The primary characters in Provenance all come from my imagination. Many of the secondary character were real people in history whom I called upon to play fictional roles in my characters’ lives. Some, like Josephine Baker and the Rockefellers, are well-known historic figures to most of us. Others, like Belle Greene and Eugene Bullard were amazing revelations. Why their history is not an everyday part of our common knowledge significantly diminishes America. How could we not know their stories? Provenance will not right their history, but perhaps it will make a few more of us aware of great Americans.
Below are brief descriptions of some of the historic characters in Provenance as well as resources for learning more about them.
Belle da Costa Greene
(December 13, 1883 – May 10, 1950)
Born Belle Marian Greener into a distinguished and educated Washington, D.C. family (her father, Richard T. Greener, was the first black graduate of Harvard). As an adult she changed her name and began passing for white. She became the powerful librarian to J.P. Morgan, defying the restrictions of gender and race. The book An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege by Heidi Ardizzone was a valuable resource in learning more about his remarkable woman.
Eugene Jacques Bullard
(October 9, 1895 – October 12, 1961)
Born Eugene James Bullard, in Columbus Georgia. He was America’s first black military aviator – though he could not fly for his country. Bullard joined the French Air Service in 1916, and received his pilot’s license in 1917. He flew for the Lafayette Flying Corps of the French Air Service and took part in 20 combat missions earning the nickname, “Black Swallow of Death.” When the U.S. entered the war he could not serve in the United States Army Air Service because only white pilots were allowed so he continued to fly for the French.
For his service during World War I and World War II France awarded him the Knight of the Légion d’honneur, Médaille Militaire, Croix de Guerre, Volunteer’s Cross (Croix du combattant volontaire), Wounded Insignia, World War I Commemorative Medal, World War I Victory Medal, Freedom Medal, and the World War II Commemorative Medal— their highest military honors.
You can read more about this great American aviator in Eugene Bullard Black Expatriate in Jazz Age Paris by Craig Lloyd or, for young readers, Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot, is a great choice.
Art Collectors in the Early 20th Century
For background on art collectors I used several references to learn about the men and women who collected art in the early 20th century. The Proud Possessors: The lives, times and tastes of some adventurous American art collectors by Aline B. Saarinen and America’s Medicis by Suzanne Loebl were two of my most reliable resources for information about J. Pierpont Morgan, The Steins, Peggy Guggenheim and The Rockefellers.
For information on Walter Chrysler I had a bit of inside information on the man and his habits as a collector. For several years, I was the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. The Museum is an excellent resources to learn more about the man and his collection.
Maggie Lena Walker
(July 15, 1864 – December 15, 1934)
While only briefly mentioned in Chapter 9 of Provenance when Charlotte considers if Maggie Walker, a Negro can run a business she should be able to. Walker did not just a business, she was a powerful example of what made Jackson Ward in Richmond the “Harlem of the South.” Her rise from a child of poverty to a woman of wealth, philanthropy and power is well worth reading more about.
Below are links to the books mentioned on this page. The book covers contain affiliate links, which means I receive nominal compensation if you make a purchase using these links. Readers are welcome to use other resources to access any suggested material, these links are provided strictly for the readers’ convenience.