Yale Bulletin and Calendar

February 9, 2001Volume 29, Number 18

Sylvia Ardyn Boone

Program recalls contributions of late art historian

"A Tribute to Sylvia Ardyn Boone," celebrating the life and career of the first African-American woman to receive tenure at Yale, will take place Feb. 10-17 on the campus and in the city.

The week-long program will include an exhibition about Boone, panel discussions on her research and contributions to Yale and the city, and the unveiling of her portrait in Timothy Dwight College. It was organized by the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge of New Haven.

Boone, an authority on African and women's art, earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Brooklyn College and Columbia University, respectively, and studied for a brief period at the University of Ghana in the early 1960s. There she began her lifelong friendship with such prominent African-Americans as W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Rosa Guy, Tom Feelings and Julian Mayfield.

She first came to Yale in 1970 as a visiting lecturer in the Afro-American Studies Program. She soon returned to her studies, earning master's and doctoral degrees from the Yale Graduate School, studying with Robert Farris Thompson. She won the Blanshard Prize for her dissertation, "Sowo Art in Sierra Leone: The Mind and Power of Woman on the Plane of the Aesthetic Disciplines," in 1979. That same year, she joined the Yale faculty as assistant professor of the history of art. She became an associate professor in 1985 and received tenure in 1988.

Boone played a role in the early days of coeducation at Yale College, teaching a course on "The Black Woman," and serving on the Women's Studies Program Executive Committee in 1980-81. She organized and presented the acclaimed "Chubb Conference on the Black Woman," one of the first of its kind in the nation, and established the annual Black Film Festival at Yale.

The originator and leading scholar of ideas and ideals of beauty in African art, she examined how those ideals translated to women of color everywhere in her writings, which include the book "Radiance From the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art" (Yale Press, 1986). She was also the author of "West African Travels: A Guide to Peoples and Places" (Random House, 1974).

A longtime faculty resident of Timothy Dwight College, Boone was a popular teacher, whose courses included African art, aesthetics of female imagery in African art, masquerading and masks, and women's art.

In 1989, she played a pivotal role in organizing the nationwide commemoration of the 150th anniversary of The Amistad Affair, a milestone in the fight to end slavery in America, which is now commemorated annually in New Haven.

The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, she was a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art, as well as other prominent museums, and served on the United Nation's UNICEF committee that selected the organization's annual greeting cards. She was also vice president and scholarships chair of the Roothbert Fund of New York City.

Boone died on April 27, 1993, at age 54. She is buried in Grove Street Cemetery.

The Sylvia Ardyn Boone Prize, named in her honor, is awarded annually to the author of the best graduate essay written for a course or seminar on West African or African-American art. Masters theses are also eligible. The prize seeks to encourage scholarship in the areas that were most important to Boone.

An exhibit of photos, books and memorabilia commemorating Boone's life and career will kick off "A Tribute to Sylvia Ardyn Boone" at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Little Red Brick Schoolhouse Museum, 106 Goffe St. The display, which is open to the public free of charge, is sponsored by Prince Hall and Connecticut Masons.

This will be followed at 11 a.m. by a panel titled "Sylvia Ardyn Boone: Her Legacy at Yale." Panelists will include two winners of the Boone Prize who are currently working toward their Ph.D. at Yale, Cheryl Finley and Lyneise Williams; and two of Boone's former students from the Yale College Class of 1972, Shirley Daniels and Vera Wells. The latter, who went on to become Boone's friend and literary executor of her estate, recently established an undergraduate scholarship in the late scholar's memory. There will also be a reception at 1 p.m.

Other events highlighting "A Tribute to Sylvia Ardyn Boone" include:

* A panel titled "Beauty Is a Duty: The Beauty Makers," featuring beauticians and seamstresses, 3-6 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the Schoolhouse Museum.

* The unveiling of a plaque honoring Boone at a private ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 14, hosted by Timothy Dwight College Master Robert Farris Thompson.

* A screening of "The Language You Cry In" at 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Afro-American Cultural Center, 211 Park St.

For further information on the week's activities, call (203) 785-1605.


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Campus Notes

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