Janna Ireland’s contemporary photography exploring the revolutionary work of Paul Revere Williams, the first certified Black architect west of the Mississippi River, will launch an exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art exploring his work throughout the state.

Williams, a native of Los Angeles who established a successful career as an architect decades before the Civil Rights Movement, designed municipal buildings, private homes, banks, churches, hospitals, university halls, public housing projects, and mansions for celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. 

Some of his most recognizable structures in Southern California include the headquarters of the Music Corporation of America and the renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Art in Nevada - Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

In Nevada, Williams’ most notable buildings include the La Concha Motel (now part of the Neon Museum) in Las Vegas and the First Church of Christ, Scientist (now known as the Lear Theater) in Reno.

Williams was first introduced to northern Nevada in the 1930s by Luella Garvey, for whom he designed a house in Reno in 1934. That commission was followed two years later by his design of the Ranch House at Rancho San Rafael Park. Williams also designed other residential and lodging properties in Northern Nevada, including the El Reno Apartments in Reno, the Lovelock Inn and Tharpe Residence in Lovelock, and E.L. Cord’s Circle L Ranch House outside of Dyer. 

Ireland’s exhibition entitled Janna Ireland on the Architectural Legacy of Paul Revere Williams in Nevada captures Williams’ work in the following Reno locations:

In Southern Nevada, Williams designed many historic buildings, including the Guardian Angel Cathedral, La Concha Motel, and Berkley Square Historic District, Southern Nevada’s first Black suburban community.

Art in Nevada: The Architectural Legacy of Paul Revere Williams 

Art in Nevada - Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

Through his work, Williams literally brought dreams to life.

Ireland approaches Williams’ architecture from a fine arts perspective through black and white photography.

This exhibition will open with a premiere dinner in Reno on July 15, and a symposium on July 16 will follow. It will travel to the Nevada State Museum Las Vegas from Dec. 3, 2022, through May 30, 2023.

Curator talks about the exhibition 

We asked Carmen Beals, Associate Curator and Outreach Director for the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, to tell us more about what drew Ireland’s artistic eye to Williams’ work and how he built a successful career as an architect decades before the Civil Rights Movement.

Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

 “Through her lens, Janna Ireland presents Williams’  passion for architecture, his love for community, and his belief in providing people from all walks of life with the comfort of a home,” Beals said. “The Nevada Museum of Art is proud to partner with Our Story, Claytee White of UNLV, KME Architects, LGA Architects, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Las Vegas, to bring visibility to Williams’ timeless designs and the work ethic exhibited through his approach.”

How have Williams’ architectural contributions helped redefine the built environment over the last century?

Beals says: To understand his significant impact, it’s essential to consider what Williams accomplished throughout his career. As the American dream was at the forefront of everyone’s mind in the 1920s, Los Angeles transformed from a rural farming landscape to a glamorous cityscape. Many of the individuals who moved there were wealthy, liberal, and willing to give a Black architect a chance.

Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

In the 1930s, Williams was commissioned to develop upscale homes in California neighborhoods like Highlands Park, Beverly Hills, and Luella Garvey. By the 1940s, he became known as the “Architect to the stars,” with 60 percent of his work commercial.

In Nevada, many of the projects shown in this exhibition are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their groundbreaking contributions to architectural landscapes.

How would you describe Raul Revere Williams’ architectural style?

Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

Beals says: Williams had an incredible ability to turn houses into homes. His work is inspired by many styles, including Neoclassical,  Tudor revival, Mediterranean, Spanish colonial, and midcentury modern. As the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Williams worked diligently to establish reputable business and social networks. He attracted a luxurious clientele who wanted a modern and refined aesthetic and designed affordable homes for homeowners seeking charm and practicality.

What inspired Ireland to approach the work of Paul Revere Williams from a fine arts perspective in black and white?

Beals says: I believe Ireland chose to approach Williams’ work in black and white to draw the viewer’s eye closer to his designs and away from colorful distractions. Janna highlights his buildings’ brilliant interior and exterior elements while bringing a poetic response to the intricate details of his work.

What are some questions guests should ask themselves while viewing the exhibition?

Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

Beals says: With the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” in mind, visitors should ask themselves questions like:

“Why did Ireland choose to photograph specific designs of Williams’ work through shadow and light?”

“How can we as a society benefit from the impactful and innovative elements that Williams created?”

“What emotion is this image trying to evoke?”

How has Black life and culture been documented and represented in art in Nevada?

Beals says: One of the ways Black life in Nevada has been documented is through the African American Experience in Las Vegas. As a large-scale grant-funded project, Claytee White, the oral history director for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and spokesperson for this exhibition, is committed to sharing stories about Black history in the state.

In 2016, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Commission for the Las Vegas Centennial awarded UNLV $100,000 to partner with Vegas PBS on an incredibly impactful documentary called the African Americans: The Las Vegas Experience.

Our Story, Inc. has also done an excellent job documenting Black life in Nevada. As a nonprofit organization, Our Story, Inc. is dedicated to seeking out the contributions, heritage, and culture of underrepresented people throughout the state.

Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

Many museums have also started going through their collections to examine how they represent the experience of Black people and communities.

It is essential to provide Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) with spaces representing their heritage, social beliefs, and ideologies. This conscious practice will help make their voices feel heard and represented. Due to elitism in museums across the country, many marginalized communities don’t feel welcome and thus choose not to participate.

How does this exhibition help to diversify the Museum’s collections and programs?

This exhibition aims to broaden our scope of African American art in Nevada by featuring Ireland, a Peter E. Pool Research Fellow for the Center of Art and Environment, and a highly talented photographer. She tells the triumphant story of a Black man who designed facilities for the country’s wealthiest clients and could not enjoy such luxuries nor live in the same community as them.

Paul Revere Williams - Nevada Museum of Art

Despite some of the challenges he faced, Williams worked extremely hard to overcome adversity and meet the needs of his clientele. Some examples of this include learning to draw upside down because he couldn’t sit by clients and walking with his arms behind his back to avoid interactions with people who didn’t want to shake his hand.

The Nevada Museum of Art will display and share this historical information with community members and visitors across the state of Nevada. Anyone can also view this information on our microsite or view documentation in person by visiting the Center for Art and Environment’s Archive Collections after the exhibition has concluded.

At Dickson Realty, we’re proud to share what makes art in Nevada so great, including art exhibitions at the Nevada Museum of Art. To learn more about living in Northern Nevada, contact one of our neighborhood experts today.