The New York Times, April 2, 2010
LAST CHANCE: BACK TO HAUNT THE HELL OUT OF YOU -- THE SPLENDID AND BRAGADOCIOUS RAVEN CHANTICLEER
By Holland Cotter
The artist Raven Chanticleer invented himself. He was born James Watson in South Carolina in 1928 and claimed to have grown up in Harlem. By his own account, he studied design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, then at the Sorbonne. He opened his own New York shop where, he said, Mahalia Jackson and Big Maybelle Smith were among his clients. He dressed to impress: kente cloth plus plaid. And considering the attention he gave to shaping his persona, it makes sense that he would want to shape others too, which may have been why he opened the African American Wax Museum in his Harlem brownstone. Most of the personalities enshrined there were popular heroes, from Harriet Tubman to Magic Johnson. He molded their figures and arranged their display. If the museum wasn't a blockbuster, it generated buzz. The Amsterdam News wrote it up; so did Italian Vogue. After Chanticleer's death in 2002, his family close the museum and put the building up for sale. The wax sculptures, it seems, were trashed. But the artist lives on in this modest homage made up largely of personal documents and newspaper clips.