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McElroy, Guy C.

    Full Name: McElroy, Guy Clinton

    Other Names:

    • Guy McElroy

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 26 July 1948

    Date Died: 31 May 1990

    Place Born: Fairmont, Marion, WV, USA

    Place Died: Washington, DC, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): African American, American (North American), and Black (general, race and ethnicity)

    Career(s): art historians and curators

    Institution(s): The Corcoran Gallery of Art and University of Maryland


    Curator and historian of African-American art. McElroy was the son of Geraldine McElroy (1923-2010) an African-American seamstress, and spent his youth in Fairmont, West Virginia. In 1970, McElroy received a B.A. in art education from Fairmont State College in Fairmont, WV. From 1970 to 1971, he worked as an intern at the Cincinnati Art Museum researching and preparing a catalog essay for an exhibition of paintings by African American landscapist, Robert S. Duncanson (1821-1872). He earned a M.A. in art history from the University of Cincinnati in 1972, specializing in 19th century American and French art, with a thesis topic on Duncanson and his works. From 1972 to 1973, McElroy was Assistant Curator at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City. The next year he worked as assistant to the Media Director at Emerson College in Boston. While working as a Rockefeller Fellow in museum studies at the de Young Museum in San Francisco between 1974-1976, he earned a second M.A. in mass communication from Emerson College in 1975. The following year, McElroy began a doctoral degree in art history, with an initial focus on Dutch painting, and later on 19th century painting at the University of California, Berkeley. His graduate studies at Berkley ended in 1978 when he took a position as a curator, later to be assistant director, of the National Council of Negro Women’s Bethune Museum and Archives in Washington, D.C. (through 1988). During that time he again entered a doctoral program in art history at the University of Maryland. He continued his research interest in Dutch 17th-century art, branching into 20th century American and then African-American artwork.

    While still at the Bethune, McElroy accepted a position as adjunct curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1986, which is where he made his most significant contribution to the art world. While studying the work of William Sydney Mount (1807-1868), he realized the need to examine the representation of African Americans in American art. The following year, however, McElroy was severely injured in an auto accident in New Mexico which left him a paraplegic, requiring a wheelchair for mobility. He nevertheless mounted the important exhibition, Facing History: The Black Image in American Art, 1710-1940 with Corcoran chief curator Jane Livingston (b. 1944). This show, which received national attention, examined the ways in which American artists, both African American and European American, “reinforced a number of largely restrictive stereotypes of black identity,” as McElroy wrote in the catalog. In addition to his position as adjunct curator at the Corcoran, McElroy served in other capacities between 1988 and 1990. McElroy co-curated an exhibition in 1988 sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) on works of African-American artists from the Evans-Tibbs Collection. In addition to the catalog, Facing History…, McElroy published African-American Artists, 1880-1987: Selections from the Evans-Tibbs Collection, in 1989, as well as reviews of several other exhibitions.

    Between November 1989 and February 1990 he held the position of Manager of Technical Information Services for the American Association of Museums. In 1990 he was an advisory panelist for the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities. McElroy was also appointed by the Department of Art History at the University of Maryland as an Assistant Professor teaching American and African American art. This position was to have begun in September 1990, however, McElroy suffered a pulmonary embolism (age 41) and died shortly before then.

    Selected Bibliography

    • and Powell, Richard, and Patton, Sharon. African-American Artists, 1880-1987: Selections from the Evans-Tibbs Collection. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution/University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1989;
    • Facing History: the Black Image in American Art, 1710-1940. San Francisco: Bedford Arts Publishers/Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1990.


    • [obituary:] Glueck, Grace. “Guy McElroy, Art Historian, 44; Organized Show on Black Images.” New York Times June 5, 1990, p. D30;
    • Guy C. McElroy papers, Sc MG 337, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library;
    • Kimmelman, Michael. “Black Images of the Past: Servile, Subhuman: Black Images of the Past.” New York Times, Jan 18, 1990, pp C21-C22.


    Contributors: Alana J. Hyman


    Alana J. Hyman. "McElroy, Guy C.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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