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Biggers, John 1924–2001

John Biggers 19242001

Artist and educator

Created Afrocentric Artwork

Established Art Department at TSU

Traveled to Africa

Became Subject of Retrospective Exhibition

Sources

As a painter, muralist, illustrator, and sculptor, John Biggers has made innumerable contributions to American art and culture. In the 1950s he became one of the first African-American artists to travel to Africa, and to integrate African motifs and symbolism into his artwork. His pioneering achievements have influenced generations of artists in the United States and abroad.

Biggers also influenced thousands of young artists directly, as a professor of art at Texas Southern University. In 1949 he was recruited by the newly founded university to establish its art department. Biggers taught at Texas Southern for more than thirty years, winning several prestigious awards for his teaching.

In 1995 a retrospective exhibition of Biggerss work, titled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, was organized by Houstons Museum of Fine Arts. The show also traveled to five cities in the South and Northeast. He is someone who has retained, over 50 years, an emphasis on African-American culture, Alvia J. Wardlaw, curator of the exhibition, told the magazine American Visions. He was one of the first African-American artists to study and live in West Africa and to bring back to us, in the late 1950s, images of African culture that were positive and personaland accurate. And I think that is probably his greatest gift to American culture, Wardlaw continued.

John Biggers is a poet, philosopher, teacher, draughtsman, painter, sculptor, muralist, and, above all, an inspirational leader, wrote Peter C. Marzio, director of Houstons Museum of Fine Arts, in the exhibition catalog, also titled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room. He leads us with his powerful imagery, his impassioned discourse, his intense energy, and his all-consuming belief in the human community and its mystical interaction with the natural world, he added.

Created Afrocentric Artwork

John Thomas Biggers was born April 13, 1924, in the small town of Gastonia, North Carolina. He was the seventh and youngest child of Paul and Cora Biggers. His father was the principal of the local black school, owner of a shoe shop, and a minister. His mother helped to run the family farm, taking in laundry for extra income. Biggers was raised in an extended family, part of a close-knit black community in the segregated town.

As a child, Biggers enjoyed copying drawings from his fathers Bible. More importantly, however, he was an insightful observer of his surroundings. The people, landscape, and everyday objects of Biggerss rural Southern childhood would become important themes in his later work.

After Paul Biggers died of diabetes in 1937, Cora Biggers accepted a job at an orphanage in Oxford, North Carolina. Young John was sent to board at Lincoln Academy, a private school initially founded to teach former slaves, in nearby Kings Mountain, North Carolina. To help pay for his tuition, Biggers worked as

At a Glance

Born John Thomas Biggers on April 13, 1924, in Gastonia, NC; died on January 25, 2001, Houston, TX; son of Paul Biggers, a school principal, shoe store owner and minister, and Cora Finger Biggers, a laundrywoman; married Hazel Hales, 1948-. Education: Hampton Institute, Hampton, VA, 1941-43, 1946; Pennsylvania State University, BA, MA in art education, 1948, PhD in art education, 1954. Military Service: U.S. Navy, 1943-45.

Career: Painter, muralist, illustrator, sculptor, 1941-01; Alabama State Teachers College, instructor, 1949; Texas State University, associate professor and department head, department of art, 1949-54; author, Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, 1962; Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, visiting professor, 1965-66; coauthor, Black Art in Houston, 1978; Texas State Univ., full professor, 1954-83.

Awards: Teaching Fellow, Pennsylvania State Univ., 1948; Purchase Prize, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1950; Schlumberger Prize, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1951; Purchase Prize for Prints and Sculpture, Atlanta Univ., 1952; UNESCO Fellowship, 1957; Excellence in Design Award for Ananse, 1963; Minnie Stevens-Piper Foundation Professor Award for Outstanding Scholarly and Academic Achievement, 1964; Danforth Foundation E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching, 1968; Distinguished Alumnus Award, Pennsylvania State Univ., 1971; Mayors Award for Outstanding Contributions as Visual Artist, Houston, 1980; Texas Artist of the Year, The Art League of Houston, 1988; Award for Achievement, Metropolitan Arts Foundation, 1988; Honorary Doctor of Human Letters, Hampton Univ., 1990; Texas Medal of Arts, 2001.

a janitor, and was in charge of keeping the fires lit at the school. During the hours he spent in the schools boiler room, he continued to draw, copying engravings from old issues of the New York Times Book Review.

In 1941, after graduating from Lincoln, Biggers enrolled at Hampton Institute (later Hampton University), an historically black college in Hampton, Virginia; among its distinguished alumni was Booker T. Washington. The following year, Biggers met Hazel Hales, an accounting major at Hampton. The couple married in 1948.

Initially Biggers planned to become a plumber, but soon began to take art classes with Professor Viktor Lowen-feld, a Jewish refugee from Germany. Lowenfeld, who would become Biggerss mentor, encouraged his students to learn about their African cultural and artistic heritage. He told us, You dont want to draw like a European, you want to speak out of your heart, Biggers was quoted as saying in Emerge.

In 1943 Biggers had the opportunity to show his work in the exhibition Young Negro Art, organized by Lowenfeld and shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was unprecedented for a major museum to take such interest in student artwork, let alone work by African-American students. In reviews of the exhibition, however, Biggerss mural, Dying Soldier, was singled out for criticism. Despite the discouraging response, he continued to dedicate himself to his work as a painter, sculptor, and muralist.

That same year, Biggerss studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the Navy. After basic training, he was sent back to the Navy training school that had been established at Hampton, where he created two murals. However, Biggers was outraged at having to serve in a segregated military, and became deeply depressed. When the war ended, he spent a month in the naval hospital in Philadelphia before being given an honorable discharge.

In 1946 Biggers enrolled at Pennsylvania State University, where Lowenfeld had accepted a teaching position. During his years at Penn State, Biggers first began to achieve some recognition for his work. Two of the murals that Biggers had completed during his studies at Hamptonincluding Dying Soldierwere acquired by a transportation union for its headquarters in Chicago. He also completed three murals for Penn State, before earning both a bachelors and a masters degree in art education in 1948.

Established Art Department at TSU

After graduating, Biggers taught briefly at Penn State and then Alabama State University. The following year, 1949, he was asked to establish an art department at Texas Southern University, a black college that had been founded just two years earlier. Biggers accepted the position as head of the art department, and taught at Texas Southern for more than 30 years. As an art professor, Biggers followed Lowenfelds example, encouraging his students to look to their own communities and their African heritage for artistic inspiration.

During the 1950s Biggers continued to build his reputation, accepting several mural commissions in Houstons black community. One such mural was The Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education, which he created for the YWCA in Houston. The mural, which portrayed African-American women as symbols of heroic struggle and survival, established a theme that Biggers would explore again and again in his work. Africa has a female sensibility Biggers was quoted as saying in Emerge. The woman was so powerful in African culture, he continued. According to Wardlaw, writing in The Art of John Biggers, The mural established the foundation for all of his images of black women and their communities that Biggers would create during the next forty years. Biggers later based his doctoral thesis on the research he had done for the project, receiving a doctorate in art education from Penn State in 1954.

In the early 1950s Biggers also won purchase prizes in competitions sponsored by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houstondespite the fact that both institutions were segregated at the time. Neither museum had expected an African-American artist to enter their competitions, let alone win, and Biggerss success was deeply embarrassing. At the Dallas Museum of Art, a reception planned for him was mysteriously cancelled. At the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Biggers could not attend the awards reception, because it fell on a day when the museum was closed to blacks. A few months later, the MFA in Houston changed its segregation policy; four decades later, it would organize the traveling retrospective of Biggerss work.

Traveled to Africa

In 1957 Biggers made a trip to Ghana that would change his entire philosophy of life and art. Before this journey, Biggers later wrote in his book Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, I felt cut off from my heritage, which I suspected was estimable and something to be embraced, not an ignobility to be scorned. I believed that many of my American brothers, in their flight from the stereotyped concepts of our race, had also flown from their real selves Funded by a fellowship from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Biggers and his wife traveled to Ghana, Togo, Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin), and Nigeria.

At the time, very few African-American artists had traveled to Africa to study. And although Biggers had spent months researching Africas history and culture, he realized, once he arrived, that most of his ideas about the continent were completely inaccurate. Nevertheless, the people they met welcomed them like long-lost family members. The story of one particular villages reaction was typical. We didnt speak the language, and we wore Western clothes. The drums announced that two Europeans had arrived, Biggers told Rosalyn Story of Emerge. On meeting the couple, however, the chieftain turned to the crowd of villagers and announced, For the first time the drums have made a mistake. These are your brothers who have returned after 400 years, Biggers recounted.

Over the years, Biggers had developed a system of visual icons, imbuing them with mythical meanings. As Wardlaw explained in The Art of John Biggers, The washpot represents the womb, the source of spiritual waters and rebirth; the scrub board represents a ladder, a symbol of ascension; the anvil represents community organization, and the transformation of natural resources (metals) into tools and weapons. In Africa, Biggers expanded his vocabulary of symbols to include African motifs, including combs, drums, and masks.

Biggerss portrayal of human subjects also altered dramatically. As his wife, Hazel, told Emerge, Before, his paintings showed people who were depressed, and poorsad. But in Africa, the women walked and danced with a certain joy. And even though they might be doing common labor, there was a certain dignity that the people had. They didnt seem to feel beaten down.

For Biggers, the process of assimilating what he had seen in Africa into his artistic practice was extremely difficult. The impact of Africa almost paralyzed my creative efforts; the drama and the poetic beauty were devastating, he wrote in Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, a journal about the trip that included more than 80 drawings of African life. Ananse was published in 1962, just as the civil rights movement in the United States was gathering momentum, and black Americans were beginning to take pride in their African heritage. The book, reissued in 1967, made an invaluable contribution to the growing consciousness of African history and culture.

Became Subject of Retrospective Exhibition

Throughout the l960s and 1970s, Biggers continued to teach at Texas Southern, participated in solo and group exhibitions, and created murals, including several on the Texas Southern campus. Many of the murals he painted in Houston can still be seen today: The walls of Houston have in large part preserved the brilliant range of Biggerss mural oeuvre, wrote Alison de Lima Greene in The Art of John Biggers.

Biggers retired from teaching at Texas Southern in 1983, having received numerous awards for his teaching and academic achievement. As the 1980s progressed, Biggers began to receive more recognition for his work. In 1988 he was named Texas Artist of the Year by the Art League of Houston. The following year, his paintings were featured in the exhibition Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art. The show, curated by Wardlaw, a professor of art history at Texas Southern, initially opened at the Dallas Museum of Art and then traveled to Atlanta; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Richmond, Virginia.

In 1995 Wardlaw put together a solo retrospective of Biggerss work, entitled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room. The exhibition, sponsored by Houstons Museum of Fine Arts, encompassed 120 paintings, drawings, murals, and sculptures. The show later traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina; Hartford, Connecticut; Hampton, Virginia; and Boston.

In the early 1990s, Biggers was asked to create several murals for Hampton University, where he had studied almost 50 years prior. The process of creating the murals at Hampton was documented in an independent video called John Biggers: Journeys (A Romance). Several of his paintings also hang in the universitys museum.

Biggerss work has been collected by the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and by many private collectors, including the poet Maya Angelou. John Biggers, one of Americas most important artists, leads us through his expressions into the discovery of ourselves at our most intimate level, Angelou wrote in The Art of John Biggers.

Biggerss career is without equal in our time, wrote de Lima Greene, a curator at Houstons Museum of Fine Arts, also in The Art of John Biggers. No other artist of his generation has left us so vivid a record of African-American community life in the rural and urban South. Biggerss lifelong career as an educator is eloquently recorded in his paintings; they not only reflect the changing self-identity of African Americans, but invite all viewers to share in their transcendental passion, she concluded.

In 1999, at the unveiling of his mural, Nubia, at Texas Southern University, Biggers was asked if he considered himself an artist, first, or a storyteller. He replied, Its hard for me to separate the two things. Mural painting has to do with wall design and storytelling has to do with content. I try to blend both. Nubia depicted the development of civilization in the East African area that is now Egypt and Sudan, and the symbolic importance that gold had during that time. The mural was also inspired by two African-American spirituals, Two Wings, and I Stood on the Banks of Jordan.

Biggers died on January 25, 2001, at his home in Houston. He was 76 years old. About one year after his death, the city of Minneapolis made the difficult decision to tear down Biggerss landmark mural, Celebration of Life, despite an outcry from the neighborhood. Radio show host, Travis Lee, called the decision sacrilegious but the mural needed to be removed to make way for the redevelopment of Heritage Park, a large housing project. A new work of art was commissioned to honor the work and life of John Biggers.

Sources

Books

Biggers, John. Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, University of Texas Press, 1962.

Warlaw, Alvia J. The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995.

Periodicals

American Visions, December/January 1996, p. 20; April/May 1995, p. 12.

Booklist, May 15, 1995, p. 1625.

Emerge, October 1997, p. 58.

Parabola, Spring 1995, p. 16.

Star Tribune, December 30, 2001, p. 03B.

The Houston Chronicle, September 22, 1999, p. 38; January 27, 2001, p. 1.

Carrie Golus and Christine Miner Minderovic

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Biggers, John 1924–

John Biggers 1924

Artist, educator

Created Afrocentric Artwork

Established Art Department at TSU

Traveled to Africa

Became Subject of Retrospective Exhibition

Sources

As a painter, muralist, illustrator, and sculptor, John Biggers has made innumerable contributions to American art and culture. In the 1950s he became one of the first African American artists to travel to Africa, and to integrate African motifs and symbolism into his artwork. His pioneering achievements have influenced generations of artists in the United States and abroad.

Biggers also influenced thousands of young artists directly, as a professor of art at Texas Southern University. In 1949, he was recruited by the newly founded university to establish its Art department. Biggers taught at Texas Southern for more than 30 years, winning several prestigious awards for his teaching.

In 1995 a retrospective exhibition of Biggers work, titled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, was organized by Houstons Museum of Fine Arts. The show also traveled to five cities in the South and Northeast. He is someone who has retained, over 50 years, an emphasis on African-American culture, Alvia J. Wardlaw, curator of the exhibition, told the magazine American Visions He was one of the first African-American artists to study and live in West Africa and to bring back to us, in the late 1950s, images of African culture that were positive and personaland accurate. And I think that is probably his greatest gift to American culture, Wardlaw continued.

John Biggers is a poet, philosopher, teacher, draughtsman, painter, sculptor, muralist, and, above all, an inspirational leader, wrote Peter C. Marzio, director of Houstons Museum of Fine Arts, in the exhibition catalog, also titled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room He leads us with his powerful imagery, his impassioned discourse, his intense energy, and his all-consuming belief in the human community and its mystical interaction with the natural world, he added.

Created Afrocentric Artwork

John Thomas Biggers was born April 13, 1924, in the small town of Gastonia, North Carolina. He was the seventh and youngest child of Paul and Cora Biggers. His father was the principal of the local black school, owner of a shoe shop, and a minister. His mother helped to run the family farm, taking in laundry for extra income. Biggers was raised in an extended family, part of a close-knit black community in the segregated town.

As a child, Biggers enjoyed copying drawings from his fathers Bible. More importantly, however, he was an insightful observer of his surroundings. The people, landscape, and everyday objects of Biggers rural Southern childhood would become important themes in his later work.

After Paul Biggers died of diabetes in 1937, Cora Biggers accepted a job at an orphanage in Oxford,

At a Glance

Born John Thomas Biggers, April 13, 1924, Casto nia, NC; son of Paul Biggers, a school principal, shoe store owner and minister, and Cora Finger Biggers, a laundrywoman; married Hazel Hales, 1948. Education: High school diploma, Lincoln Academy, Kings Mountain, NC; studied at Hampton Institute, Hampton, VA, 1941-43, 1946; earned BA, MA in art education, Pennsylvania State University, 1948; PhD in art education, Pennsylvania State University, 1954.

Career: Painter, muralist, illustrator, sculptor, 1941; instructor, Alabama State Teachers College, 1949; associate professor and department head, department of art, Texas State University, 1949-54; author, Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, 1962; visiting professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1965-66; co-author, Black Art in Houston, 1978; full professor, Texas State University, 1954-83; Military Service: U.S. Navy, 194345.

Awards: Teaching Fellow, Pennsylvania State University, 1948; Purchase Prize, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1950; Schlumberger Prize, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1951; Purchase Prize for Prints and Sculpture, Atlanta University, 1952; Excellence in Design Award for Ananse, 1963; Minnie Stevens-Piper Foundation Professor Award for Outstanding Scholarly and Academic Achievement, 1964; Danforth Foundation E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching, 1968; Distinguished Alumnus Award, Pennsylvania State University, 1971; Mayors Award for Outstanding Contributions as Visual Artist, Houston, 1980; Texas Artist of the Year, The Art League of Houston, 1988; Award for Achievement, Metropolitan Arts Foundation, 1988; Honorary Doctor of Human Letters, Hampton University, 1990.

Addresses: Home Dallas, TX and Gastonia, NC.

North Carolina. Young John was sent to board at Lincoln Academy, a private school initially founded to teach former slaves, in nearby Kings Mountain, North Carolina. To help pay for his tuition, Biggers worked as a janitor, and was in charge of keeping the fires lit at the school. During the hours he spent in the schools boiler room, he continued to draw, copying engravings from old issues of the New York Times Book Review.

In 1941, after graduating from Lincoln, Biggers enrolled at Hampton Institute (later Hampton University), an historically black college in Hampton, Virginia; among its distinguished alumni was Booker T. Washington. The following year, Biggers met Hazel Hales, an accounting major at Hampton. The couple married in 1948.

Initially Biggers planned to become a plumber, but soon began to take art classes with Professor Viktor Lowen-feld, a Jewish refugee from Germany. Lowenfeld, who would become Biggers mentor, encouraged his students to learn about their African cultural and artistic heritage. He told us, You dont want to draw like a European, you want to speak out of your heart, Biggers was quoted as saying in Emerge.

In 1943 Biggers had the opportunity to show his work in the exhibition Young Negro Art, organized by Lowenfeld and shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was unprecedented for a major museum to take such interest in student artwork, let alone work by African American students. In reviews of the exhibition, however, Biggers mural, Dying Soldier, was singled out for criticism. Despite the discouraging response, he continued to dedicate himself to his work as a painter, sculptor, and muralist.

That same year, Biggers studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the Navy. After basic training, he was sent back to the Navy training school that had been established at Hampton, where he created two murals. However, Biggers was outraged at having to serve in a segregated military, and became deeply depressed. When the war ended, he spent a month in the naval hospital in Philadelphia before being given an honorable discharge.

In 1946 Biggers enrolled at Pennsylvania State University, where Lowenfeld had accepted a teaching position. During his years at Penn State, Biggers first began to achieve some recognition for his work. Two of the murals that Biggers had completed during his studies at Hamptonincluding Dying Soldierwere acquired by a transportation union for its headquarters in Chicago. He also completed three murals for Penn State, before earning both a bachelors and a masters degree in art education in 1948.

Established Art Department at TSU

After graduating, Biggers taught briefly at Penn State and then Alabama State University. The following year, 1949, he was asked to establish an art department at Texas Southern University, a black college that had been founded just two years earlier. Biggers accepted the position as head of the art department, and taught at Texas Southern for more than 30 years. As an art professor, Biggers followed Lowenfelds example, encouraging his students to look to their own communities and their African heritage for artistic inspiration.

During the 1950s Biggers continued to build his reputation, accepting several mural commissions in Houstons black community. One such mural was The Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education, which he created for the YWCA in Houston. The mural, which portrayed African American women as symbols of heroic struggle and survival, established a theme that Biggers would explore again and again in his work. Africa has a female sensibility , Biggers was quoted as saying in Emerge The woman was so powerful in African culture, he continued. According to Wardlaw, writing in The Art of John Biggers, The mural established the foundation for all of his images of black women and their communities that Biggers would create during the next forty years. Biggers later based his doctoral thesis on the research he had done for the project, receiving a doctorate in art education from Penn State in 1954.

In the early fifties Biggers also won purchase prizes in competitions sponsored by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houstondespite the fact that both institutions were segregated at the time. Neither museum had expected an African American artist to enter their competitions, let alone win, and Biggers success was deeply embarrassing. At the Dallas Museum of Art, a reception planned for him was mysteriously cancelled. At the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Biggers could not attend the awards reception, because it fell on a day when the museum was closed to blacks. A few months later, the MFA in Houston changed its segregation policy; four decades later, it would organize the traveling retrospective of Biggers work.

Traveled to Africa

In 1957, Biggers made a trip to Ghana that would change his entire philosophy of life and art. Before this journey, Biggers later wrote in his book Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, I felt cut off from my heritage, which I suspected was estimable and something to be embraced, not an ignobility to be scorned. I believed that many of my American brothers, in their flight from the stereotyped concepts of our race, had also flown from their real selves. Funded by a fellowship from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Biggers and his wife traveled to Ghana, Togo, Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin), and Nigeria.

At the time, very few African American artists had traveled to Africa to study. And although Biggers had spent months researching Africas history and culture, he realized, once he arrived, that most of his ideas about the continent were completely inaccurate. Nevertheless, the people they met welcomed them like long-lost family members. The story of one particular villages reaction was typical. We didnt speak the language, and we wore Western clothes. The drums announced that two Europeans had arrived, Biggers told Rosalyn Story of Emerge. On meeting the couple, however, the chieftain turned to the crowd of villagers and announced, For the first time the drums have made a mistake. These are your brothers who have returned after 400 years, Biggers recounted.

Over the years, Biggers had developed a system of visual icons, imbuing them with mythical meanings. As Wardlaw explained in The Art of John Biggers, The washpot represents the womb, the source of spiritual waters and rebirth; the scrub board represents a ladder, a symbol of ascension; the anvil represents community organization, and the transformation of natural resources (metals) into tools and weapons. In Africa, Biggers expanded his vocabulary of symbols to include African motifs, including combs, drums, and masks.

Biggers portrayal of human subjects also altered dramatically. As his wife, Hazel, told Emerge, Before, his paintings showed people who were depressed, and poorsad. But in Africa, the women walked and danced with a certain joy. And even though they might be doing common labor, there was a certain dignity that the people had. They didnt seem to feel beaten down.

For Biggers, the process of assimilating what he had seen in Africa into his artistic practice was extremely difficult. The impact of Africa almost paralyzed my creative efforts; the drama and the poetic beauty were devastating, he wrote in Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, a journal about the trip that included more than 80 drawings of African life. Ananse was published in 1962, just as the civil rights movement in the United States was gathering momentum, and black Americans were beginning to take pride in their African heritage. The book, reissued in 1967, made an invaluable contribution to the growing consciousness of African history and culture.

Became Subject of Retrospective Exhibition

Throughout the sixties and seventies, Biggers continued to teach at Texas Southern, participated in solo and group exhibitions, and created murals, including several on the Texas Southern campus. Many of the murals he painted in Houston can still be seen today: The walls of Houston have in large part preserved the brilliant range of Biggers mural oeuvre, wrote Alison de Lima Greene in The Art of John Biggers.

Biggers retired from teaching at Texas Southern in 1983, having received numerous awards for his teaching and academic achievement. As the 1980s progressed, Biggers began to receive more recognition for his work. In 1988, he was named Texas Artist of the Year by the Art League of Houston. The following year, his paintings were featured in the exhibition Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art. The show, curated by Wardlaw, a professor of art history at Texas Southern, initially opened at the Dallas Museum of Art and then traveled to Atlanta; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Richmond, Virginia.

In 1995 Wardlaw put together a solo retrospective of Biggers work, entitled The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room. The exhibition, sponsored by Houstons Museum of Fine Arts, encompassed 120 paintings, drawings, murals, and sculptures. The show later traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina; Hartford, Connecticut; Hampton, Virginia; and Boston.

In the early nineties, Biggers was asked to create several murals for Hampton University, where he had studied almost 50 years prior. The process of creating the murals at Hampton was documented in an independent video called John Biggers: Journeys (A Romance). Several of his paintings also hang in the universitys museum.

Biggers work has been collected by the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and by many private collectors, including the poet Maya Angelou. John Biggers, one of Americas most important artists, leads us through his expressions into the discovery of ourselves at our most intimate level, Angelou wrote in The Art of John Biggers.

Biggers career is without equal in our time, wrote de Lima Greene, a curator at Houstons Museum of Fine Arts, also in The Art of John Biggers No other artist of his generation has left us so vivid a record of African-American community life in the rural and urban South. Biggers lifelong career as an educator is eloquently recorded in his paintings; they not only reflect the changing self-identity of African Americans, but invite all viewers to share in their transcendental passion, she concluded.

Sources

Books

Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, by John Biggers, University of Texas Press, 1962.

The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, by Alvia J. Wardlaw, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995.

Periodicals

American Visions, December/January 1996, p. 20; April/May 1995, p. 12.

Booklist, May 15, 1995, p. 1625.

Emerge, October 1997, p. 58.

Parabola, Spring 1995, p. 16.

Carrie Golus

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Biggers, John 1924–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Biggers, John 1924–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/biggers-john-1924

"Biggers, John 1924–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/biggers-john-1924