RIT/NTID Dyer Arts Center acquires collection by artist Harry R. Williams

Collection rarely has been seen since the artist’s death in 1991

This piece by Deaf artist Harry R. Williams is one of more than 30 works that have been acquired by RIT/NTID Dyer Arts Center.

The Dyer Arts Center at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf has acquired a collection of works by the late Deaf artist Harry R. Williams. Williams died of AIDS in 1991, and his work has rarely been seen since. The collection of more than 30 paintings and numerous sketches was donated to the center by Williams’ sister Malinda Mangrum, and family.

Born hearing, Williams became deaf at 18 months old and used drawing at an early age to communicate. He attended California School for the Deaf in Riverside and Gallaudet College (now University).

According to the Deaf Art website, “When viewing his art works, one gets the feeling of trespassing on private property. His paintings usually appear to reveal his innermost thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Williams exemplifies the theory that art is a communicative process. Williams is telling us something. The more the spectator views his paintings, the more he or she knows about him.”

Williams was drawn to the works of both the Baroque and Surrealist periods, and his work reflects the attention to detail and the psychological aspects of both of these movements.

“This donation is a huge opportunity to reorient the Deaf community to an amazing artist who painted the Deaf experience in a surrealist way,” said Tabitha Jacques, director of the Dyer Arts Center. “The Dyer Arts Center is so honored to be able to be the caretaker of 30 artworks and numerous drawings by Harry R. Williams. This is also a great opportunity for researchers to visit the materials and learn more about Harry’s life.”

The Dyer Arts Center is home to one of the largest collections of works by Deaf artists anywhere in the world. While temporarily closed due to COVID-19 protocols, the center is scheduled to reopen in the fall. To view the center’s digital exhibitions, go to the Dyer Arts Center's virtual exhibitions website.

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