Monday, April 13, 2015

Belle de Costa Greene

Photo: Edward Curtis

One of the more intriguing figures in Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is none other than Belle de Costa Greene. In a book which chronicles the White witness extraordinaire of the vanishing culture(s) of the American Indian, here was a Black woman, passing for White, who was the guardian of JP Morgan's (the world's richest man) fortress of renowned artistic treasures. Edward Curtis had to first get through her, before having any chance of getting to the man who would become his number one patron.

Yeah, you heard right! This self professed librarian, this high society, New York celebrity and art world  juggernaut, this highest flying curator amongst curators was a woman of color gliding ever so discreetly under the most oppressive of racial radars... Her's was a world few White women could maneuver comfortably or successfully in- let alone someone who could ordinarily aspire to be little more than a domestic in a White household.

In response to her many, very wealthy suitors, she wrote a friend, "I sent word that all such proposals would be considered alphabetically after my 50th birthday."


Eric Rose said...


Stan B. said...

Yeah, she got over- Bigtime!

But even with her success upon reinventing herself as someone of "Portuguese" extraction, one still has to wonder at the price she had to pay- despite the prize. She cut off contact with her family, and I'm bettin' there wasn't a day she didn't fear her secret would be dicovered and her whole dream life implode into nightmare.

Denying who and what you are, despite the rewards, always comes at a cost.