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Albert C. Barnes Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 102 P&P).


Barnes, Albert Coombs (02 January 1872–24 July 1951), collector, educator, and entrepreneur, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Jesse Barnes, a butcher, and Lydia A. Schafer. Barnes’s father lost his right arm in the Civil War, and his ability to support his family proved sporadic. However, Albert’s mother, to whom he was devoted, was hardworking and resourceful. Among his most vivid childhood memories were the exuberant black religious revivals and camp meetings he attended with his devout Methodist parents. Accepted at the academically demanding Central High School, which awarded bachelor’s degrees, his early interest in art was stimulated by his friendship with the future artist ...


Tupper, Earl Silas (28 July 1907–03 October 1983), inventor, was born in Berlin, New Hampshire, the son of farmers. Soon after his birth the family moved to a farm in Massachusetts where young Tupper enjoyed buying and selling vegetables. After graduating from high school in 1926, Tupper turned his hobby into a small mail-order business for household items such as combs and toothbrushes. During this time the self-described “ham inventor and Yankee trader” found another area in which to tinker—chemical engineering. Tupper’s self-taught skills led him to Du Pont, where he worked as an engineer during the 1930s. While at Du Pont, Tupper became fascinated by plastic, an interest that continued through the remainder of his life....


Walker, A'Lelia (06 June 1885–17 August 1931), arts patron and cosmetics industry executive, was born Lelia McWilliams in Delta, Louisiana, the only child of the Sarah Breedlove, who would become the hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C. J. Walker, and Moses McWilliams, a sharecropper. In 1888, while still a toddler, she moved with her widowed mother from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to St. Louis, Missouri, where three of her maternal uncles operated a barbershop. At nearby St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, women parishioners reached out, caring for Lelia in the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home while Sarah worked during the week as a washerwoman. As a choir member, Sarah was exposed to educated, middle-class women—many of whom were members of the National Association of Colored Women—and began to aspire to a better life for herself and her daughter. Sarah’s marriage to an abusive alcoholic named John Davis during Lelia’s adolescence created instability and frequently disrupted her school attendance. In 1901, when Lelia was sixteen years old, her mother left Davis and sent her to Knoxville College in Tennessee, where she remained for less than a year. As an adult, she changed her name to A’Lelia....