Winold Reiss: “Sari Price Patton,” 1925. Private collection. © The Reiss Partnership.
I came across Winold Reiss’ painting of this chic young woman at the wonderful exhibition “Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties” at the Brooklyn Museum. I love the Patton’s trendy page-boy haircut and her loose-fitting, low-waisted black silk gown and the yellow pleated ruffled tie and cuffs. She’s fashionable and youthful. She’s also black: You don’t see very many portraits of middle-class black women — or men — in many major museum shows, so I was intrigued.
There is very little info available on Sari Price Patton, but she was the hostess at a popular Harlem salon run by A’Lelia Walker. A patroness of black artists, including Harlem Renaissance writers like Langston Hughes, Walker hosted black writers, sculptors, poets, painters, musicians and their friends at her house, serving food, champagne and gin. She and her friends decided to open a more formal salon, for conversation, poetry readings and art exhibitions, called ”The Dark Tower” (after the Countee Cullens poem). Yet the Dark Tower only lasted a year: partly because Walker had hoped to profit from the enterprise so started charging high prices the artists couldn’t afford. (The writer Bruce Nugent griped that “Colored faces were at a premium, the place filled to overflowing with with whites from downtown who had come up expecting that this was a new and hot nightclub.”*
But the club also lost money because our Sari Price Patton was caught embezzling some of the daily receipts. This was in 1927/1928, so before Reiss painted the chic young woman here.
* From “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker” by A’Lelia Bundles
Painting from the Brooklyn Museum’s website