The Museum of Russian Art will present a fascinating program, with a local tie, “The Portrait Tells a Story: Lloyd Patterson in Soviet Russia,” at noon this Wednesday, Feb. 23.
In conjunction with the exhibition now on view at the Minnesota museum, this free, virtual discussion on Zoom will focus on the life of African-American Lloyd Patterson (1910-1942). He was a participant of the 1932 Soviet-German film project, Black and White, intended to highlight racism in the United States, according to the museum.
The story of the portrait, artist unknown, of Patterson features various relevant themes in current events.
“Given the media’s interest in present and past race relations in America these days, I thought our community might be interested in the efforts which a young Black American went to in 1932 to avoid racism—he immigrated to Soviet Russia,” stated John Leddy, of Leon, in a message notifying the Star-Exponent of the program featuring his brother, Andy Leddy, owner of the portrait.
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Patterson, who had just graduated from Hampton Institute in Virginia, traveled to Soviet Russia 90 years ago during Jim Crow in a group of 22 Black Americans to participate in the film project. Other participants were noted author Langston Hughes, Louise Thompson, and Dorothy West, prominent literary figures and activists of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as Homer Smith Jr., a postal worker and journalist, actor Wayland Rudd and others.
The film was never made and most of the participants returned to the U.S., but Patterson stayed in Soviet Russia and married Ukrainian artist Vera Aralova. Their child, Russian poet James (Jimmy) Patterson, became the most famous Soviet child movie star of the 1930s, performing in the 1936 film, The Circus.
Panelists for this week’s program on the man in the portrait will include Andy Leddy, of Washington, D.C., who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and has done contract work in Soviet and post-Soviet Moscow.
Leddy discovered the Patterson portrait in an antique store in Moscow in 1992. Shortly after bringing the portrait home, Andy Leddy saw a photograph of the Russian poet James Patterson in a National Geographic article and noticed a striking resemblance to the man in the portrait.
Leddy was able to meet with James and his mother during his next trip to Moscow. When he showed them a copy of the painting, which they had never seen before, they identified the man in the portrait as Lloyd Patterson.
“It was a lucky find and has been a great source of wonder and pride in my life for three decades,” said Andy Leddy in a message Monday.
The portrait will be on display in the Minnesota museum through March after which the painting will be sent directly to Hillwood Museum in D.C., Leddy said, of the historic residence and gardens of Marjorie Merriweather Post.
“I’m very excited that it will hang indefinitely in the Pavilion, the largest room in the house,” said Leddy. “Along with Patterson’s portrait, other works of art in the same room will highlight different depictions of blackness in Russia.”
There are so many layers to the painting, he added. Leddy promised to share more on the upcoming exhibit closer to home and his years of research on the portrait and its subject.
John Leddy said his brother has been peeling back layer upon layer of the portrait’s history for decades, as well as Lloyd Patterson’s.
“He fairly recently discovered that Lloyd’s Russia-born son, James immigrated to the U.S. and is also living in D.C.,” he said.
Sign up for the program at tmora.org.