as well as serving as a consultant, juror, and evaluator. She has been the recipient of numerous grants, awards, and fellowships throughout her career, and has held membership in several professional organizations.

Sources Consulted
Faculty and biographical files of Sharon Patton.
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