Digitizing the Harlem Renaissance: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten

Carmen de Lavallade, dancer, choreographer, actress, 1955

Among the UNM Art Museum’s substantial photography holdings, one of the most extensive portfolios is a collection of nearly two hundred portraits of Harlem Renaissance luminaries taken by American photographer Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964). These images are a priceless record of African-American history and cultural life, and are currently being digitized as part of the UNMAM’s long-term efforts to make its collections more accessible to the public.

Archie Savage, actor, 1942


Rose McClendon, actress, 1932

William Gardner Smith, writer and novelist, 1948

As one of the goals of this digitization effort, the Museum hopes to be able to make its entire collection of portraits by Van Vechten available online, along with biographies of many of the individuals portrayed in these photos. This project highlights the importance of the UNMAM’s connection with the UNM Art Department, as the efforts of student volunteers and research assistants from the Department’s programs have been instrumental in making this work available to a larger audience.

George Lamming, writer and academic, 1955
Gerri Major, writer and journalist, 1951

While this project is still ongoing, we hope you enjoy this short preview, and that you come back to check in as digitization progresses. Although the outward-facing elements of museum work, such as public exhibitions and programming, are by far the most visible, we also want to shine a light on the work that goes on behind-the-scenes in collections management, conservation, and research. For every image a museum makes available online, there is a dedicated photographer working to preserve and disseminate these cultural artifacts. For every accurate object entry in a database or enlightening didactic label on a wall, there is a collections professional out of sight putting in countless hours of research and administrative work to make it possible for an institution to share the objects hidden in their vaults with a larger audience.


Rossetta Leniore, actress, 1942

Robert Curtis, blues singer and songwriter, 1955

We are so excited to be able to share these stunning images with you. It is a privilege to honor the talented men and women portrayed in these photographs, and to help preserve their creative and intellectual legacies. Come back soon to see more images from this portfolio, and to learn more about the UNMAM’s efforts to preserve and provide access to the treasures of our permanent collection.

Digital images by Alec James Goldberg.
All the photographs presented here are part of the UNM Art Museum Permanent Collection,© The Van Vechten Trust.