Renée Stout

born Junction City, KS 1958
Also known as
  • Renee L. Stout
  • Renee Stout
  • Renee Lynn Stout
Junction City, Kansas, United States
Active in
  • Washington, District of Columbia, United States

As a young girl, Renée Stout became fascinated by the Central African minkisi figural containers she encountered at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum while growing up in that city. Constructed of wood, fur, cloth, and other materials, the minkisi bundles held medicines and other concoctions and were considered powerful mystical receptacles. However, when Stout later attended Carnegie-Mellon University, she pursued realist painting in the style of Edward Hopper and Richard Estes rather than exploring her African-American heritage in her art. Stout soon realized that her street scenes, devoid of people, were more like portraits of houses, which led her to consider the concept of house as home of the spirit, container of memories and dreams, and, by extension, a symbol of human activity and aspiration.

After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon in 1980, Stout moved to Washington, D.C., where she began developing a unique form of Kongo-inspired sculpture. Starting with simple, house-shaped boxes into which she put feathers, beadwork she herself created, tiny bones, buttons, and memorabilia of family members, Stout progressed to creating "divining tables" and room-size installations. At the same time, she began developing an ongoing fictional narrative- the story of the stay-at-home Dorothy and the African explorer Colonel Frank- which she recorded in notebooks and which became another thread tying her work firmly to American and African traditions.

Stout's constructions from this period debuted in Black Art: Ancestral Legacy, a major traveling show that brought her national attention. In 1993 her work was given a solo exhibition at the National Museum of African Art, Astonishment and Power, in conjunction with a survey of Kongo minkisi objects.

National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)

Related Books

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, The Civil Rights Movement, and Beyond
African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond offers a rich vision of twentieth-century visual culture. An essay by Richard Powell sets the stage: his analyses of works by Sargent Johnson, Renée Stout, Eldzier Cortor, and Alma Thomas give the reader a rubric for considering other works that range from the Harlem Renaissance to the decades beyond the civil rights era, a period that saw tremendous social and political change. The forty-three artists included here worked in every style current during those decades, from documentary realism to abstraction, from expressionism to postmodern assemblage. They consistently touch universal themes, but they also evoke specific aspects of the African American experience—the African Diaspora, jazz, and the persistent power of religion.
African American Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
African American Masters focuses on black artists whose efforts in the twentieth century demonstrate their command of mainstream traditions as well as the open assertion and exploration of their dual heritage. Many—like Sargent Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, James Porter, and William H. Johnson—responded in the 1930s and 1940s to Alain Locke's call for an art of the “New Negro” and explored the social and narrative aspects of African or African American sources. Others—Henry Ossawa Tanner, Beauford Delaney, and Norman Lewis—embraced broader themes or the modernist challenges of form and color. Contemporary artists—from Betye Saar and Mel Edwards to Renée Stout and Whitfield Lovell—have mined sources as varied as the autobiographical and the international. Horace Pippin and Purvis Young, as self-taught artists, tapped the spiritual and social underpinnings of their communities. Portraits and documentary images have dominated the subject matter of modern black photographers. James VanDerZee and Roland Freeman epitomize those photographers who have chosen the people and environment of their own neighborhoods as their subjects. Others, foremost among them Roy DeCarava and Gordon Parks, have sought out communities or traditions of the larger African American society.