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A Special Kind of Soul presents paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by twenty-two leading and lesser-known artists exploring important mid-century themes of identity, migration, and place. It also offers an intriguing glimpse into the artistic production and patronage associated with the renowned Barnett Aden Gallery in Washington, D.C. Active from 1943 to 1969, Barnett Aden was America’s first successful black-owned private gallery. This pioneering gallery was established by Howard University professor James Herring and curator Alonzo Aden. The gallery provided crucial exhibition opportunities for emerging artists who found themselves shut out of the mainstream art world. Promoting the work of both black and white artists, it gained a national reputation for diversity in an era of strict segregation.

Following the deaths of Herring and Aden in the 1960s, the collection was dispersed. In recent years, a portion of the exhibition was rediscovered in deteriorating condition and facing an uncertain future. Richmonders Margaret and John Gottwald acquired those works and provided oversight to their restoration and preparation for public view.

Charles White, whose work is represented in the exhibition, recalled: “The Barnett Aden Gallery helped us to take an aggressive position in confronting the art institutions and galleries in demanding our due…the gallery represented a special kind of soul.”