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Biography: LaMar Gayles

LaMar Gayles

Artist, art historian, and jeweler LaMar Gayles is a recipient of the 2019 Rakow Grant for Glass Research. Gayles is studying the transnational (African and Black Diasporic) history of glass as used in jewelry and other personal adornments, and in funerary practices. He will examine historical objects housed in various institutions, seeking connections in techniques, function, and appearance.

“This project,” he says, “will present the concept that glass has been used throughout Africa and the Black Diaspora as a medium to reference identity, divinity, adornment, and death.” He explains, “Aside from a few beading traditions (like Yoruba), the main canon of art history rarely discusses African and Black contributions to glasswork and lampwork. This has produced a lack of scholarly information connecting historical traditions in Africa with early Black Diasporic traditions in the Colonial Americas. In this project, I seek to correct this by constructing a scholarly text and visual essay utilizing examples of historical African and Colonial Black Diasporic glass artifacts from various museum archives [and] institutions around the United States.”

Gayles says his research will build on previous work by other scholars exploring glass made in Africa by considering historical objects in museum collections that have not drawn the attention of other researchers. Among the wide range of objects he intends to study are “recently discovered artifacts in Black America.”

Gayles earned his BA from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, with a triple major in art history, race and ethnic studies, and ethno-aesthetics and materiality.