Works in the Collection
Henry Wilmer “Mike” Bannarn was born in Wetumpka, OK in 1910. Bannarn moved with his family to Minneapolis when he was a child. There Bannarn studied at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design). He won two first-place prizes in sculpture at the Minnesota State Art Fair and showed at the Harmon Foundation in New York in 1933. With a grant from the Minneapolis philanthropist James Ford Bell, Bannarn moved to New York in 1934. There, Bannarn was a W.P.A. artist for the Federal Art Project. Through the W.P.A. Bannarn became friends with Charles Alston. Together, they rented a studio that became the Harlem Workshop or the “306,” a creative center and meeting place for artists, musicians, and poets. Bannarn also taught at the Harlem Community Art Center, where he worked alongside Norman Lewis, Charles Alston, and became a mentor to Jacob Lawrence. During his time in New York, Bannarn was considered one of the preeminent artists of the Harlem Renaissance.
Around 1940, Bannarn was inducted by the U.S. Army. During his time in service, he created a series of paintings in the Army’s Special Services Division. In Camp Plauche, Harahan, Louisiana, he created a series of murals depicting soldiers on furlough in various theaters of operation. Later at the Charleston Port of Embarkation, South Carolina, he completed murals depicting American soldiers on leave around the world, recruitment and war bond posters, and painted some of the first service and support images to depict African American soldiers as fighting men. In 1949, Bannarn returned to his studio practice in New York. While Bannarn is primarily recognized for his sculptures, was equally skilled as a figurist and character artist in various paint mediums, Conté crayon, pastel, free-form sketch, etc. Bannarn died in Brooklyn, NY in 1965.