In 1960, Evelyn S. Brown, Associate Director of the Harmon Foundation in New York City, wrote to the modern artist Miranda Burney-Nicol (Olayinka Burney-Nicol) in Sierra Leone, enquiring of what had become of the artist Madame Ogunjami, who “while not a native of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was the wife of an Anglican rector by the name of M. N. Ogunjami Wilson.” Burney-Nicol knew of her but never met her and thought she was deceased. Curiosity led me to the Harmon Foundation archives in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress,, where I learned that her first name was Suzanna (also Susanna and Suzanne), and that she sometimes went by her husband’s surname and at other times by his African name of Ogunjami., which name I will employ in this account of her art and life.

Ogunjami claimed African heritage and beginning in 1928 and for some years the Harmon Foundation exhibited and sold her art with African American artists (Harmon Foundation.1971 (1935). In a long hand undated written statement which she probably prepared in 1934 for the Harmon Foundation, she wrote: “I belong to the Ebo Tribe. Both parents were member of the said Tribe of Nigeria, West Africa. I grew up in Jamaica and came from there to this country. I am interested in African textile work, the designing and weaving, also the manufacturing and dyeing of threads” (Ogunjami n.d.:1). From the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century Ebo was a common designation in the Western world for a people later known as Ibo and who are now sometimes called Igbo, the largest cultural group in southeastern Nigeria.

The Harmon Foundation typed copies of many of their artist’s statements and letters, but Ogunjami’s typed form of her longhand statement, dated December 20, 1934, is unusual in substantially differing from her longhand one, which is largely concerned with the production of African cloth and with African religion. Whether this difference resulted from an interview with her or for some other reason is unclear. The typed version focuses on Ogunjami’s career, beginning: “My people were Africans and belonged to the Ebo tribe in West Africa. Both parents were from Nigeria, where I was born. I had no art training in Africa. I was just trained in general academic work in Jamaica, British West Indies. I grew up in Jamaica and came from there to this country. Subjects [of her art] are taken from what I know of Africa and what I have read. I read things and then visualize them and then put it on canvas” (Ogunjami 1934:1).

On the next page Ogunjami states: “I have not been in Africa for a long, long, time. The memories of Africa I have are from my childhood. The conditions existing in West Africa as to my pictures, are similar to Jamaica. There are some forbears who have continued the habits and customs of the tribes and the children and the children’s children still keep up these habits and customs of the tribes and still try to do the things they are taught in the way of making images and other things—Of course a lot of it has been lost. I m going into the primtives as far as I can so that people may now the truth about West Africa.” She attended primary and secondary school in Jamaica.

In a single-page longhand statement for the Harmon Foundation, her husband, whose full name was Matthew Norman Ogunjami Wilson, wrote: “My father’s people are members of the Nupe tribe and my mother’s belongs to the Ebo tribe. I am a third generation Christian. My Father is the late Archdeacon of the Diocese of Sierra Leone, West Africa. My native name is Ogunjami. I came directly from West Africa to the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church at 9th Avenue and 20th Street, New York City” (M. Wilson 1934). In a typed version of this statement he adds: “I am a fourth generation Christian—that is my Great Grandfather accepted Christianity, my Grandfather, my Father was a minister, and I am the fourth generation.” Wilson was evidently a well-educated Anglican of Krio background from Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was and remains customary for Krios to have an African name often from the Yoruba, as well as their English ones.

First Artistic Experience in the United States

In her longhand interview for the Harmon Foundation, Ogunjami wrote “My nephew Francis Bowen, who is now in Africa, said I was artistically inclined and should study everything I could in Fine Arts. I took his advice and after completing the course in textiles proceeded with other subjects in the Extension Department” (Ogunjami n.d.:1). She schooled part-time at Teachers College, Columbia University, for three years, while assisting her husband with religious matters, and then attended college full-time for four years. “Miss Elsie Ruffini, one of my instructors and my nephew Francis who was then a student in Columbia College advised me to continue my work as a regular student getting what I could and developing what I wanted. I majored in Fine Art Education, arranging my programme according to the requirements” (Ogunjami n.d.:1). She received her B.Sc. degree in Fine Arts in 1927 and her M.A. degree in 1928, with a fine arts diploma and a thesis on West African arts and hand industries.

Exhibitions with the Harmon Foundation

In her typed interview Ogunjami described how she came to be sponsored by the Harmon Foundation. “Professor Martin was my teacher and Miss Ruffini was his Assistant. They advised me to send the ‘[oil painting] “Sunflower” (Ogunjami 1934: 2-3). In the Harmon Foundation’s 1935 summary publication (Harmon Foundation1971 (1935):34) we find: “Mme Ogunjami, wife of the Reverend M.N.O. Wilson, was born in Nigeria, Africa,” and on page 53 that “SUZANNA OGUNJAMI….Born Nigeria, Africa, member of the Ebo tribe, education at Jamaica, B.W.I.” A single-page 1937 résumé of the artist in the foundation files, written in 1937, after she and her husband had left the United States for Sierra Leone in 1935, lists her as Suzanna Ogunjami (Mrs. M.N.O. Wilson), her place of birth as ‘Nigeria, Africa (member of the Ebo tribe)” (Harmon Foundation1937b)..

She exhibited an oil painting on canvas between January 6 and 17, 1928 in the Harmon Foundation’s first exhibition, held in New York: Exhibition of Fine Arts: Productions of American Negro Artists (Harmon Foundation, et al. 1928; Harmon Foundation 1971 (1935); Powell and Reynolds 1999:98). Andrea D. Barnwell writes of the artist (1999:218), that “Ogunjami experienced considerable success when Sunflower, one of her earliest oil paintings, was included,” although the catalogue only lists the work as Still Life under the name Suzanna Wilson (Harmon Foundation, et al., 1928) Ogunjami appeared to be the first African-born modern artist to exhibit in the United States

The Harmon Foundation exhibited her Still Life sometime between 1929 and 1933, but where is not clear (Reynolds and Wright 1999:288). Between March 31 and April 30, 1935 Ogunjami’s art work was in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, but no catalogue is available.

Ogunjami’s art continued to be displayed through the Harmon Foundation for a number of years after she had left the country in 1935. In 1936 one or more of her works was in the foundation’s travelling exhibition (Harmon Foundation 1936), where it was again written that she was “Born Nigeria, Africa, member of the Ebo tribe.” In a 1937 letter from Evelyn S. Brown at the foundation to Ogunjami, then in Sierra Leone, Brown wrote: “Your work has been shown quite considerably and has received much favorable comment. In December it went to the Rennaissance [sic] Society at the University of Chicago for an exhibit were [sic] holding. In March of this year at the Mulvana Art Museum of Washburn College, Topeka, Kansas, with a small exhibit of Negro work, and now one piece is in Kansas City at the Church of the Association and the other is at Dillard University with a very distinguished exhibition which is being held during the inauguration ceremonies for President William Stuart Nelson.” In the same letter Brown suggested that Ogunjami might meet the African American artist, Richard Barthé in Sierra Leone, who “has made quite a success of his work,” and is contemplating a trip to Africa. There is no record of a meeting, although it is possible that they did so.

Fig. 1 Suzanna Wilson. Full Blown Magnolia. Oil painting on burlap

Fig. 1 Suzanna Wilson. Full Blown Magnolia. Oil painting on burlap

From December 18, 1961 to January 19, 1962, Ogunjami’s Full Blown Magnolia (Fig. 1), Ogunjami’s best known work, was shown in a large Harmon Foundation exhibition in New York City, Art from Africa of Our Time, for from the 1950s to 1967, when it closed, the Harmon Foundation was interested in modern Africa art

(Harmon Foundation 1961). The painting had been with the Harmon Foundation since the 1930s.  The catalogue caption reads in part:

“SUZANNA OGUNJAMI – SIERRA LEONE—she was one of the first African artists to exhibit and sell her work in this country. She was born in Nigeria and is an Ibo. It is not known whether she till lives and paints.” The only other Sierra Leonean artist in the exhibition was Olayinka (Miranda) Burney-Nicol, mentioned above (Ottenberg, n.d.). The two never met. Another Harmon Foundation summary exhibition (Harmon 1966) held at the Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center (formerly The Commercial Museum), with the title of African Artists of Our Time, probably contained a work or two of Ogunjami’s, though no catalogue was available.

Full Blown Magnolia was shown in nine sites in the eastern United States in 1999-2001 as part of a major exhibition, to Conserve a Legacy, of the art of African Americans from Black colleges and universities (Powell and Reynolds 1999:98:212-217). Andrea D. Barnwell writes “In 1935 when Full Blown Magnolia was first exhibited it was described as mirroring the wild landscape, the exotic foliage and the unusual people of her native land” (Barnwell 1999:217) She notes, however, that magnolias are grown in the southern United States. (They also occur in the Caribbean.) She goes on to comment that the painting “consists of a single flower in a bulging vase with purple undertones that sits on a table. The dark velvety drape behind the lone flower creates a theatrical tone, removing it further from its natural setting and placing it in isolation. Magnolia trees are common symbols of perseverance, sensuousness, love, beauty and refinement. Considering

Ogunjami’s personal and aesthetic interests, it is understandable why she depicted the attractive flower.”

In a footnote on the same page, Barnwell writes that Ogunjami was “born of Igbo (Nigeria) ancestry, [and] left West Africa for Jamaica at a young age,” citing Ogunjami’s hand-written and typed 1934 Harmon Foundation interviews. In 1967, the year that the Harmon Foundation ceased to exist, it donated Full Blown Magnolia along with work by African modern artists to the Hampton University Museum. References to Ogunjami appear in other publications under the names Suzanna Ogunjami or Suzanna Wilson, indicating her African ancestry, her Igbo identity, or both.

Delphic Studios’ Exhibition

Ogunjami held a solo exhibition at the Delphic Studios at 724 Fifth Avenue in New York City between December 3 and 15, 1934, entitled Exhibition of Paintings by Suzanna Ogunjami (Delphic Studios 1934). Although not sponsored by the Harmon Foundation, it filmed the opening ceremonies. The commercial gallery was of some distinction, consisting of three show spaces in a former private home. Ogunjami wrote (1934) that it was her maiden solo exhibition, “the work of several years of study. I started on the work exhibited after I had my Master’s Degree. With the exception of three pieces, everything else has been done since I left Teachers College. I decided I wanted to do everything by myself without criticisms or instructions. I very seldom went to an exhibition as I really wasn’t interested in them. Once in a while I went up to Wanamakers or different picture galleries just to see if there was anything new.”

On the front cover of the exhibition brochure there is a black and white photograph of a painting by Ogunjami showing a seated woman with long black hair tied in a bun in the back. The woman is wearing long simple necklace and a flowing light-colored robe. The dress does not appear to be African: it may be Jamaican. In the Harmon Foundation, Ogunjami’s file there is a sketch by the artist of a female face with a similar hairdo. Beside it she wrote: “This is a rough sketch, but it tells the type. A Bust picture—purple waist, Head dress in rich yellow with borders of colours (subdued). The border of the headdress shows life. Eyes—are rather dreamy. I consider attractive. I have mislaid the copy. I always make the whole outline and then put [it] on the canvas after my own rigid criticism”

Suzanna Ogunjami. Nupi -Nupe- Princess. Early 1930s. Oil on Canvas

Fig. 2. Suzanna Ogunjami. Nupi -Nupe- Princess. Early 1930s. Oil on Canvas

The small catalogue reads in part: “SUZANNA OGUNJAMI seems to have inherited the artistic side of her ancestors, both parents being direct members of the Ibo tribe of Nigeria, West Africa.” Twenty-seven paintings are listed, but it is not possible to tell from the titles which one is depicted on the catalogue cover, nor does it indicate what media she employed, although she often painted in oil on canvas. Some titles suggest Africa: Nupe Princess, A Susu Beauty, Ekandayo, and Watching for the Caravans, which may refer to African trading or slave caravans. Eight titles suggest floral still lifes, including Sunflower and Full Blown Magnolia. There appear to be no New York City images, although she had lived there for some years. While Ogunjami was religious, only two titles, under the category of “Metalwork and Jewelry” suggest this: Alms Basin with some Stone Settings, and Cross with Sapphire Setting Pendant.

The number of paintings in the exhibition suggests a fair level of productivity and at least one of them sold. A black and white photograph of A Nupi [Nupe] Princess (Fig. 2) in the United States Photographic Archives was in the Delphic Studios’ exhibition, unless Ogunjami created more than one work with this title. The painting profiling the left side of the head and shoulders of a young woman is well delineated. There is a bright eye and she is wearing a round earring, a beaded necklace, and a cloth that ties her flowing hair at the back. The Nupes are an important cultural group in central Nigeria and we have noted that Ogunjami’s husband’s father came from that group. Another black and white photograph of a painting from the same archive is entitled Portrait Study (Fig. 3). It is a apparently a full-face view of the same woman wearing a large scarf in a band design.

Suzanna Ogunjami. Portrait Study. Oil on Canvas Early 1930

Fig. 3. Suzanna Ogunjami. Portrait Study. Oil on Canvas Early 1930

Alma M. Reed, the gallery owner was a journalist who had lived in Mexico for many years. She exhibited the then little-known Mexican artists at the gallery, such as José Clèmente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siquerios (Reed 2007:x-xi; May 1993:227-247). Perhaps sponsoring Ogunjami was part of a pattern of assisting artists who were not well known whose work she admired, although Ogunjami’s art differed greatly from that of the Mexican artists. Ogunjami wrote that her art was brought to Reed’s attention through a “young artist, Mr. Dobkin—who admired the paintings and suggested the Delphic Studios for my exhibition” (Ogunjami n.d.:5). The show was the crowning moment of Ogunjami’s American artistic experience.

The Harmon Foundation Film

In 1937 the Harmon Foundation released A Study of Negro Artists, a silent, black-and-white film based on the work of their group of artists, filmed in various settings over a number of years (Reynolds and Wright 1989:104). The well-known African American photographer, James Latimer Allen (Willis 2005:192-194) task was “to interpret the Negro artist through his background and the influences under which he is achieving today” (Reynolds and Wright 1989:104). The film contains nothing on Ogunjami, yet among its outtakes there are several segments concerning her Delphi Studios’ opening reception. She was the only non-African American artist in the full film and its outtakes. “This footage is intriguing for two reasons. First, in contrast with the artists in the film who are easily recognized, such as Richmond Barthé, Palmer Hayden, Lois Mailou Jones and August Savage, Ogunjami is not familiar. Her presence in this film invites question about this unknown artist who gained such acclaim that by the 1930s, she had a one-woman exhibition under the auspices of a distinguished foundation, Second, because Ogunjami’s paintings feature women braiding each others’ hair in idealized African settings and portraits of African people, her art stands out from other artists’ works featured in this film” (Barnwell 1999:218).

Still Life at the Delphic Studios Exhibition (1934) Probably oil on canvas From the outtake of the film A Study of Negro Artists (1937)

Fig. 4 Still Life at the Delphic Studios Exhibition (1934) Probably oil on canvas From the outtake of the film A Study of Negro Artists (1937)

The outtakes include several of Ogunjami’s still life of white-colored flowers as well as full blown Magnolia. One image is of tulips in a vase with a carved African figure at its right (Fig. 4). Some African American artists in the full film and in the outtakes have African carvings in their studios where Allen filmed them at work. Another still life depicts a rich flora display in a white vase. One of several portraits on the gallery walls is of a light-skinned, dignified young adult women. The figure of a standing, dark-skinned, nude woman with a loin cloth, wearing a necklace and with high-top hair is in sharp contrast to this portrait. A genre paintings depicts a seated woman preparing the hair of another female, who sits in front of her on the ground (Fig. 5). This image could be set in Africa or the Caribbean.

Another genre piece is of a seated woman weaving multi-striped cloth on what appears to be a backstrap loom (Fig. 6). The setting is unlikely to be African as this form of loom occurs there only in two Madagascar cultures, although women’s vertical looms are found among various groups in Nigeria and elsewhere (Picton and Mack 1989:135-136; Lamb and Holmes 1980:170-264). It is probably based on a loom from Mesoamerica (Bjerregaard 1977: Ziek de Rodriquez and Ziek, 1978). The Delphic Gallery paintings were probably in oil paint on canvas, Ogunjami’s most frequent medium. There is a scene of a small portion of the gallery on opening day of the exhibition (Fig.7). The viewers at the exhibition (Fig. 8). appear to be mostly white, consistent with the role that some of them were playing as patrons of African American art. The outtakes include images of Suzanna Ogunjami and her husband at the opening (Figs. 9 and 10).

Suzanna Ogunjami. Title unknown.

Fig. 5 Suzanna Ogunjami. Title unknown.


Evaluations of Ogunjami’s Art

Ogunjami’s artistic work appeared in three settings in the United States: with African American artists under the sponsorship of the Harmon Foundation, in a solo exhibition at the Delphic Studios, and after she left the country with the Harmon Foundation’s African modern artists, perhaps even after her death (date unknown, probably in Jamaica). Her art was not concerned with social justice issues as was the work of some of the African American and African artists. It largely consisted of floral still lifes, portraits and genre images, drawn from African and Jamaican culture–all conventional art forms for nineteenth and early twentieth century women painters (Nochlin 1988:86), although some African American women artists, such as Augusta Savage, had moved on to create in new forms and styles. None of Ogunjami’s art that is available is religious, except for some jewelry, although she was a religious individual, working closely with her clergyman husband in his clerical activities. Art and religion were separate worlds except for her interest in African religions.

No detailed evaluation of Ogunjami’s art exists and reactions to it varied. Evelyn S. Brown at the Harmon Foundation wrote in 1960, years after the artist had left the United States: “We considered Madame Ogunjami’s work of high quality in art and think her pictures we have here are very fine.” A Harmon Foundation summary, possibly written by Brown, states: “Subject matter primarily African, interested mainly in that country [sic] and in African primitives,” a statement that underplays her floral paintings. An earlier comment in the same publication states: “her paintings mirror the world landscape, the exotic foliage and the unusual people in her native land…. Ogunjami had two interests outside of her painting—African primitives and religion. She has recently returned to Freetown, West Africa, where she hopes to remain to record the bright yellows and deep blues of her surroundings and to aid her husband in the work of the church” (Harmon Foundation 1971 (1935):53, 34). These comments, as others below, reflect ignorance of Africa in the United States during the time of the presence of the Harmon Foundation.

Woman at a Backstrap Loom

Fig. 6 Woman at a Backstrap Loom

An anonymous Delphic Studios’ exhibition reviewer wrote: “Painted in America, and done without models, her work includes many impressions of the American Negro.” (“Artist from Nigeria Shows Art,” 1934:23). Barnwell (1999:217-218) comments that Ogunjami’s “work evokes powerful connections between ancient African art forms and modern Western themes….The majority of her paintings suggest that although she painted a variety of subjects, she was primarily interested in religious education and in creating images that countered the idea that African peoples were uncivilized. Her paintings suggest that she wanted to depict the sophistication of African peoples and their preoccupation with adornment and physical beauty. Because she left Nigeria at an early age the subjects of her paintings were based on what she recalled of Africa and what she had read.”

Howard Devree, reviewing the Delphic Studios’ exhibition wrote in the New York Times (Devree 1934:8), wrote of the “exotic oils by Suzanna Ogunjami, described as a daughter of the Ebo tribe….Miss Ogunjami employs rich but well controlled color and has a striking sense of design.” A press comment in the Topeka Daily Capital of March 14, 1937 (13B), as a consequence of a Harmon Foundation exhibition there, states: “Striking in its strength of character and handling is the ‘Nupe Princess.’”

Christine Temin, as recently as 1999 (Temin 1999), wrote of Full Blown Magnolia,when it was shown in a traveling exhibition of African American art, To Conserve a Legacy at the Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts (Powell and Reynolds eds., 1999), that it was “a mesmerizing image of pale petals, bravely flaring open, like someone come out of hiding.”

A scene of a small portion of the gallery at the opening of the Delphic Studio Exhibit

Fig. 7 A scene of a small portion of the gallery at the opening of the Delphic Studio Exhibit

Freida High (1999, 195), an art historian of African American and African art, reacting to written statements about Ogunjami in the Harmon Foundation summary publication on its African American artists (1971 (1935), wrote that Ogunjami “was reported in stereotypical language that she was an Igbo,” adding that the “language used to discuss Ogunjami was disturbing” (High 1999:193)., Unfortunately. she did not expand on her views.

These are divergent reactions to Ogunjami ‘s art, although the sense of the exotic permeates some of them. Except for High, the other commentators had probably never evaluated the work of an artist such as Ogunjami, and they undoubtedly had limited knowledge of Africa and Jamaica. Her art is technically skilled in a traditional manner, with good control of line and image. Her ability to draw from Jamaican, African and African American life provided her with a wide range of materials. It would have been helpful to know the reaction to her work of African American artists and scholars with whom she exhibited, but no such records are available. Alain Locke, the African American scholar, heavily involved in the promotion and study of the Black arts and their indigenous African connections, while supportive of the Harmon Foundation’s activities, seemed to have nothing to say about Ogunjami’s art in his publications and in his archives in the Howard University Library. This is true despite a letter to him from Mary Beattie Brady, the director of the Harmon Foundation, who wrote: “I am very anxious to have you see the two pieces of her work that we kept to use in connection with our traveling exhibition.”

It does not appear that Ogunjami was involved with the Harlem Renaissance, which was beginning to decline when Ogunjami was active as an artist in the United States (Campbell 1987). Christian religious issues, of concern to her and her husband, were not primary matters of interest in this movement. Ogunjami wrote (1934:3): “I have been helping Mr. Wilson in the Episcopal church work right along.”

At the opening of the Delphic Studio Exhibit

Fig. 8 At the opening of the Delphic Studio Exhibit

Ogunjami and the African American artists under the Harmon Foundation’s patronage underwent experiences similar to what emerging modern African artists would later encounter. There were the Oshogbo artists and their major patron, Ulli Beier in Nigeria, the Zimbabwean Shona soapstone sculptors and Frank McEwen, the modern Makonde sculptors and Portuguese colonial officials and Catholic missionaries in Mozambique (Beier 1991; McEwen 1972; Coote 1989; Stout 1966). The Commonwealth Institute Art gallery in London exhibited modern African artists’ work, purchased some of it, sold some of it to the public for the benefit of the artists, and exhibited organized travelling exhibitions of this art. In all of these cases of patronage and control it appears to have been middle-class whites making selections as to what was proper to exhibit, sell and own, and this was true of the Harmon Foundation.Ogunjami wrote favorably of African religion, though perhaps imposing on it some of her Episcopalian views.“ In Africa there is a religion of a much higher conception of God than is generally acknowledged by writers on African modes of thought…. The African approaches God by all the various means which he has created.” (Ogunjami 1934:2): He believes the power is in the trees, springs and so forth” (Ogunjami n.d.:3-4). “The primitives shown in my painting “The Sculptors” have spiritual meaning, People think that the African people do not know God, but they do know God and in their daily life they praise him. They believe that God is too great, is too wonderful, too exhaulted [sic] for people to approach Him in an ordinary way as the Christians do—they want to worship God through the medium of their sculptures—not as wood or stone” Elsewhere she wrote “Educated Africans and the children of the dispersion are acquainted with the art of Europe, but of the art of their own countries only a few know. The subject can by no means be exhausted” (Ogunjami n.d.:5-6).

Ogunjami’s Writings on African Arts and Crafts

Suzanna Ogunjami at the opening of her Delphic Studios Exhibition

Fig. 9. Suzanna Ogunjami at the opening of her Delphic Studios Exhibition

Ogunjami was fascinated with African material objects, particularly from West Africa. In both the handwritten and the typed statements for the Harmon Foundation (n.d.:2; 1934) she wrote favorably of African dyes, calling their use “Industrial Art,” and admiring the Africans’ ability to control color and set the dyes properly. ”I hope I’ll be able to do some fine art teaching on the [African] West Coast but primarily I intend to make some research in the Fine Arts of West Africa. What I know of Africa is from my childhood days. The conditions existing in West Africa are to a great extent similar to that of Jamaica, and as to my paintings the subjects are often from what I know and what I have been told. I sometimes visualize the interesting things I read about and finally compose and paint a picture of same. I never studied art in any form before I became a student at Teachers College, Columbia University, but I always had a feeling for it” (Ogunjami n.d.:2-3)).

The artist’s thirty-five page Master’s Thesis at Teachers College (Wilson 1928) entitled The Arts and Hand Industries of West Africa: Their Social, Economic and Aesthetic Importance, appeared in 1928, the year she first exhibited her art. This review of West African art, crafts, and production techniques made use of information and photographs from standard books and articles of the time, and perhaps she gained some information from her husband. She admiringly focused on the value of what Africans made by hand and their close links to African religion. She hoped that modern African life would not destroy these skills.

The Reverend M. N. O. Wilson at the opening of Suzanna Ogunjami's Delphic Studios Exhibition

Fig. 10. The Reverend M. N. O. Wilson at the opening of Suzanna Ogunjami’s Delphic Studios Exhibition

There is idealization of indigenous African life in her writing, seeing Africans as simple, but technically skilled, peaceful and happy, with hints that Western civilizations is not as happy and peaceful. There is not enough information on Ogunjami’s own art to relate it to the African culture she discusses. In any case, her views on African culture show greater insight than that of many writers of the same period, reflecting her genuine interest in it, and a wish to be involved with African artists and craftspeople in their own land

Ogunjami’s Religious Background

A major interest of Ogunjami’s life in America was her religious activities with her husband under her married surname of Wilson. I do not know what her religious beliefs were before marriage, but after this event she followed her husband’s Episcopalian faith. He was ordained in 1914 in New York City as an Episcopal deacon and a priest following four years’ study at the General Theological Seminary there. In 1916 he became head of the Chapel of the Messiah at 206 East 95th Street in Manhattan, a neighborhood changing in racial composition. It was formerly “a Chapel for white people, and a colored vicar was placed there to undertake to work among his own people” (Chapel of the Messiah 1919:11). Ogunjami wrote that the congregation was made up of “Africans, West Indians and Americans” [probably African Americans]. The chapel also catered to Black troops during and after World War I. (M. Wilson 1919:398-399). “Great gratitude is due the vicar and his wife for their establishing this work and for their undertaking along the lines of clubs and classes for the people of the neighborhood” (“Chapel of the Messiah 1919:11). African students were members of the congregation and in 1919, although no longer a student, Ogunjami’s husband was listed as President of the African Students’ Union of America at its sixth annual conference at Hampton Institute (The Horizon 1920:241). The couple lived in the chapel and the congregation grew rapidly. In 1919 the Reverend Wilson wrote of the successful rehabilitation of the mission: “The untiring, unselfish efforts and devotion of Mrs. Wilson in everything that concerns the work—according to existing circumstances—is unparalleled. Without hesitancy she relinquished her position in the Public School, immediately after the work started here…. We have worked side by side in sickness and health. In 1920 Ogunjami wrote enthusiastically about the chapel’s activities (S. Wilson 1920:90-91). On December 29, 1925, the Wilsons lost all of their possessions when the chapel burned to the ground during a holiday festival but there was no loss of life, although he lost a substantial collection of African cloth and other objects. The congregation, still under the Wilsons then met here and there in the city, but it was disbanded in 1935 for financial reasons and the lack of a permanent home.

From 1927 to 1934 Matthew Wilson served as Missionary-in-Charge of St. Simon’s Mission, New Rochelle, north of New York City, though according to the 1930 census the couple still lived in the city. The appointment terminated in 1934 due to the dissatisfaction of some congregation members with Wilson’s leadership, his ill health, and the deteriorating condition of the mission’s building. The Wilsons were anxious to go to Africa and the Anglican clergy in Sierra Leone wanted him back home for work. Ogunjami wrote: “We are going back to Mr. Wilson’s diocese in Africa, and he doesn’t expect to ever return to this country to do any work. My main object is to be with him and help him with his work, and primarily to devote the balance of my life, God granting, for the interest of my people on those lines established” (Ogunjami 1934:3).

Freetown and Jamaica

In 1934 the Reverend Wilson, lacking a clergy’s position and with the Anglican religious officials in Sierra Leone urging him home, wrote to the Episcopal Bishop of New York that he was “desirous to return to my Native Church. This I made known to the bishop about four years ago.” Ogunjami was also longing to go to Africa. The couple arrived in Freetown in 1935, where he was soon became involved with Anglican Church activities, while she created and exhibited art and took part in her husband’s religious activities. A comment in a review of the Delphic Studios exhibition states: “The artist expect to return to Africa soon to do research work in the field of West African art with a view of presenting her findings” (Artist from Nigeria Shows Art 1924:23).

The Harmon Foundation maintained contact with Ogunjami in Freetown between 1935 and 1941, through which we learn that one of her aims was to begin a school in Freetown to “build strong character and to train our girls and boys, not only how to use their brains but their hands also, and to fit them for future useful service (S. Wilson 1935; Barnwell 1999:218). She established a school in Freetown modeled on the concept of industrial education developed at the Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes in the United States, which she probably became familiar while studying at Teachers College. This form of education arose for the training of former slaves after the civil war at a time when American industry was expanding and required skilled working hands. This educational system, which peaked in the 1890s (Moore 2003:20-210), was led by Booker T. Washington among others; for Africa it was stimulated by a large survey of its educational needs by Jones (1922). “This form of education was believed by some to create happy and productive workers for the business trades, such as carpentry, rather than having students learn Greek and Latin” (Moore 2003:21). This was a dramatically different approach to education than that in Sierra Leone’s British colonial schools, which focused on the classics, Greek, Latin, English literature and European history.

Ogunjami’s school Prospectus states: “We have Chapel, St. Matthew (Archdeacon Wilson’s Memorial) through which the spiritual life of the Pupils is looked after…. Among the subjects taught in the various Departments are the following: English and History, Languages, Mathematics, Science, etc., Physical Education, Special Subjects (Extra Fees) consult the Directress: Arabic, Hebrew, Instrumental Music, Commercial Course, Home Economics and the Arts.” (S. Wilson 1935). She later began another school twelve miles outside of Freetown in a rural village setting where unlike Freetown no British educational system existed. Art was apparently taught in these schools, whether by Ogunjami or not is not known.

Ogunjami’s was also active in creating and exhibition art in Freetown. She was probably the first modern artist of African ancestry-whether born in Nigeria or Jamaica-to create and exhibit modern art in Sierra Leone. Other modern artists did not appear inn Sierra Leone until the 1950s (Ottenberg n.d.:chapt. 3). Barnwell writes that there “she pursued printmaking: however most of her time and energies were dedicated to religious service” (Barnwell 1999:218). In a 1938 letter to Brown at the Harmon Foundation, Ogunjami wrote from Freetown: “I am hoping to go to Liberia soon to exhibit some of the paintings I have here and to make a study of the art of that region. However, I shall send you what I can. Possibly two or three pieces will be included.” There is no record of these works in the Harmon Foundation file and whether she followed up on her Liberian plans is not known. There is evidence that she had solo exhibitions in Freetown in 1935 and 1937 (Harmon Foundation 1937b). In 1936 she wrote from Freetown to the Executive Director of the Harmon Foundation, Mary Beattie Brady: “I held an exhibition of my paintings here in December. The Colonial Secretary, in the absence of the Governor, declared the exhibition opened by his presence. Individuals still come to view the paintings. I did not sell any, because as yet the people are not educated up to that standard; hence I did not expect that any would have been sold. It was only to give inspiration. In the history of the colony, such a thing had never been done before, and indeed, as far as I know, not on the entire West Coast. It was a steady, continuous crowd of people everyday for the ten days in which it was opened to the public. It seemed so wonderful to them. It is my intention, if I am able to use the school as an Art Center. This will take time and much work, but there must always be a beginning in everything. It even takes time to make people see how very necessary it is for them to use their hands.”

It is likely that Ogunjami had influential art patrons in Sierra Leone—British, Krio or others—to support her organizing several art exhibitions, whether they purchased any of her works or not, as her husband was a Krio, then the elite African group in Sierra Leone. He was also an Anglican clergyman, a member of Sierra Leone’s politically dominant Christian faith, and his late father had been an Archdeacon. While Ogunjami undoubtedly moved in circles of influence in Sierra Leone and had patrons who supported her exhibitions, she apparently was unable to sell her work. The difficulty of selling modern African art in Freetown was to occur to the Sierra Leone modern artists at a later date (Ottenberg n.d.).

In 1960 Burney-Nicol wrote of Ogunjami Brown: “She ended up returning to Jamaica and for all we know it is believed she is dead. Her husband, Reverend Wilson is also dead…. I have heard my mother talk many a time of a Mrs. Wilson, the artist, wife of Reverend Ogunjami Wilson, who held an open air art exhibition of her paintings in Freetown around 1934-1935.” Burney-Nicol does not mention in her letters or writings ever meeting Ogunjami or seeing her work, but her husband Eddie Davies wrote to Brown: “I remember her as a schoolboy having to pass her house to school and going to one or two exhibitions of her work in King Town where she then lived and in Wilberforce Memorial Hall. The Revd. Mr. Wilson was curate of our church for some years after his return from America. Mr. Wilson died sometime in the late thirties and I left home for Nigeria in 1939 and have never since then found out what became of Mrs. Wilson.” Nevertheless, the record indicates that Matthew Wilson was still alive in Freetown in 1952 (Crockford’s Clerical Directory 1951-1952 1952:1426)

In Sierra Leone Ogunjami was a pioneer in modern art and her educational activities were radical, while in the United States her art was conventional and her educational ideas were becoming out of date.

Inquiries in Freetown in April 2008 with Anglican Church officials, particularly the Rev. Canon Randall, St. George’s Cathedral, and with modern artists in the city, including the senior artists Louise Metzger and Kosonike Koso-Thomas, revealed no awareness of a Suzanna Ogunjami or a Suzanna Wilson, or of her art, and elicited surprise that she had existed. The Sierra Leone National Museum, which did not open until 1959, owns none of her work. Its acting director had no knowledge of her, nor could she find any record of her, although the museum is not known for the accuracy of its record keeping. Joe Opala, an American anthropologist, who has spent some twenty years in Freetown until the recent civil war and who was interested in Sierra Leone modern art, never heard of her. Suzanna Ogunjami, sadly, left no artistic tradition in Sierra Leone.

Doubts Arise

When this paper was submitted for publication to the journal African Arts, a reviewer, the art historian Professor Steven Nelson at the University of California, Los Angeles, while checking on some of his Jamaican relatives in the 1930 United States Census, looked up Suzanna Wilson. What he found was surprising.

The 1930 census places Suzanne Wilson’s name below her husband’s, who is listed as Head of Household (United States Department of Commerce-Bureau of the Census 1930a, 1930b). She is listed as being born in the British West Indies, as are both of her parents. She was thirty-one when they married in 1916 and her occupation is listed as that of an artist. He was born in Sierra Leone about 1887, as were his parents, and he is listed as an Episcopal clergyman; no children are in the census record.

If she came from Nigeria to Jamaica with African names it is likely that they would have been replaced with Jamaican ones, as occurred to other Africans who moved there, creating difficulty in tracing her birth surname.

Both Ogunjami’s nephew Francis H Bowen, and her cousin Lena Benford (Beckford?—the writing in the census page is not clear) are listed on the same page as is Suzanna Wilson—all three as members of Matthew Wilson’s household. Both Bowen and Benford are cited as having been born in the British West Indies and so are their parents, and both were unmarried according to the census. Francis came to the United States in 1919 and Lena in 1917. What Ogunjami wrote of Francis Bowen in the Harmon Foundation archive papers is consistent with the census record.

In the 1920 United State Census Ogunjami is listed as Suzanna Wilson and she and her parents were listed as born in the British West Indies, while her husband was born in Africa, as well as his parents. She had no occupation and he is listed as a priest and clergyman. Francis Bowen and Lena Benford are found under Matthew Wilson as before. The only discrepancy is that Ogunjami is listed as coming to the United States in 1906, while in the 1930 census the date is 1910.

Ogunjami’s New York City marriage certificate, ( State of New York, 1915) provides the wedding date as 1915 and not 1916, as does the census. It lists her as widowed, having had the married name of Suzanna Maclean Her maiden name is Suzanna M. Scott, her father’s name is Benjamin Scott and her mother’s maiden name is Sarah Reid. This was Matthew’s first marriage; he is listed as being born in Sierra Leone, W. Africa while she is as born in Jamaica, B.W.I.

The census and marriage records contradict Ogunjami’s and the Harmon Foundations statements about her place of birth, which the foundation accepted and publicized. Her story of Nigerian and Igbo ancestry appears untrue, unless she had some reason to hide her Nigerian past in the United States. Since her husband is listed as from Sierra Leone in the 1930 census and as from Africa in the 1920 census, It is not clear if she was born in Nigeria this is not indicated.

Possible explanations are that she came to Jamaica from Nigeria illegally or as an unregistered infant or small child, and her parents changed their names and hers and birth-place for reason the parents did not wish to reveal to the census takers, although Ogunjami appears to have accepted the published claims of her Nigerian birth. There was movement back and forth of individuals and families between Jamaica and Nigeria at the time she came. That her parents, her cousin and her nephew are also listed as born in the British West Indies does not strengthen Ogunjami’s assertion of Nigerian ancestry. On the other hand it is not impossible that she had Igbo ancestry at some time in the past as Nigerians did migrate to Jamaica, and some of them had histories of moving back and forth between the two countries. Or she came to Jamaica as a very young child with her parents or other relatives and they Anglicized their names and claimed Jamaican citizenship. Immigration rules were looser then, to come to the United States. Perhaps they claimed Jamaican citizenship since they had been in Jamaica for some time and it was more difficult to immigrate to the United States from Nigeria at that time. That her husband had no trouble coming to the United States from Sierra Leone may have been due to his church affiliation and the elite status of his father in Freetown.

If Ogunjami was of first generation birth in Jamaica from Nigeria, this might make an African birth claim easy to develop. If she was of Igbo birth, why did she not take an Igbo name as an artist rather than her husband’s Yoruba one from Sierra Leone, unless she so wished to please him? Her Masters Thesis does not discuss Igbo arts and crafts, granted that there was only a little in print on Igbo culture at the time she prepared it, and what existed might have been beyond her scholarly ability to locate. Or she might have developed the fantasy of an African origin from her readings for her Master’s Thesis at Teachers College. That the Harmon Foundation would develop the idea of her Nigerian birth on its own does not seem likely. More reasonable is that it simply accepted her word and was delighted to have her “on board,” an interesting addition to their African American artists’ list. It appears likely that she only wrote of her origin some years after she had obviously told it to the foundation, since they had used that information as early as in a 1928 exhibition (Harmon Foundation 1928).

Why falsify her origin if she did? Was it to make herself more attractive in her artistic work and as a person? Would it not have been enough to represent herself as a Black Jamaican artist living in the United States in the context of modern African American art, where she would have still been a rarity? If she was untruthful, her husband, a priest, would surely have known of it, with all the publicity over her exhibitions. Why, then, would he have accepted it, unles he simply fell for her story or origin.

If the evidence suggests then that she was not the first African modern artist to exhibit in the United States, whoever did so exhibited a later date. If she was not born in Nigeria the historical record needs to be clarified of published misstatements that began in 1928 and have continued almost to this day. If she was truly born in Nigeria this must be somehow discovered beyond my scholarly resources. The problem of knowledge, both academic and public, presented here is serious.

Yet Ogunjami’s artistic life, wherever she was born, is fascinating. She was clearly a person of ambition with strong goals, one dedicated to knowing and to changing African culture. She exhibited genuine interest in Africa in her two interviews for the Harmon Foundation, in some her artwork which had African references, such as her oil painting Nupe Princess, also in her Master’s Thesis, in her marriage to an African, in her contacts with Africans at the Chapel of the Messiah, in her wish to improve African education, and in her desire to go and live in Africa, which she fulfilled. She certainly knew more about Africa than Mary Beattie Brady, the Harmon Foundation’s Director and her assistant, Evelyn S. Brown, so that they could believe her story without questioning her birth, what age she was when she left Africa, who traveled with her to Jamaica, did she go there to existing relatives and so on. Or, if such questions were asked there is no record of it in the Harmon Foundation archives today. I suspect that the Harmon Foundation personnel were entranced to have an “African” in their midst, and an educated and artistic one at that. In any case, I am not fully convinced that the census and marriage records present the full picture.

If not of African birth but Jamaican born, was Ogunjami the first modern Jamaican artist to exhibit in the United States? There were Jamaicans who came to this country over time,, and so one or more of them may have been a modern artist. However, David Boxer’s writings on early Jamaican artists (1982a:3-13; 1982b:10-17) and two National Gallery of Jamaica publication (1976, 1978), make no mention of Ogunjami. Email enquiries at six modern art galleries in Jamaica were negative; none had heard of her or seen her work. She was apparently unknown in Jamaica as an artist, although she eventually returned there from Sierra Leone and died there.. The earliest Jamaican artist exhibiting outside of Jamaica was Edna Manley, who first showed three bronze statues in England with the London Group in 1928, and had a solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London the next year (W. Brown 1975:166, 1996). In those years colonial Jamaica’s main links were to Britain and not to the United States. Ogunjami if born in Jamaica, was probably the first Jamaican modern artist to exhibit in the United States, doing so the same year that Manley exhibited in London.


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MIR: Miranda Olayinka-Burney, also known as Olayinka Burney-Nicol.

ESB: Evelyn S Brown, Associate Director, the Harmon Foundation.

SW: Suzanna Wilson [also known as Suzanna Ogunjami].

MBB: Mary Beattie Brady, Executive Director, the Harmon Foundation.

Ep. Dio. NYC Archives: The Episcopal Diocese of New York, New York City.

  • I thank Janet Stanley, Head Librarian, Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, for reading two drafts of this manuscript and for the countless times that she has assisted me with references and ideas for this paper. Also thinks to Dr Amy Staples, Curator of the Elliott Elisofon Photographic Archives at the same museum, whose assistance in this project was considerable. Chris Eden, Seattle, kindly enhanced certain photograph. Professor Steven Nelson, University of California, Los Angeles, helpfully called to my attention certain crucial information pertinent to this paper. Emeritus Professor Maureen Warner-Lewis, Department of Literatures in English, University of the West Indies, made valuable suggestions on a draft of this paper and provided very useful information. Randall Burkett, Curator of African American collections, Emory University, also was extremely helpful. Wayne H. Kempton, Archivist, The Episcopal Diocese of New York, New York City, provided me with very useful files.
  • In the 1950s and until 1967 the Harmon Foundation gathered information on what they called African contemporary art and its artists, exhibiting and arranging to sell their artwork in the United States. See the summary publication, Evelyn S Brown 1966. Ogunjami is not listed in it.. From the late 1920s until the 1950s the Harmon Foundation dealt with African American contemporary artists in much the same way. For some ears it also offered annual prizes to African American artists. Brady 1933:144; Harmon Foundation, n.d.(b).
  • ESB to MIR, Nov. 10, 1960.
  • MIR to ESB Nov. 23, 1960
  • According to the Yoruba scholar, Rowland Abiodun, Ogunjami is a Yoruba word, literally Meaning “Ogun (the Yoruba God of Iron) fought me.” Abiodun believes that the term is a contraction of Ogunjafunni, meaning “Ogun fights on my behalf.” Among the Krio of Sierra Leone, Yoruba and other West African words are popularly employed as an extra or “house name.”
  • For Igbo culture and society see Falola (ed.) 2005; Isichei 1973.
  • For the father’s theological background see Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1921-1922.
  • Wilson 1934b:1. He arrived in the United States in 1910, according to the 1920 U.S National Census, and the List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States: S.S. Philadelphia. Sailing from Southampton, October 8, 1910. Copy in Ep. Dio, NYC Archives files.
  • Spitzer 1974, Wyse 1989.
  • Ogunjami n.d.,:1-2; S. Wilson 1928.
  • Figs. 1 and 3 are from the Harmon Foundation, Suzanna Ogunjami File, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, size, dates and photographers unknown. Figs 2, 4, and 5 are from the Still Photograph Section, U.S. National Archives, College Park, Maryland, size, dates and photographers unknown. Figs. 6-11 are still photographs extracted from a tape version of the 1934 outtakes of a black and white Harmon Foundation film, The Study of Negro Artists, released in 1937. James Latimer Allen was the film’s, photographer. Size and dates of still pictures drawn from the tape are unknown, except that they were created by 1934.. The tape and film are at the Moving Film Section, United States National Archives, College Park, Maryland. Figure 2 is used by permission of the Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia, where the painting is located. All of the paintings depicted here were probably in oil on canvas. Dimensions are unknown except for fig. 2. Exact dates are also no known, although most of these works were probably created in the early 1930s.
  • Barnwell 1999,:218, states that her B.A. classes were “in fine arts and textiles.” Also see Ogunjami n.d.:1.
  • The only modern African artist who might have exhibited in the United States at such an early date was the Nigerian, Aina Onabolu. There is no indication that he did so, confirmed in an email of January 2009 from Chika Okeke-Agulu. In the 1920s and 1930s Onabolu was in art training in England, briefly in France, and was establishing art education in the Lagos schools. There is no record that he had contact with the Harmon Foundation in that period. In 1950, sponsored by the Harmon Foundation and the British Information Service he exhibited at Howard University and at a number of other eastern Unite States’ locations. Ogbechie 2006:105-106; Dike and Oyelola 1999; Oloidi 1991.
  • New Jersey State Museum n.d.; Harmon Foundation 1971 (1935): 16-17, 53.
  • Scanlan, ed., c.1993:141. Among the sixteen African American artists in the exhibition were Richmond Barthé, William H. Johnson, Malvin Gray Johnson, Archibald J. Motley Jr., Charles Sebree, Laura Wheeler Waring and Hale Woodruff, some of the best known African American artists of the time. Ogunjami was in excellent company.
  • The Topeka Daily Capital of March 14, 1937 stated: “The Exhibition of Negro Art at Mulvane Museum has received favorable comment regarding both the work of the Kansas Vocational school and the collection of oil paintings from the Harmon foundation.”
  • ESB to SW, April 13, 1937
  • African Artists of Our Time
  • Cederholm 1973:314; Harley 1970:53; DuSable Museum 1970, no pagination; Devree 1934. Chika Okeke-Agulu, in an article on southeastern Nigerian artists wrote: “An American trained Eastern Nigerian artist, Suzanna Ogunjami .was one of the first African artists to exhibit and sell her work in the country in the early thirties. Okeke 1971:40.
  1. A well known, premier department store.
  • Said to be at Sarah Lawrence College Art Gallery. However, Dr. Michelle Gilbert, who has taught there, inquired and informed me that it could not be located, perhaps since works from the gallery have been loaned out to faculty members over the years and full records have not been kept.
  • SW to ESB, February 14, 1938.
  • The painting is said to be in he Carl van Vechten Gallery at Tuskegee University (Barnwell 1999:218), but the gallery director was unable to locate it. I have used the Harmon collection photograph.
  • Probably Alexander Dobkin (1908-1975), who was born in Italy and studied art in the United States and became a well-known artist. He studied under Clèmentè Orozco, which may have been the link between Suzanna Ogunjami and the Delphic Studios.
  • Evelyn S. Brown was the Main Director, Jules V.D. Bucher was Director of Photography. Allen was a well-known photographer of African American society personages. The film and its outtakes in the U.S. National Archives, Moving film Section, College Park, Maryland. The film, but not the outtakes, is available on the Werb at
  • There are nine outtakes to reel 6, with the images relating to Ogunjami on outtakes 4, 5, 8 and 9. Each outtake includes a hodgepodge of images, most of which have nothing to do with Ogunjami. Figures 7 through 11 produced by Chris Eden, in Seattle using a VHS copy that this author made of a VHS copy of the original film at the U.S. National Photographic Archives,, thus their poor quality.. I was unable to obtain access to the original film, which was under preservation.
  • ESB to MIR, Nov. 10, 1960.
  • MSB to Alain Locke, Jan. 15, 1935. at least two copies of this letter exist. One is in Locke’s files at the Howard University Archives, where there is also a black and white reproduction of Ogunjami’s Full Blown Magnolia, but no comments on it or reply from Locke to Brady.. The other copy is in the Brady’s file in the Harmon Foundation paper at the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. By 1929 Locke had made contact with her, and apparently served as an informal adviser. Stewart 1983:159 and p. 478, ft.2; Locke 1983 (1931), 174. Arthur Schomburg also assisted the Harmon Foundation .Henderson 1933:176.
  • From the archives in he Episcopal Diocese, New York City.
  • Wilson 1920:91. The Chapel had a “colored congregation” and has “done much for African students and others in New York” (Chapel of the Messiah 1923:26. This was still the era of racial segregation.
  • Norman Wilson 1919:399. He wrote other articles on the Chapel with the same title: M. Norman Wilson 1921:10-11, and there are two unsigned articles with the title of “Chapel of the Messiah,” 1922 and 1923.
  • “Passing of the Chapel of the Messiah 1926:7; an unidentified newspaper article in the Ep, Dio. NYC Archives entitled “Church of the Messiah Burned,” stating that “Fr. Wilson lived in the church building and suffered the loss of his belongings.”
  • Letter from M. N. Ogunjami Wilson to the Bishop of New York Diocese, Oct.30,1933. Typed copy of a letter to R. M. Pott, New York City from an unsigned sender in the files of Ep, Dio. NYC Archives.
  • Various papers in Ep. Dio. NYC Archives under the file: New Rochelle St. Simon’s Mission 1927-1936.
  • Letter from M.N. Ogunjami Wilson to Bishop Gilbert, Sept. 8, 1934.
  • The details of his church activities in West Africa are to be found in Crockford’s Clerical 1951-1952. His work took him to Bathurst (now Banjul) in The Gambia in 1941-1945. It is not clear whether the artist went there with him, but it is likely, given her devotion to church work.
  • Moore 2003:21,, 61-62, 71-72. This American educational approach was criticized b y African Americans, such as W.E. B. Dubois and others, as setting too low educational goals, as it was probably viewed in Sierra Leone by its educators,, more used to the British Model. Also see Meier 1963:95, 196, 199.
  • SW to ESB, Feb. 14, 1938.
  • Ogunjami was unaware that this honor belongs to the Nigerian artist, Aina Onabolu in Lagos in 1920.
  • SW too MBB, March 21, 1936.
  • MIR to ESB, Nov. 23, 1960.
  • Davies to EAB, Nov. 15, 1960.
  • Email, Opala to Ott, July 2, 2008.
  • The paucity of the biographical record on Suzanna Ogunjami or Suzanna Wilson, and the scarcity of her art reported on in this essay should not be attributed to a lack of effort on the author’s part. I checked with most African American colleges and universities east of the Mississippi and several west of it that had a museum and only the Hampton University Museum was able to supply a painting. The library at Howard University, as well as its Museum had none of her art. Responses were negative from the Studio Museum in Harlem, the DuSable Museum in Chicago and the New Jersey State Museum. In Washington, D.C. the National Museum of African Art, the Anacostia Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts had none of her work. At the Schomburg Library branch of the New York City Library, I found no reference to her in the New Amsterdam News, The New Age, and the New York Times. The Art and Artifacts Division of the Schomburg Library and its Photographs and Prints Division have no material on Ogunjami. I checked numerous bibliographies on African American artists; published work on the Harmon Foundation and on the Harlem Renaissance lead to nothing. The National Gallery of Jamaica did not know of her. The Jamaica State Art Center and “Painters from Jamaica” in linkism—the art directory on the internet, yielded no results. In a brief discussion with the eminent senior African American artist, David Driscoll at the opening of is exhibition at the Greenhut Gallery in Portland, Maine, on September 4, 2008, he indicate that he had no knowledge of Ogunjami. Nor could I find anything on her in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, or the Archives of the Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas,.
  • Email from Maureen Warner-Lewis to Ott., Aug. 29, 2009.
  • Bowen immigrated to the United States in 1919, and overlapped in time at Columbia University me as Ogunjami. For his career, see Pelican Annual 1955:151, published in Mona, Jamaica.
  • United States Department of Commerce-Bureau of the Census, 1920.