Teri Henderson ’14 on Her New Book and How Her Liberal Arts Background Helped Her Career During the Pandemic
If you were to look at Teri Henderson’s resume, her education would not strike you like that of a typical curator and art writer. A 2014 graduate of TCU with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a minor in religion, Henderson has spent a career curating in art galleries and writing for BmoreArt, Artforum and other arts publications.
However, the liberal arts skills of writing and critical thinking are tools she attributes to her success, most recently with the publication of her new book, “Black Collagists: The Book.”
Henderson said her interest in art and writing about art came from a religion and art course that she took with Sage Elwell, Ph.D., during her early years at TCU. Taking the class was a byproduct of TCU’s Core Curriculum, which requires students to take a certain number of religion courses.
“Shout out to TCU’s Core Curriculum because I probably would not have taken a religion course if I did not have to take it,” she said.
That initial class marked the first time Henderson began to think about art “in an academic way, and thinking about writing about art,” she said. The class took trips to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and Henderson eventually took every course Elwell taught.
"Working with Teri was a privilege and an honor. The Independent Study we collaborated on was what college is all about, with teacher and student learning from one another" - Sage Elwell, Ph.D.
In her senior year, Henderson did a study of Black religion and art, an experience she called “one of my first examples of curating something.” “I did all the research in the library and designed the whole course. I think I wrote four or five different mini-papers,” she said.
“I had to think outside the box, I had to be adaptable as a curator and as a writer,” Henderson recalled of the study project.
Elwell recalled the experience favorably. “Working with Teri was a privilege and an honor. The Independent Study we collaborated on was what college is all about, with teacher and student learning from one another,” he said. “She is a gifted thinker and writer and it’s been a sincere delight to watch her continue to do amazing work,” Elwell concluded.
Into the Art World
The skills Henderson developed while studying with religion department faculty like Elwell gave her the writing, critical thinking and project management skills to succeed in the art world.
Those skills would be put to the test with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges the crisis posed to many businesses, including art galleries. “I was hired to run the Connect + Collect gallery in Baltimore, but the gallery closed when COVID happened so I pivoted to writing,” Henderson explained. “I wouldn’t have been able to make that pivot without my minor or without having studied at TCU. As a curator, I’m always doing 50 different jobs and I learned how to do that at TCU, through the religion department and the professors there,” she said.
It would be another connection to TCU that would begin the process of Henderson writing “Black Collagists.” In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and a national push to collect Black art and specifically support Black artists, the parents of a friend from TCU got in touch. The Kanyer family were art collectors and wanted to diversify their collection.
"Part of the history of Black artists and Black women artists is using what you have and making something out of nothing." - Teri Henderson '14
“They did not feel qualified to make the selections, so they hired myself and a woman of indigenous descent to make selections based on our backgrounds. I was hired to be the curator of acquisitions for Black collage art,” Henderson explained. She worked for the couple for a year and a half.
To record and archive her work, she started an Instagram account called @blackcollagists. At the time, Henderson was using the account as a tool and had no intention of writing a book. “It was just showing Black collage artists that are on my radar, and it just took off. The follower account grew quickly and it became a community,” she said.
Henderson concluded that a book would be the best way to protect her research, as well as promote artists that did not have access to social media. A book would also be a boon to artists’ reputations. The book came out November 30, published by the Kanyer Art Collection’s publishing arm.
“It’s not comprehensive and does not include every Black collage artist, I wanted it to be a cross-section,” she said.
The book has been widely praised in the art world, something Henderson attributes to the artists, which includes Texas’ own Evita Tezeno.
The recognition of Black collage artists, and Black women in collage art has been a long time coming, according to Henderson. “The art world, and the collage art world, have minimized and silenced the work of Black women collage artists,” she said. Historically, collage and quilt-making were artistic outlets more readily available to Black women. Black women were not allowed in art schools, and other formats like painting were prohibitively expensive. It was far cheaper and easier for Black artists to express themselves using available books, newspapers magazines and homemade glue.
“Part of the history of Black artists and Black women artists is using what you have and making something out of nothing,” Henderson said.
Henderson is busy promoting her book and working on curating exhibitions in the Washington, DC-Baltimore area. But amid all the activity, Henderson goes out of her way to praise her experience at TCU and with the religion department.
“I still talk to Dr. Elwell, Dr. Elizabeth Flowers and Dr. Middleton,” Henderson said. “I'm extremely grateful for my time there!”