The Intrepid Couple and the Story of Authentica African Imports

December 8, 2018 through March 9, 2019

Opening reception: Saturday, December 8 from 2-4 pm

ASL interpretation is available for opening reception. To request, call 802-652-4504 by November 30.

The Amy E. Tarrant Gallery is open to the public Saturdays from 11 am to 4 pm. Performance attendees may also view this exhibit prior to most MainStage shows and during intermission. 


Authentica Imports

In 1984, Jackson J. Clemmons, a pathologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, was invited to work with a research team studying the HIV virus at the Mount Kilimanjaro Hospital in Tanzania. He agreed to go as long as his wife Lydia Clemmons, a nurse anesthetist in the Degosbriand Unit of the University of Vermont Hospital, could accompany him. Lydia jumped at the chance and made arrangements with the Anesthesiology Department to accompany Jack.

In the evenings and weekends, Jack and Lydia enjoyed walking through the neighborhoods of Moshi. The couple, who were in their 60's at the time, delighted in exploring the outdoor markets and their wide assortment of local foods, clothing, fabrics, perfumes and incense, charcoal and kerosene, fine handcrafted furniture, and art. Much of their time was spent getting to know the vendors and artists they met along the way. 

Tanzania was the first of more than 30 African countries where the couple lived, worked and traveled for short periods over the next 20 years, all while maintaining their family life, community ties and farm in their beloved state of Vermont.  

 This multimedia exhibit, curated by the Clemmons Family Farm, shares some of the stories and adventurous spirits of an intrepid couple who loved to travel to out-of-the-way places. Defying social expectations tied to their race, social backgrounds, and age, Jack and Lydia Clemmons moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Vermont in 1962 and raised their children in the small rural town of Charlotte.  

There they operated a 148-acre family farm during a time when farming was highly stigmatized in the African-American community and when Black and White society alike expected a professional couple to embrace an urban lifestyle. In 1983, Lydia launched Authentica African Arts, the first African art import mail order business in the US, from one of the historic buildings on their farm: an 18th-century blacksmith shop that Jack renovated on his own. Lydia operated the business for nearly 25 years before closing it in 2012.

A selection of the Authentica collection, along with photos and listening stations featuring Jack and Lydia’s storytelling about the art they lovingly collected during two decades of work and travels throughout the African continent, is on special exhibition in the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery from December 2018 through March 2019. Now 95 years old, the couple are working on a new family venture: the Clemmons Family Farm, whose mission is to preserve the 148-acre farm and its legacy as an African-American Heritage, Art and Multicultural Center for the community.

Photo: Wooden mask. Fang tribe, Southern Cameroon (c. 1800s)

Contact Flynn Marketing at 802-652-4500 or for more information.

Exhibition sponsor Amy E. Tarrant

This exhibition is funded in part through support from the Vermont Arts Council, Vermont Community Foundation, Art Place America, The Clemmons Family Farm, 
and Surdna Foundation.

clemmons farm             art place america

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
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