Woman of the Week: Dr. Alvia Wardlaw, director and curator of TSU's University Museum

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A scholar in African, African-American, and modern and contemporary art, art and education have been a part of Dr. Alvia Wardlaw's life as long as she can remember.

"As a little girl I liked drawing and writing stories and my mother encouraged me to do that. I always took art classes at Yates High School," said Dr. Wardlaw.

She briefly pursued psychology but art was in her heart. She went on to Wellesley College, then onto NYU where the artist, also in pursuit of art history, got some pushback.

"I remember one professor saying, 'you can't do that, you can't do both.' You have to make a choice and I said, 'well I know artists who have done both,' and I was really thinking of John Biggers at that moment," she recalled.

She went on to push more boundaries becoming the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in art history from UT in Austin.

The daughter of the chair of the math department at TSU says her parents both collected art and always encouraged her.

"Their whole mantra was do what makes you happy and we will support you. I didn't realize at the time what a blessing that was but it was truly a gift," added Wardlaw.

A former Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Dr. Wardlaw is now director and curator of TSU's University Museum and professor of art history. When she's not organizing exhibitions, she's inspiring generations of students, like Kingsley who comes from Nigeria.

"I could say they picked me up from the streets at a time I wasn't sure about college or anything beyond that," said recent graduate Kingsley Onyeiwu.

It's hard for her to narrow down the highlights of her career, but one was serving on the advisory board for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

She added, "Seeing a hole dug on the corner across from the Washington Monument and then to watch it grow into this amazing building and be there at the building and see the outpouring from around the world was so gratifying."
While the art connoisseur has made her own mark in the field, she says there is still room for growth at the top.

"I would like to see more African-American women as museum directors. That ceiling is like that thick in the art world," said Wardlaw, as she demonstrated with her hands a very thick ceiling.

And for all the aspiring artists out there, she encourages you to be bold.

She said, "My advice is you can't be shy, you have to believe in yourself. Look at everything around you but don't be overwhelmed by it because you have something to say, you have something to present that no one else does because that's how God does this. We all have these gifts."

Explore the other members of our community named ABC13 Woman of the Week here.
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