The Melvin Holmes Collection of African American Art

Melvin Holmes was born in New Iberia, Louisiana on July 16, 1944.  His father was a Bishop in the pentecostal Church of God in Christ.  When Melvin was two years old, his father had a vision and moved the congregation and his family to Monrovia, California, where, because of their impoverished state, they started out living in a tent city.  Melvin was a voracious reader, like his mother, and also a high school athlete.  He received a track scholarship to San Jose State College, and ran on the same team as Tommie Smith and John Carlos (well known for their black-gloved, black power salute at the Olympic games in Mexico City, 1968).  

Melvin moved to San Francisco from San Jose in 1967.  In 1977, Melvin frequently took his lunch at the Civic Center plaza in San Francisco, passing by the Capricorn Asunder Gallery.  One day he saw an exhibit of Sargent Johnson’s work along with a reading by beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  (September 21-25, 1977; San Francisco Arts Festival).  Johnson’s work impacted him and when he happened across his work again at a gallery in 1990, he was moved to buy a sculpture on installment payments.  That work is still in the collection, and is titled, The Cat .  Melvin began his collection with images of black people executed by artists who were black or white, but quickly decided to focus on works done by black artists.  He continued to acquire works by Sargent Johnson, and the collection currently includes more than 20 examples.  Works in the collection range in date from the late 19th century to the present.

At the time of his passing, Melvin had amassed more than 300 artworks.  Our goal is to not just present the artwork in the collection, but also offer a glimpse into the mind and passion of the collector.  One would be hard-pressed to find a collector who was more enthusiastic about the works he acquired and curious about the artists who created them. The ability to share in that enthusiasm by learning about the art, the artists, and the collector is what makes this project special.