Visual and Applied Arts
Visual and Applied Arts
Visual and Applied Arts
Phyllis J. Jackson
Africans in the United States and their descendants have been making objects and creating works of art since the first indentured Africans arrived on the North American continent in 1619. Black artists in the United States have created an extraordinary and distinctive visual tradition despite the social, political, and cultural odds confronting them. Some are such well-known historical figures as Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold, and Martin Puryear. Others including Scipio Moorehead, Mary Edmonia Lewis, James Presley Ball, Robert Duncanson, and Meta Warrick Fuller are only familiar to art specialists. Still, thousands of other artists and their works have gone unrecorded or unheralded despite contributing to America’s rich visual legacy. Whether formally trained or self-taught, crafting objects for their personal use, fulfilling public or private commissions, African American artists and artisans have worked in a vast array of media and styles to express themselves aesthetically.
Art produced by African American artists over the centuries includes innumerable drawings, designs, paintings, sculptures, carvings, ceramics, architecture, photographs, prints, cartoons, computer graphics, web pages, furniture, clothing, jewelry, utensils, site-specific installations, performance pieces, and independent cinema. In all its variants, African American art appeals to aesthetic sensibilities, inspires confidence, raises awareness, and challenges long-standing assumptions and representational conventions of mainstream culture. Thus, African American art stands as one of the most important bodies of creative works shaping aesthetic, intellectual, and visual culture throughout the world.
Of the millions of Africans who were brought to the Americas, the majority came from West and Central Africa. Transported by British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese slave traders, Africans in the Americas originated from cultures as disparate as the Akan, Bambara, Edo, Fante, Igbo, Kongo, Mandinka, Mende, Wolof, and Yoruba. Despite this ethnic variety, Westerners use the generic and deprecating term “tribe” to describe all African social systems. Conceptually, this is a misleading term because it obscures the large population numbers, structural complexity, diversity, and long histories of African societies. The term also distorts and diminishes the historical significance of the artistic, aesthetics, and patronage traditions that arose within each society. Rather, these
cultural groups, kingdoms, and nation-states had varying levels of social, political, and economic accomplishment.
Within each of these ethnic groups, there was a common language, cosmology, spiritual practices, and political-economic history that shaped the related art-making practices. Consequently, a diverse artistic legacy emerged across the African continent, with each society developing its own unique arts traditions (i.e., subjects, forms, styles, iconography, materials and usage). For example, the stylized abstract copper reliquary figures from Gabon differ sharply from the naturalistic Ile Ife terracotta and bronze sculptures.
Africans brought an appreciation for their culture’s language, cosmology, spiritual beliefs, ceremonies, rituals, ancestry, and political history. In addition, they brought knowledge of the aesthetic values, artistic practices, and visual customs of their individual cultures. Many carried skills and talents from working as artists and artisans in one of the many gender-segregated work-
shops and guilds. African art guilds produced objects as varied as sculpture, jewelry, textiles, and pottery, all made from materials as diverse as gold, bronze, wood, ivory, cotton, silk, fur, raffia, clay, beads, and shells. For example, the Edo artists that cast the world-renowned “Benin bronzes” for the Edo royal courts of the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries worked within a very different artistic and political tradition than the ivory carvers of salt-cellars that were imported from the Kongo during the Europe Renaissance. Some art forms, styles, and techniques have survived, others retained in modified versions and adapted to American cultural milieu.
Synthesis and resistance are the cultural and creative hallmarks of African American art. Culturally, African American art is a hybrid tradition of the aesthetic values and artistic practices of Africa, the African Diaspora, Western Europe, and Euro-America. Each of these cultural groups within their historical era has its own set of prevailing social values, economic conditions, and political relations, as well as individual and collective artistic interests. These factors combine to affect the changing proportion of African or European influence on black artists’ work. The most formative influence arises from the fusion of so many African ethnic heritages into the revitalized amalgam now known as African American culture.
African and African Diasporic visual arts traditions are dramatically different from Western traditions in both form (medium/material, style/technique) and content (subject/themes, motifs/meaning). The ultimate tension is that white-European traditions are based on principles that radically conflict in their regard for African life, art, and culture. African visual tradition assumes the humanity, beauty, intelligence, and worth of African and African-descended people. Conversely, Eurocentric traditions have exploited and manipulated the authority of Western philosophy, aesthetics, social theory, and science to associate full human potential with only people of European descent, with the heterosexual male atop an imagined hierarchy and African women a the very bottom.
Necessarily, black art is a resilient representational practice that thrives despite cultural oppression. From the colonial period of enslavement to the present day, black artists have had to work within and against a mainstream visual culture that customarily demonizes blackness and devalues all things African. As a result, black artists’ work, self-consciously and by its mere existence, undermines European racial mythologies along with the social, political, and economic hierarchies that those European-derived myths justify. Black art, therefore, is an artistic and aesthetic heritage that works to value blackness and black people, particularly as worthy subject matter, while simultaneously redeeming the diverse cultural heritages of Africa in the Western imagination and African descended peoples’ hearts.
Africans in colonial America created art and artifacts that revealed their indebtedness to Africa’s myriad cultural traditions. The majority of black artists during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were enslaved. Works created under this adverse condition fall into two broad categories. First, Africans with technical skills were required to direct most of their time and creative talents to making items for the use and benefit of slave-holders. For example, enslaved Africans built many of the plantation manors along and crafted the interior woodwork and furniture. The names of five men, (Tom, Peter, Ben, Harry, and Daniel) appear on the 1795 government payroll for carpenters at the White House, three were enslaved by the building’s architect. African’s metal crafting skills helped produce beautiful decorative arts as well as the shackles used for bondage. Women made the fashionable dresses and household Second, since slave-holders forced Africans to work from sunup to sundown; they only occasionally found time or resources to apply their creative energies to benefit themselves, families, or friends. A standing, wrought iron figure and a decorated wooden drum made in the style of the Akan are the earliest known pieces of art made for themselves, uncovered through archaeological excavations of Virginia plantations.
Generally, early black artists did not have the liberty to practice the arts of painting and sculpture, nor did they have resources to work in such precious materials as canvas oil, marble, or gold. Rather, they adapted skills and techniques once employed to make objects for daily use, sacred ceremonies, or African royal courts. Artistic and aesthetic Africanisms can be found embedded in the details of architectural ornaments, building designs, handcrafted furniture, quilts, clothing, and tools. African carpenters designed and built their one-room quarters using styles and techniques originating in Africa. These techniques and motifs testify to the cultural and historic difficulties that surface when trying to draw concrete boundaries between what are black arts and what are Euro-American arts.
EARLY BLACK ARTISTS SECURE COMPENSATION FOR THEIR EFFORTS
Black women and men were often sold and purchased based on their skills. Some were often “hired out” by slaveholders and occasionally permitted to keep a small portion of the earned income. In this way, some enslaved Africans were able to save enough money to buy their own and family members’ freedom. They often worked as anonymous apprentices and journeyman in occupations as varied as pottery, silversmithing, cabinet making, and tailoring.
The proportion of emancipated or even free-born black people and artists was higher in the North than the South. Yet, northerners also lived and labored within all the legal and cultural oppression of white supremacist culture. To secure monetary or material compensation for their work, free black artisans made objects that appealed to the aesthetic sensibilities of the patron class—primarily whites with discretionary funds. Some of what has been preserved and celebrated as Euro-American art and architecture, in many instances, has been produced by enslaved and free black people.
PROMINENT BLACK ARTISTS IN EARLY AMERICA
There are, however, art and artisans whose names and works are part of the historical record. Scipio Moorehead is the first black artist with an attributed work. Moorehead was an enslaved African who learned drawing and painting from his slaveholder’s wife. He created a 1773 ink drawing Portrait of Phillis Wheatley —an engraving of Moorehead’s portrait served as the frontispiece of Wheatley’s celebrated publication Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. The young poet paid homage to Moorehead’s painting skills in a poem titled “To S. M., A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Work.” Since none of Moorehead’s paintings are extant, Wheatley’s description serves as an invaluable description of them.
Dave Drake (c. 1780s-1864) was one of the most prolific potters in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. Dave’s slaveholder taught him the craft, but Dave quickly developed his own distinctive style for making large, glazed stoneware jars. It is unclear how Dave learned to read and write, but he did so even though it was a violation of South Carolina law. Dave left his own enduring legacy because he signed his name on dozens of pots. He also enhanced his renown work by composing inscribed around the exterior surface of over twenty pots such short, prophetic verses as “this noble jar will hold 20/fill it with silver then you’ll have plenty” (March 31, 1858).
The needle, thread and design skills were important crafts for many African Americans in the antebellum and postbellum periods. After learning how to sew from her enslaved mother, Elizabeth Keckley (1819-1907) used dressmaking to secure reputation and freedom. Successfully completing a last—minute order for Mary Todd Lincoln’s inaugural ball gown, Keckley secured her position as the Lincoln’s wife’s tailor and confidante. After emancipation, Harriet Powers (1837-1911), made two appliquéd quilts in 1886 and 1898. They are sometimes referred to as Bible quilts because most of the individual panels represent Old and New Testament scenes that reveal her creative retention of African design qualities. Power’s quilts are representative of the innovative character of black quilters, both female and male. These self-taught or informally trained artisans produced an important segment of nineteenth-century American arts and crafts.
In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many black people wanted to express themselves creatively in the “fine arts” of painting and sculpture. Among these early black artists, some were born free and others emancipated, but all accepted work when and where they could find it. Generally, these artists worked independently and without the support of artist collectives or the encouragement of black arts movements. More often than not, only Euro-Americans possessed the financial resources to purchase or commission hand-painted portraits, still life studies, history pictures, landscapes, mythological or genre scenes, monumental public sculpture, private garden sculpture, elaborate cemetery markers, or delicate decorative arts. As a result, for black artists working in the fine arts, financial success and artistic accomplishment depended upon a repression of African-derived forms or aesthetics and the avoidance of subject matter that celebrated or respected the humanity of African people and their descendants.
Historical records indicate that Joshua Johnston (1765-1830) was the earliest artist of African descent to work as a professional portrait painter. After being freed in 1796, Johnston worked as a “limner” or self-taught artist. He advertised his services in the newspapers and painted quaint, modest portraits of prosperous merchants and their families in the Baltimore, Maryland area. There are now eighty paintings signed by or attributed to Johnston. This relatively large body of work suggests that Johnston’s seemingly naive style met with the conservative and puritanical aesthetic tastes of affluent whites in the early American republic. Only two of Johnston’s portraits are of men of African descent and both wear clerics collars. Art, thereby, links Johnston to a class of free-black, anti-slavery activists in his home city. Historians suggest that one painting Portrait of a Cleric is of Daniel Coker, a black abolitionist and forefather of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. As a founding father of black art, Johnston created works that met the needs of patrons in conflicting classes—a paradoxical legacy that continues today.
PROFESSIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS DEPICT THEIR CULTURE
In terms of subject and style, it is often difficult to distinguish the work of nineteenth-century black painters, sculptors, or photographers from that of their white counterparts. Robert Duncanson’s Ohio River style landscape paintings, capturing the grandeur of the American wilderness, provide no indication that the artist is of African ancestry. Similarly, Jules Lion (1810-1866) was a pioneering artist, and one of fifty documented black daguerreotypists who operated successful portrait studios or traveling business in the decades immediately following the invention of daguerreotypes in 1839. Most of their clientele were Euro-Americans looking to permanently capture their image with the new medium. The most notable and important distinction in the art of black and
white artists occurs in the small percentage of professional African American artists’ work that portrays black people.
Black artists infused their representations of black historical figures as well as fictional ones with a dignity and strength of character foreign to white artists’ works. James Presley Ball (1825- c.1904/05) and Augustus Washington (1820-75) were ardent abolitionists and used their work to deplore the horrors of slavery. Ball also turned the camera on his own family, capturing polished images of free black people with access to the middle-class comforts before and after the Civil War. Although the family photos are a small percentage of Ball’s pictures, they stand in sharp contrast to the tattered and unkempt look customarily used to represent black people by white artists. Patrick H. Reason’s engraving of Henry Bibb’s portrait is another exquisite example. It is a dignified portrayal of the anti-slavery lecturer and celebrated slave narrative author. Book in hand, Henry Bibb stares boldly out at the viewer. The pose refers to his command of the art of writing and his courage to resist oppression. It is an image that undermines the pro-slavery myths that black people were docile creatures who happily accepted positions of servitude and lacked the capacity to reason.
Edward Mitchell Bannister’s Newspaper Boy (1869) is an engaging portrait of an industrious black lad. This seemingly uncomplicated portrait is exceptional because white artists either represented black youth as ingratiating servants, or they depicted them as lazy, mischievous, and troublesome thieves. In this and other works, black artists rejected the demeaning facial caricatures and stereotypical scenes favored by Euro-American artists and collectors.
In the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction, white Americans developed so many representations of grinning, deferential black male banjo players that the pictorial theme became a defaming and humiliating staple in the visual vocabulary of American culture. In 1893, however, Henry O. Tanner took up the banjo subject in Banjo Lesson, one of his three “genre” paintings portraying African Americans. Tanner’s painting of an aged man passing on a cherished skill to a young boy turned a convention of gross caricature into a sensitive representation that respects rather than ridicules black musical talent and familial relations. Under risky circumstances, nineteenth century artists therefore used the visual arts as an arena to exercise their creativity while simultaneously struggling to undermine and rebuke hostile cultural imagery that perpetuated African American oppression.
AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS STUDY IN EUROPE
The most ambitious African American artists throughout the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century sought critical acclaim, patronage, and financial success working as formally trained fine artists. To work in the academic or avant-garde styles of their day, African American artists who had the necessary financial resources or social connections traveled to France, England, German and Italy to train in the academies and studios of prominent painters and sculptors. In many cases, black artists such as the neoclassical sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis (c.1850-1911) and Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) preferred to live and work in Europe. Black expatriates found more opportunities and greater acceptance living with racial prejudice in Europe than in segregated America.
During the twentieth century more and more creative African Americans swelled the ranks of formally trained and professional artists. They built upon the scattered personal efforts of their predecessors, fashioning a modern art tradition as individuals, art collectives, and participants of broad cultural movements. Disparate intellectual trends, political ideologies, and aesthetic values emerged during the century to demonstrate the look and significance of African American art. Influences as varied as pan-Africanism, modernism, Black power, feminism, Afrocentrism, and post-modernism presented the work of artists as dissimilar as Augusta Savage, Palmer Hayden, Elizabeth Catlett, Norman Lewis, Faith Ringgold, Charles Searles, John Biggers, Renee Stout, Lorna Simpson, and David Hammons.
Twentieth century creative visionaries expanded the form of African American art by working in styles, techniques, and materials considered experimental, innovative, and avant-garde, as well as those deemed conservative and derivative. By broadening the parameters for acceptable subject matter to include representations of black people and black life, these artists dramatically transformed the power of American visual culture. In addition, African American artists and their supporters have engaged in century-long dialogues regarding the role of black artists, the purpose of their work, black artists’ relationship to black communities, and their responsibility to try and improve the conditions under which black people live.
THE “NEW NEGRO” ERA
African American artists, who came of age at the beginning of the twentieth century, emerged during an era that supported artistic sensibilities and creative concerns focusing on the cultivation and uplift of the “New Negro.” As a concept or term, the “New Negro” came to designate an ideology of resistance and a form of progressive social activism that stood against all forms of oppression. This new attitude prompted hundreds of thousands of African Americans to migrate from the rural agrarian South to the urban industrial North to escape dire economic circumstances, the horrors of Jim Crow segregation, sharecrop-ping, white supremacist nightriders, and lynch mob culture. The Great Migrations promoted a surge in political organizing, social mobilization, and cultural renewal usually referred to as the “New Negro” movement, the Negro Renaissance, the Harlem Renaissance.
“New Negro” intellectuals and political leaders embraced a form of race consciousness that allowed them to value black culture and arts, actually celebrating them as integral to America’s contemporary richness and future greatness. Their activism gave birth to a generation of modern African American artists with twentieth century, rather than nineteenth-century, artistic concerns. These artists worked in diverse media and styles, yet their aesthetic convictions rested on the assumption that black people and culture were worthy and significant subjects for modern art.
W. E. B. Du Bois routinely urged such African American artists as Henry O. Tanner and Meta Warrick (1877-1968) to develop visual imagery that would rehabilitate the image of black people in the public imagination. He urged artists to produce paintings and sculptures that challenged the European and Euro-American tradition of representing black people in a litany of fine arts servants and advertising stereotypes. Some accepted the call to create art in service of social uplift, while others only wanted to make art as an individual form of expression. Whatever their creative inspiration, “New Negro” era artists’ works are revered icons that serve as the collective cornerstone of the twentieth-century African American art and aesthetics.
Meta Warrick Fuller’s 1914 bronze sculpture Ethiopia Awakening is a landmark artistic statement. It is the earliest example of African American art to overtly validate African arts and cultures. The near life-size personification of Africa wears the headdress of an ancient Egyptian queen. She appears to be emerging from her mummy-like wrapping, though the lower portion of her body remains bound. Ethiopia Awakening directly challenged a favored Western visual theme called The Four Continents (Europe, Asia, America and Africa). By convention, many white artists portrayed the African continent as asleep, contributing only slave labor to the development of human civilization. Throughout the twentieth century, however, many artists have become more knowledgeable about Africa and its cultures, allowing them to completely abandon Western-derived assertions that the continent of Africa laid dormant.
James VanDerZee’s (1886-1983) photographs captured the vitality of Harlem in its heyday as the “mecca” of African American life and culture. For example, his individual and group portraits of Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association-sponsored parades are meaningful historical documents and creative aesthetic statements. He also permanently fixed the image of thousands of Harlemites whose names have been lost, although their upwardly mobile images continue to testify to the cultural energy of urban life. In addition, such painters as Edward Harleston, Malvin Gray Johnson, William Edouard Scott, and Laura Wheeler Warring captured the vibrancy of black culture in their portraits and pictorial scenes.
THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE AND THE WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION
The “New Negro” era sparked an intense flowering of artistic creativity among African American writers, musicians, singers, theater performers, and fine artists. When World War I ended in 1918, Harlem, an uptown section of Manhattan, was home to the largest black population in urban America and the cultural heart of this artistic activity. Frequently referred to as the Harlem Renaissance, it was a national and international movement in black arts and culture encompassing other urban centers such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, DC, as well as in the Caribbean and Europe.
Alain Locke (1885-1954), a Howard University philosophy professor and Rhodes scholar, was a prominent architect of the Harlem-based arts revival. He believed that if black artists demonstrated their creative and intellectual mastery of literature and the fine arts to the American public, they would garner respect for the black race and thereby change white attitudes and improve race relations. To stimulate critical and financial support for black artists, Locke served as guest editor for “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro,” a special issue of the journal Survey Graphic (1925). Contributing essayists theorized and celebrated the aesthetics of African art and the achievements of African American arts and culture.
Locke’s essay “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts” urged black artists to draw upon the artistic and cultural legacies of Africa in the creation of their art. Locke maintained that if the stylized abstraction of West African sculpture could inspire avant-garde artists (e.g. Pablo Picasso, George Braque, or Emile Nolde) to create important modern styles such as cubism or German expressionism, it certainly should lead “New Negro” artists to develop a unique visual vocabulary. Locke’s and his contributors’ ideas were culturally progressive at the time. Yet, they rested on two concepts refuted today: the existence of biologically determined racial essences and a form of romantic primitivism. The later not only cast Africa and Africans as primitive, but as the polar opposite of civilized Europe and Europeans.
Nonetheless, artists as diverse as Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, Sargent Claude Johnson, Archibald Motley, Jr. James Lesesne Wells, and Augusta Savage, temporarily or permanently abandoned the conventions of their European style training to experiment with African-inspired styles or subjects. Aaron Douglas is the artist most frequently highlighted as the quintessential Harlem Renaissance artist. A trained portrait painter, Douglas abandoned the realist style, developing instead a stylized Egyptian form of figurative painting that graces numerous Harlem Renaissance publications, including illustrations and designs in Alain Locke’s book The New Negro and James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927).
The movement generated an unprecedented level of patronage from private individuals and organizations. For example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League, founded in 1909 and 1910 respectively, instituted important art awards. Their respective publications Crisis and Opportunity became venues for artists and for critical reviews of “New Negro” art exhibitions. The principal sponsorship of Harlem Renaissance art came from the Harmon Foundation, established by the real estate investor William E. Harmon. The foundation awarded prizes and sponsored juried exhibitions and shows that traveled around the United States. The foundation exercised creative control over the type of art produced or promoted. As a result, the foundation, shows, awards, and even the artists have been subject to social and critical controversy.
Occurring during the high point of the Harlem Renaissance, the stock market crash of 1929 cast the United States into the Great Depression. The Federal Arts Project (1935-1943) was one of the “New Deal” relief programs sponsored by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Federal Arts Project (FAP) paid artists to produce works celebrating America and American art styles for the public. The FAP promoted an environment where figuration and social realism were valued over abstraction and allegory. In many ways, FAP funding contributed to black artists’ turning away from the stylistic Africanisms encouraged by Locke and the Harmon Foundation, focusing instead on African American folk culture.
A Federal Arts Project assignment employed a young Jacob Lawrence and provided him early support in his career. He subsequently became one of America’s most celebrated black artists. Lawrence titled a series of sixty paintings The Migration of the Negro (1940-1941). The series secured him critical acclaim, a feature in Fortune magazine, a one-man show at the prestigious Downtown Gallery, and the purchase of several of his panels by the Museum of Modern Art. In Chicago, the Southside Community Art Center (SCAC) provided early careers opportunities for such artists as Archibald Motley, Jr., Charles Sebree, and Gordon Roger Parks. In addition, Hughie Lee-Smith and Charles Sallee found teaching opportunities and support at Karamu House Artist Association in Cleveland (established 1935). The Karamu House and SCAC are still in operation today.
Clearly, the Federal Arts Project and the Works Progress Administration were important for the development of African American art. Yet, black artists complained that the program administrators routinely discriminated against them. The Harlem Artists Guild (1935-1941), a collective founded by Augusta Savage, Elba Lightfoot, Charles Alston and Arthur Schomburg, made the redressing of the problems an important organizational goal.
AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS EXPLORE MODERNISTIC ART FORMS
By the late 1930s and early 1940s, such artists as William H. Johnson, Charles Alston, Hale A. Woodruff, and Norman Lewis were less inspired by social realism and more interested in the formalist concerns of European modernism, especially expressionism and abstraction. Eldzier Cortor and Hughie Lee Smith, for instance, explored the visual power of surrealism in paintings. They preferred the challenge of working in styles that most Americans considered foreign and experimented with such a range of approaches that in some abstract paintings the subject is recognizable while in other paintings the subjects are completely non-presentational. Romare Bearden (1911-1988) was an African American artist that began working with representational abstraction. During the 1940s, however, he moved on to become an early practitioner of abstract expressionism, a modern art movement that catapulted New York onto the world art scene, effectively displacing Paris as the leading center of the art world.
The modernist disdain for realism took hold among American avant-garde artists, critics, and patrons. Thus, an arts environment was cultivated in which Euro-American collectors could “discover” and champion the art of such self-trained African American artists as the painter Horace Pippen and the sculptor William Edmondson, because they did not employ the conventions of representation realism. Collectors believed these self-taught artisans found modernist expression without the struggle of rejecting formal training or attempting to surpass tradition. White collectors and curators commonly referred to these self-taught artists as “folk artists,”’ “native artists,” and “Negro-primitives,” frequently preferring and promoting them over professionally trained African American artists. Despite the criticism that this was a racist and patronizing practice, twentieth-century self-taught artists have continued to be important contributors to African American art.
FROM “BLACK ART” TO “AFROCENTRISM”
The Black Arts Movement, also known as artistic branch of the Black Power Movement, developed during the tumultuous 1960s in defiant opposition to Western or Eurocentric aesthetic values that continued to regulate the appreciation and production of art and culture in the United States. Proponents of the Black Art movement challenged members of the black creative community to redefine the roles of the artist and art in light of an increasingly radicalized black political agenda. Black aestheticism championed the belief that the first step towards black liberation required black people to construct a new world view. It insisted that black people needed to develop a black consciousness or perspective that is Africa-centered rather than Europe-centered as a form of intellectual growth and personal empowerment.
The Black Arts debates were heated and polemic. Definitions and interpretations of black aestheticism were conflicting. Addison Gayle’s anthology The Black Aesthetics (1971) captured the theoretic diversity among literary and visual artists. Yet, proponents universally embraced some qualities. First and foremost, they rejected the notion that art and politics were separate domains of human activity. The late critic and poet Larry Neal, one of the movements most influential theorists, proclaimed, “the artist and the political activist are one.” He maintained that the difference between the Black Arts and Black Power concepts is that “one is concerned with the relationship between art and politics; the other with the art of politics.”
Under this theoretic formation, art was not a luxury, but a basic and necessary weapon in black people’s struggle against the social and political order of the United States. In theory and practice, those embracing black aestheticism rejected the idea that art was destined for the pedestals and walls of private galleries, public museums, and homes of the affluent. They attacked the modernist doctrine of “art for art’s sake” as false and misleading, asserting that art must support and promote a black revolution. Black visual artists across the United States heeded the call, creating a body of paintings, sculptures, prints, assemblages, and public murals that sought to inform and inspire black people to aggressively resist oppression. One stream of black aesthetic artists created works that were inspired by the revolutionary idealism of African liberation struggles against European colonialism. Another stream of Black Arts visionaries deemphasized the political and focused on celebrating the glory of ancient and contemporary African cultures.
An example of the evolution of community art and its accessibility was represented by the emergence of a group called COBRA: the Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artist. Members of the group collaborated on a community mural project in Chicago, Illinois, creating the Wall of Respect (1967), painting portraits of historical black figures including Frederick Douglas, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X. Their celebration of ethnic heritage and identity became beacons for black consciousness murals in Detroit and Boston. COBRA later became known as the AFRI-COBRA: the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists.
Prior to this period, affluent Euro-Americans were the main collectors, patrons, and consumers of black artists’ work. Therefore, black artists’ solicitation of a black audience marks a critical turning point in the development of the African American artistic tradition. These artists did not define their work as protest art, because by black aesthetic definitions, protest art plays to the moral conscience of a liberal white audience. Theoretically, the Black Art movement spoke to those who lived the black social and cultural experience.
In 1967 the Faith Ringgold’s painting titled US Postage Stamp to Commemorate the Advent of Black Power indicated her general support for the more militant tendencies of the organized struggle for black human rights over those of the Civil Rights movement. Elizabeth Catlett aligned herself with specific political activists and a particular political organization in her 1969 prints entitled Malcolm Speaks for Us and Homage to the Panthers. Dana Chandler’s paintings (4)00 More Years and Molotov Cocktail are representative of a group of works that launch a pictorial assault against American cultural symbols such as the United States flag. Other works such as Betye Saar’s The Liberation of the Aunt Jemima (1972) attack the negative pictorial stereotypes that plague black men, women, and children. Saar appropriates and redresses a mass-produced “mammy” note pad holder with a pistol, rifle, and broom. Not in her mythic role as caretaker to the world, however, but in a new position as a guerilla warrior. Such artists as Saar, Murry DePillars, Jeff Donaldson, and Joe Overstreet created pieces that rob established advertising clichés such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben of their widespread cultural currency.
The other stream of artists focused on cultural reclamation rather than political agitation. As more and more African countries gained their independence, beginning with Ghana in 1957, black artists began traveling to the African continent. They produced art honoring legendary African kings and queens, colorful scenes of African villages, and busy marketplaces. They learned about African art and culture from first-hand experience rather than books written by Europeans or Euro-Americans. They produced works such as Thomas Feeling’s Senegalese Woman and John Bigger’s Ghanian Harvest Festival, which capture the strength and beauty of African women while emphasizing the vibrancy of their traditional dress. In contrast to this document quality, such artists as Charles Searles and Faith Ringgold created colorful, African-inspired paintings and sculptures, borrowing African formal elements and materials and reworking them into generic stylized visions.
Since the so-called streams were never hard and fast, numerous artists worked in both, self-consciously attempting to balance the formal and the political. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements generated tremendous debates and activity among creative artists, and some white critics dismissed the art as angry, romantic, or mere propaganda. As organized activism waned in the mid- to late 1970s, the Black Art movement lost much of it collective momentum. Many artists who emerged during the era are still creating, exhibiting, or teaching art today. Their artistic theories, artistic strategies, and aesthetic concerns helped lay the foundation for African American contemporary arts.
During 1980s and 1990s, there was a virtual explosion in the number of self-taught and formally trained African Americans who created, exhibited, and marketed their art. Contemporary artists have opportunities to work with a diverse array of materials, media, new technologies, and critical concepts. They are able to employ styles, techniques, and approaches unimagined by their creative predecessors.
During this time period, individual African American artists received critical recognition, increased gallery representation, greater inclusion in group and solo museum shows, and became the subject of academic scholarship. The visually engaging art by artists such as Emma Amos, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Colescott, Houston Conwill, Lyle Ashton Harris, Glenn Ligon, Renee Green, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Alison Saar, and Fred Wilson have been the focus of breathtaking exhibits. African American visual artists have been the recipients of prestigious prizes and awards. In 1987, Romare Bearden was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor. In recent years, MacArthur Fellowships (somes referred to as the Genius Award) have been awarded to Robert Blackburn, David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall, Martin Puryear, John T. Scott, Kara Walker, Deborah Willis, and Fred Wilson.
Contemporary African American art manifests as multiple aesthetic and artistic trends, not as a single, consciously-constructed art movement. Afrocentricity, feminism, postmodernism are a few of the influential intellectual and cultural currents shaping the work of painters, sculptors, photographers, and video, mixed-media installation, and performance artists. Additionally, individual artists have the insight and liberty to have a multiplicity of interests. They explore issues of race, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, and class as intersecting rather than mutually exclusive constructs. This stands in contrast to the Harlem Renaissance or Black Arts movement which primarily challenged racism, with the latter movement frequently dismissing feminists’ calls to end sexism as hampering racial unity. Today, works by artists such as Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, or Adrian Piper build on the groundbreaking feminist work of such artists as Elizabeth Catlett and Faith Ringgold who are themselves still producing.
Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson combine written text with photographic or figurative imagery. This contemporary practice allows them to create art that can challenge the viewer, pose questions, and offer devastating culture critiques that focus on dismantling racial and sexual mythologies. Simpson is the first African American woman to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, while Weems is the first African American woman to
have a major exhibition at the National Museum for Women in the Arts.
Other contemporary artists such as Dawoud Bey, Renee Cox, Anthony (Tony) Gleaton, Fern Logan, and Coreen Simpson use the medium of photography in innovative and profoundly illuminating ways. Following the lead of Roy DeCarava and Gordon Parks, this new generation of artists turns their cameras on people, scenes, and cityscapes, transforming documentary photography into aesthetically stimulating art.
Additionally, there is an important contingent of contemporary African American painters and sculptors who consider abstraction and the emphasis on the skillful manipulation of materials far more rewarding than figuration or overt cultural criticism. Barbara Chase-Riboud, Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt, Marian Hassinger, Alvin D. Loving, Jr., Martin Puryear, Raymond Saunders, and William T. Williams continue to follow the abstractionist path paved by such artists as Alma Thomas (1891-1978), Hale Woodruff (1900-1980), and Norman Lewis (1909-1979).
Charles Bibbs, Varnetta Honeywood, Synthia Saint James are representative of a group of artists who celebrate African American culture in their work. They create symbolic images about love, strength, fortitude, survival, spirituality, and vitality. Their colorful, figurative works pay tribute to historical figures as well as daily activities that are the heart and soul of African American life and culture. They are heartwarming, esteem-building scenes that recall church and family gatherings, children playing, men laboring, women quilting or braiding hair, people dancing, or lovers embracing. Artists working in this trend self-consciously cultivate an appreciation for African-inspired aesthetics, design principles, forms, concerns, and some subject matter. The National Black Arts Festival, founded in 1988, is a citywide, biannual event held in Atlanta, Georgia, that showcases art of this type.
In many instances, these artists specifically create for popular culture rather than the so-called fine art market where collectors pay high prices for the unique art object. The celebratory images easily translate into accessibly priced reproductions, such as print, posters, cards, mugs, T-shirts, book illustrations, and even Internet pages catering to an African American buying public. It was virtually impossible to find reproductions of African American art in the mid-1980s. A few years into the 21st century, however, art containing black subjects and aesthetics can be purchased from galleries, frame shops, mail order, or web pages.
With the Information Age revolution, computer technology, public media, and visual images have emerged as important forms of expression. Such artists as Leah Gilliam, Glen Ligon, Betye Saar are creating and appropriating visual images to make computer-generated art for distribution on CD-ROM or display on the Internet. Many artists such as Renee Cox and Alonzo Adams maintain their own Internet sites, allowing them to take African American art directly to a global audience.
Historically, black artists have not had equal and unrestricted access to institutions that support the making, exhibiting, and collecting of art. Despite the modernist myth that art and aesthetics are separate and distinct from the political arena, the making and consuming of art are deeply enmeshed in it. Many arts schools, museums, galleries, as well as private and public patrons followed the Jim Crow and gender segregation dictated by U.S. laws or social customs. Thus, black men and women have not had equal access to training, severely limiting the number of people who could become artists. Moreover, in the arena of creative expression, whites males have had and continue to receive privileges not extended to women of all races or men of color. Fortunately, opportunities increased dramatically during the post-civil rights era, and this exponentially increased the number of black people who chose to train and define themselves as artists and independent craftspeople. Consequently, there was an unprecedented flowering of African American arts and culture during the last three decades of the twentieth and first years of the twenty-first centuries, as countless black women and men embrace the visual arts as a form of expression.
Despite the upsurge, the majority of African American artists still struggle to find support and encouragement from teachers, curators, dealers, collectors, critics, and historians. There is a need to increase the intelligently informed support for black artists and their work. Black artists must depend upon support from arts-related professionals to promote widespread knowledge and appreciation of their work. These arts-related professionals include art critics who evaluate the merit of art and art shows; curators who acquire, preserve, and exhibit art for public museums and private collectors; commercial art dealers who promote interest in specific artists, sell their original art, and market more accessibly priced reproductions; and art historians who study the types of art that creative people make. Necessarily, art historians are interested in providing insight about the beliefs and philosophies underpinning aesthetic preferences, criticism, patronage, collection, use, and exhibition patterns. They also chronicle the emergence of forms, subjects, styles, conventions, and techniques and try to account for their transformation and change over time.
These arts-related professionals are necessary forces in the development of scholarly and critical literature (i.e., books, catalogues, and journal articles), and exhibitions that showcase black art. Black artists and their work will begin to gain more scholarly and critical attentions, exhibitions, gallery space, and sales as the number of art-related professionals with formal training in African American art expand.
Books and exhibition catalogues are an important source for stimulating interest in African American art. Presently, four illustrated surveys provide comprehensive and up-to-date accounts of African American visual arts. Samella Lewis’ African American Art and Artists (1994) provides brief historical overviews and artists biographies. Crystal A. Britton’s African American Art: The Long Struggle (1996) is a narrative of a collective visual tradition. Richard J. Powell’s Black Art and Culture in the Twentieth Century (1997) is a more theoretical analysis of themes, trends, and high moments uniting black cultural production. Written as a new addition to the multivolume series World of Art published by Thames and Hudson, Powell’s book is the first in the collection to focus on African American artists.
In 1998, Oxford University Press released Sharon F. Patton’s African American Art as an historic addition to its series the Oxford History of Art. It is a textbook that includes glossaries, timelines, and penetrating analyses. As the first African American art surveys by major mainstream publishing houses, Powell’s and Patton’s books are landmark and potentially trendsetting, scholarly publications. Lisa Gail Collins’s The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past (2002) and Lisa E. Farrington’s Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists (2005) break new ground as books framed by key issues of gender and feminism. Artist and author, Earthlyn Marselean’s Black Angel Cards: A Soul Revival Guide for Black Women (1999) uses the arts to provide spiritual and mental healing. In addition, Hampton University Museum publishes a quarterly periodical The International Review of African American Art.
The decades of the 1970s through the 1990s gave birth to a group of influential exhibitions dedicated to resurrecting, presenting, and discussing African American art and artists. Curators organized these special focus exhibits to fill the void left by the institutionalized exclusion of black artists and their work in mainstream shows by public museums or private galleries. Initially, these shows possessed a strong archaeological quality. Curators mined the collections of a wide variety of public and private patrons, excavating and assembling images by artists working in diverse media from many historical eras and stylistic periods.
The first wave of shows and catalogues had a documentary character, focusing on demonstrating the existence of black professional fine artists. Art that had languished in storerooms for generations was made available for public viewing in such shows and catalogues as: Forever Free: Art by African-American Women, 1862-1980, an exhibition organized by Arna Bontemps and Jacqueline Fonvielle-Bontemps; Lynda R. Hartigan’s Sharing Traditions: Five Black American Artists in Nineteen-Century America (1985); Keith Morrision’s Art in Washington and Its Afro-American Presence: 1940-1970 (1985); Bucknell University’s Since the Harlem Renaissance: Fifty Years of Afro- American Art (1984); David Driskell’s Hidden Heritage: Afro-American Art, 1800-1950 (1985); Edmund Barry Gaither’s Massachusetts Masters: Afro-American Artists (1988); and African-American Artists 1880-1987: Selections from the Evans-Tibbs Collection (1989). These catalogues broke new ground simply in the quality of the richly illustrated color publications. Since exhibitions are temporary, making the reproductions available to a relatively wide audience allowed students and scholars the opportunity to continue to study works that had been hidden from both the contemporary and historical view. The majority of the artists featured are male, yet the works of a few women, such as Edmonia Lewis, Lois Mailou Jones, or Alma Thomas, also appear.
Another group of exhibits focused on the crafts art made by enslaved Africans, as well as those forms of creative expressions made by self-taught artists after the abolition of slavery. John Michael Vlach organized The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts (1978), and the catalogue is a foundational text on the arts produced by enslaved people. The exhibited objects and collection of essays edited by Edward Campbell Jr. and Kym S. Rice in Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South are extremely valuable for understanding the material production as well as its archaeological to ideological contexts. In addition, Jane Livingston and John Beardsley’s Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980 (1982), William Ferris’ Afro-American Folk Arts and Crafts (1983), and Baking in the Sun: Visionary Images from the South, Selections from the Collection of Sylvia and Warren Lowe (1987) discuss folk arts practices through the first half of the twentieth century.
The years leading to the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial gave birth to a recovery movement championing American art and culture. Although primarily celebrating white artists, the recovery movement brought legitimacy to American folk arts, especially female quilting traditions. In the following decade, the folk arts revival converged with the growing interest in African American arts, paving the way for such exhibitions and catalogues as Gladys-Marie Fry’s Stitched From the Soul: Slave Quilts From the Ante-Bellum South, Cuesta Benberry’s Always There: The African American Presence in American Quilts, Maude Wahlman’s Signs and Symbols: African Images in African-American Quilts and Moira Roth’s Faith Ringgold: Change, Painted Story Quilts, which showcased quilts made by women of African descent from the period of enslavement to the present. These shows placed an important body of art before the public for appreciation and scholarly study. It is worth noting that non-black museums, galleries, and curators supported these quilt shows at a higher rate than they did shows by formally trained, professional black women artists. Furthermore, the curators who created the most conceptually challenging study of African American art organized exhibitions that explored themes, movements, or styles.
A series of exhibitions mounted in the 1980s advanced the scholarship on African American artists. The Studio Museum of Harlem, while under the directorship of Mary Schmidt Campbell, took the lead in the development of such creative, thought-provoking, and historically-based shows as New York/Chicago: WPA and the Black Artists (1978); Ritual and Myth: A Survey of African American Art (1982); An Ocean Apart: American Artists Abroad (1983); Tradition and Conflict: Images of a Turbulent Decade, 1963-1973 (1985); and the richly illustrated Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (1987). The catalogues are collaborative efforts, containing sets of essays from a wide range of contributors. Essayists do not explore issues impacting women artists or contrast any of the formal or thematic concerns of women with those of men. The strength of these publications is that the writers discuss the art critically and historically, moving beyond the formula of recounting biographical information and describing the art’s formal qualities.
In 1989, a large number of well-financed exhibitions and catalogues appeared after decades of little activity. Gary A. Reynolds and Beryl J. Wright organized Against the Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation. Richard Powell organized The Blues Aesthetic: Black Culture and Modernism. Alvia Wardlow curated Black Art Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art. The California Afro-American Museum opened Introspectives: Contemporary Art by Americans and Brazilians of African Descent and 1960s: A Cultural Awakening Re-evaluated 1965- 1975; Deborah Willis and Howard Dodson curated Black Photographers Bear Witness: 100 Year of Social Protest. Leslie King-Hammond curated Black Printmakers and the WPA for the Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx. The catalogues accompanying these shows also reveal tremendous depth in the archival research, the resurrection of buried histories, and the production of historical analyses.
In connection with the 1990 biannual National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, the Nexus Contemporary Art Center mounted Africobra: The First Twenty Years. Regina A. Perry published her long awaited Free Within Ourselves: African-American Artists in the Collection of the National Museum of American Art in 1992. Dream Singers, Story Tellers: An African-American Presence (1992) with essays and text in both English and Japanese provided a refreshingly new approach for an international audience. Bomani Gallery’s Paris Connections: African American Artists in Paris (1992) examined production from an international perspective. Curator Thelma Golden organized Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art for the Whitney Museum of American Art. The art selected for the show examined notions of race and gender in the minds of artists of different races and the public at large. Beryl Wright’s catalogues for African-American Art Twentieth Century Masterworks, (1993) and Richard J. Powell’s Exultations: African-American Art Twentieth Century Masterworks, II (1995) were unapologetically focused on canon building. Debra Willis, Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 To The Present (2000) and the Brooklyn Museum’s Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers (2001) are landmark exhibitions with lushly illustrated catalogues of historical figures and their work as well as cutting-edge, contemporary photographic movements. Likewise, The Studio Museum of Harlem’s co-sponsorship of To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (1999) and organizing of the provocative exhibition Freestyle reveal the historical diversity of African American artistic legends, while the latter show focuses on a new generation who came of age in the post-Civil Rights, hip hop heyday of the 1980s and according to curator Thelma Golden create from a post-black aesthetic.
These exhibits and catalogues demonstrate that African American artists have been and continue to be important agents in the struggle for social, political, and economic justice in the United States. African American artists stand among the legions of incredibly resilient, courageous, and visionary black people who acted on their beliefs that the life that they wanted for themselves and others must be free of racial, economic, cultural, and visual barriers. The core of what artists have to say on canvas, in stone or on video, join what artists in literature, music, or theater have been thinking and verbalizing for centuries. In spirit, however, African American visual artists add another dimension to the chorus of voices that celebrate the ways that people of African descent thrive in the United States.
ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN PROFESSIONALS
Since the early twentieth century, African Americans have carved out careers in the elite fields of architecture and professional design. Julian F. Abele (1881-1950) was the first African-American to graduate from the Pennsylvania School of Fine Arts and Architecture in 1904, and stands as the first major African-American architect. As chief designer of the Philadelphia-based firm Horace Trumbauer & Associates, Abele contributed to designs for Philadelphia’s Free Library and Museum of Art, Harvard University’s Widener Library, as well as the chapel and many other buildings of Trinity College in Durham, N.C. (which was later renamed Duke University) and the James B. Duke mansion on Fifth Avenue and 78th Street in New York City (now NYU’s Graduate Institute of Fine Arts). In 1926, Paul Revere Williams became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects. He is the most well-know African American architect, celebrated for designing part of the Los Angeles International Airport and the L.A. homes of stars like William Holden, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Betty Grable. Williams and Howard H. Mackey organized the first juried exhibit of the work of “Negro architects” at Howard University in 1931.
These early architects also worked on projects for affluent African Americans and middle-to-low-income communities. For example, Wallace A. Rayfield, designed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. (1911), site of the 1963 bombing that killed four girls; John A. Lankford of Washington, D.C., who designed churches and taught at the architecture school at Howard University; George Washington Foster, who teamed with Vertner Woodson Tandy, the first black person to graduate from Cornell University’s architecture school, to create the firm that built St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New York in 1911, and the Harlem townhome of hair-care millionaire Madame C.J. Walker. Clarence W. (“Cap”) Wigington (b. 1883) was the first registered African American architect in Minnesota and the first African American municipal architect in the nation. Between 1915 and 1947, in the Office of the City Architect of St. Paul, he designed an array of schools, fire stations, park structures, and municipal buildings that helped define the city’s landscape. Wigington’s nearly sixty St. Paul buildings comprise one of the most significant collections of works by an early African American architect.
Making up less than 2 percent of the nations 50,000 registered architects, contemporary designers continue to work in tradition styles and break racial and cultural design barriers. They build on the legacy of early black architects who mastered conventional Western design formulas. With increasing frequency contemporary architects such as Jack Travis, incorporate African-inspired designs aesthetics. Melvin L. Mitchell’s The Crisis of the African American Architect: Conflicting Cultures of Architecture and (Black) Power (2001) examines the many concerns they face. African-American professional in the fields of graphic design, visual communications, interior design, fashion design, and industrial design encounter many of the same obstacles. In 1990, David H. Rice founded the Organization of Black Designers (OBD) to address the concerns and promote the work of black architectural, graphic, advertising, product, interior, fashion, and industrial and transportation designers. Currently under the directorship of Shauna Stallworth, the organization has membership of over 6000. In 1995, Rice penned the essay “What Color Is Design?” It is serves as the organizations manifesto, boldly states that “Lack of Diversity = Design Sterility.” Rice asserts that:
In such a highly competitive new world order, we as Americans cannot afford to deny, in anyway, the development of the potential of any segment of our citizenry. The creativity of Black Americans has contributed much to the cultural richness of our society even under stringent restrictions. That same creativity lives in the hearts and minds of countless Black youngsters and Black professionals who only need the opportunity to allow its full expression. America can no longer afford to waste human resources. It is no longer a matter of “divide and conquer,” but “unite and prosper.” Our future depends upon it.
(To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book.)
CHARLES ALSTON (1907–1972) Painter, Sculptor, Muralist
Alston’s paintings and sculpture are in such collections as those of IBM and the Detroit Institute of Arts. His murals depicting the history of medicine adorn the facade of Harlem Hospital in New York, and he was a member of the National Society of Mural Painters. Notable works include: Exploration and Colonization (1949); Blues with Guitar and Bass (1957); Blues Song (1958); School Girl (1958); Nobody Knows (1966); Sons and Daughters (1966); and Frederick Douglass (1968).
BENNY ANDREWS (1930–2006) Painter
Born in Madison, Georgia, on November 13, 1930, Andrews studied at Fort Valley State College in Georgia and later at the University of Chicago. He was awarded a B.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1958. During his career, he has taught at the New York School of Social Research, New York City University, and Queens College in New York. His works have appeared in exhibitions around the country including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Martha Jackson Gallery in New York City, and other museums and galleries.
Andrews directed the Visual Arts Program for the National Endowment for the Arts from 1982 to 1984. He has directed the National Arts Program since 1985, offering children and adults an opportunity to exhibit and compete for prizes in many cities across the United States.
Other honors include an honorary doctorate from the Atlanta School of Art, 1984; John Hay Whitney Fellowship, 1965 to 1967; New York Council on The Arts Grantee, 1971; NEA Fellowship, 1974; Bellagio fellow, Rockefeller Foundation, 1987; and a National Endowment for the Arts Painting Fellowship, 1986. Notable works include: The Family; The Boxer; The Invisible Man; Womanhood; Flora; and Did the Bear.
EDWARD MITCHELL BANNISTER (1828–1901) Painter
Born in Nova Scotia in 1828, Bannister was the son of a West Indian father and African American mother. Both parents died when he was very young. Bannister moved to Boston in the early 1850s, where he learned to make solar plates and worked as a photographer.
Influenced by the Barbizon style popular at the time, Bannister’s paintings convey his own love of the quiet beauty of nature and his pleasure in picturesque scenes with cottages, cattle, dawns, sunsets, and small bodies of water. In 1871, Bannister moved from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island, where he lived until his death in 1901. He was the only nineteenth-century African American artist who did not travel to Europe to study art, believing that he was an American and wished to paint as an American. Bannister became one of the leading artists in Providence in the 1870s and 1880s, and in 1880 he became one of seven founders of the Providence Art Club, which later became known as the Rhode Island School of Design. Notable works include: After the Storm; Driving Home the Cows; and Narragansett Bay.
ERNIE BARNES (1938– ) Painter
Barnes attended North Carolina Central College (now North Carolina Central University) from 1957 to 1960, where he majored in art and played on the football team. Barnes left school without graduating when the Washington Redskins drafted him. After playing for other NFL teams and a Canadian Football League team, Barnes retired due to an injury.
However, Barnes had continued to paint throughout his football career, and his teammates dubbed him “Big Rembrandt.” With his experience as a player and his painterly talents, Barnes became a sports artist. He secured a contract to paint for the American Football League and New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin.
He was the official artist for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Barnes paints in a colorful and lively style. He exaggerates the muscularity and physical attributes of his figures. He received national attention when his paintings were used on the 1970s television show Good Times. In 1997, he completed his commission for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
RICHMOND BARTHÉ (1901–1989) Sculptor
Born on January 28, 1901, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Barthé was educated at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1924 to 1928. He studied under Charles Schroeder and Albin Polasek. Barthé’s first love was painting, but it was through his experiments with sculpture that he began to gain initial critical attention in 1927. His first commissions were busts of Henry Ossawa Tanner and Toussaint L’Ouverture. The acclaim resulting from them led to a one-man show in Chicago and a Rosenwald Fellowship for study in New York City.
Barthé’s work has been exhibited at several major American museums. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City purchased The Boxer in 1943. In 1946, he received the first commission given to an African American artist for a bust of Booker T. Washington for New York University’s Hall of Fame. A year later he was one of the committee of fifteen artists chosen to help modernize sculpture in the Catholic churches of the United States.
Barthé held membership in the National Academy of Arts and Letters. He died March 6, 1989, at his home in Pasadena, California, at the age of eighty-eight. Notable works include: Singing Slave; Maurice Ens; Lot’s Wife; and Henry O. Tanner.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960–1988) Painter
In a brief, tragic career, Jean-Michel Basquiat gained attention from wealthy collectors as a young artist discovered by Andy Warhol and promoted by other art consultants. He was raised in Brooklyn and attracted the New York art world with his trendy personal appearance (tangled dreadlocks) as a musician and artist at the age of eighteen. His works are autobiographical and deliberately “primitive” in style. In February 1985 he was a featured artist on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, shoeless in a suit, shirt, and tie.
The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City owns many of the six hundred works this artist produced, reportedly valued in the tens of millions of dollars.
Basquiat began his career illegally painting images on buildings throughout the city. SAMO (slang for “same old s___”) was his signature and trademark. He often used it in his paintings to preserve his reputation as a street artist. Basquiat was quoted as saying that his subject matter was, “[r]oyalty, heroism, and the streets.”
He reportedly died of a drug overdose. Notable works include: Self Portrait as a Heel #3; Untitled (History of Black People); Hollywood Africans; and CPRKR (in honor of Charlie Parker).
ROMARE BEARDEN (1914–1988) Painter, Collagist
Romare Bearden was born on September 2, 1914, in Charlotte, North Carolina. His family moved to Pittsburgh and later to Harlem. Bearden studied with George Grosz at the Art Students League and, later on the G.I. Bill, went to Paris where he met Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, and Carl Holty. A product of the new generation of African Americans who had migrated from the rural areas of the South to the urban cities of the North, Bearden’s work reflected the era of industrialization. His visual images would reflect the city life, jazz, and city people. Bearden’s earlier works belonged to the school of social realism, but after his return from Europe his images became more abstract.
In the 1960s, Bearden changed his approach to his picture-making and began to make collages, soon becoming one of the best known collagists in the world. His images are montages of his memories of past experiences and of stories told to him by other people. They are for Bearden “an attempt to redefine the image of man in terms of the black experience.” Notable works include: Street Corner; He Is Arisen; The Burial; Sheba; and The Prevalence of Ritual.
JOHN BIGGERS (1924–2001) Painter
Born in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1924, Biggers has derived much of his subject matter from the contributions made by African Americans to the development of the United States. As a teacher at Texas Southern University, Biggers has become a significant influence on several young African American painters.
Some of his most powerful pieces have been created as a result of his study trips to Africa including The Time of Ede, Nigeria, a series of works done in the 1960s. Notable works include: Cradle; Mother and Child; The Contributions of Negro Women to American Life and Education; and Shotgun, Third Ward, #1.
CAMILLE BILLOPS (1933– ) Sculptor, Photographer, Filmmaker
A noted sculptor in art and retailing, Camille Billops was born in California in 1933, graduated from California State College in 1960, and then studied sculpture under a grant from the Huntington Hartford Foundation. In 1960, she had her first exhibition at the African Art Exhibition in Los Angeles, followed in 1963 by an exhibit at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. In 1966, she participated in a group exhibition in Moscow. Since then, her artistic talents, which include poetry, book illustration, and jewelry making, have earned the praise of critics throughout the world, particularly in Sri Lanka and Egypt, where she also has lived and worked.
Billops has also taught extensively. In 1975, she was active on the faculties of the City University of New York and Rutgers at Newark, New Jersey. In addition, she has conducted special art courses in the Tombs, a New York City jail. She lectured in India for the United States Information Service on African American artists in 1972. She participated in an exhibit at the New York Cultural Center in 1973.
Billops is a printmaker, filmmaker, and photographer who has also been active in the mail-art movement which has made art more accessible to the public. She has written articles for the New York Times, Amsterdam News and Newsweek.
Her grants for film include the New York State Council on the Arts, 1987 and 1988; NYSCA and New York Foundation for the Arts, 1989; Rockefeller Foundation, 1991; and National Endowment for the Arts, 1994.
In 1992, Billops won the prestigious Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival for Finding Christa, an edited combination of interviews, home movies, still images, and dramatic acting. Notable works include: Tenure; Black American; Portrait of an American Indian (all three are ceramic sculptures); Year after Year (painting). Older Women and Love (film); Suzanne, Suzanne (film); A String of Pearls (film); and The K.K.K. Boutique Ain’t Just Rednecks (film).
ROBERT BLACKBURN (1921–2003) Printmaker
Robert Blackburn was born in New York City in 1921. He studied at the Harlem Workshop, the Art Students League, and the Wallace Harrison School of Art. His exhibits include Art of the American Negro, 1940, Downtown Gallery, New York and Albany Museum; Contemporary Art of the American Negro, 1966; and numerous print shows in the United States and Europe. His work is represented in the Library of Congress, the Brooklyn and Baltimore museums, and the Atlanta University Collections. He is a member of the art faculty of Cooper Union.
Along with his other accomplishments, he founded The Printmaking Workshop as an artist-run cooperative in 1949. In 1971, it was incorporated as a nonprofit printmaking studio for work in lithography, etching, relief, and photo-processes. The workshop, a magnet for Third World and minority artists that reflects Mr. Black-burn’s personalty, remains a haven for artists “to turn out prints for the love of it” and to do anything from experimental hodgepodge to polished pieces. In 1988, Bob Blackburn and the Printmaking Workshop were given the Governor’s Art Award for making “a significant contribution to the cultural life of New York State.” Notable works include Boy with Green Head and Negro Mother.
SELMA BURKE (1900–1995) Sculptor, Educator
Selma Burke was an artist whose career spanned more than sixty years. She was born in Mooresville, North Carolina, on December 31, 1900. She received a B.A. from Winston-Salem University, a R.N. from St. Augustine College in 1924, an M.F.A from Columbia University in 1941, and a Ph.D. from Livingston College in 1970. Burke received her training as a sculptor at Columbia
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University in New York. She also studied with Mail-lol in Paris and with Povoley in Vienna.
Burke worked as an instructor in art and sculpture at Friends School/George’s School/Forrest House in New York City from 1930 until 1949. From 1963 until 1976, she served as an instructor in art & sculpture at the Sidwell School, Haverford College, Livingston College, and Swarthmore College. The A.W. Mellon Foundation hired Burke as a consultant from 1967 until 1976. Burke founded New York City’s Selma Burke School of Sculpture in 1940 and the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh in 1968, where she taught and supported many young artists.
In 1987, Burke received the Pearl S. Buck Foundation Women’s Award. She also received honorary degrees from Livingston College, the University of North Carolina, and Moore College of Art.
Burke is best known for her relief sculpture rendering of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that was minted on the American dime. On August 29, 1995, she died of cancer.
The Pearl S. Buck Foundation Woman’s Award was given to her in 1987 for her professional distinction and devotion to family and humanity. Notable works include: Falling Angel; Peace; and Jim.
STEPHEN BURROWS (1943– ) Fashion Designer
Stephen Burrows was born on September 15, 1943, in Newark, New Jersey. He observed his grandmother as a boy and started making clothes at a young age. He later studied at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
With a partner, he opened a boutique in 1968. He worked for Henri Bendel from 1969 to 1973 and returned to Bendel’s in 1977. From 1974 to 1977 he tried, with a partner, to run a Seventh Avenue firm.
Known for his unique color combinations, he used patches of cloth for decorative motifs in the 1960s. Top-stitching of seams in contrasting threads, top stitched hems, known as “lettuce hems” because of their fluted effect, were widely copied. He preferred soft, clinging, easy-moving fabrics such as chiffon and matte jersey. He also liked asymmetry. His clothes were adopted readily by disco dancers, for whom he designed using natural fabrics with non-constricting, light and airy qualities. He won a Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1974 and a special Coty Award in 1977.
He is one of the American fashion designers honored with a bronze plaque along the “Fashion Walk of Fame” on 7th Avenue in New York City.
He is among the many American fashion designers honored.
ELIZABETH CATLETT (1919– ) Sculptor, Painter
Elizabeth Catlett was born on April 15, 1919. The granddaughter of North Carolina enslaved Africans, Catlett was raised in the northwest district of Washington, DC. As a young woman she attempted to gain admission into a then all-white art school, the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was refused entry and instead went to Howard University and graduated as an honor student in 1935. In 1940, she went on to study at the University of Iowa, where she became the first sculptor to receive an M.F.A.
Her exhibition history dates back to 1937 and includes group and solo presentations at all the major American art museums as well as institutions in Mexico City, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Tokyo, Beijing, Berlin, and Havana. Catlett’s public sculpture can be found in Mexico City; Jackson, Mississippi; New Orleans; Washington, DC; and New York. Her work is represented in the permanent collection of over twenty museums throughout the world. The artist resides in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Catlett accepted teaching positions at various African American colleges in order to earn a living, but by 1946 she had moved to Mexico, where she eventually settled. Always a promoter of human struggle—visually concerned with the recording of economic, social, and political themes—Catlett became involved with the Civil Rights movement so deeply that it contributed greatly to her philosophy of life and art. Between 1941 and 1969, Catlett won eight prizes and honors, four in Mexico and four in America. Notable works include: Black Unity and Homage to My Young Black Sisters (1968); Target Practice (1970); Mother and Child (1972); and Woman Resting (1981). In 1993, Catlett worked with James Weldon Johnson on the book Lift Every Voice and Sing.,
Catlett was presented with an honorary doctorate of human letters from Morgan State University in 1993. In 1995, the New School for Social Research presented her with an honorary doctorate of fine arts.
DANA CHANDLER (1941– ) Painter
Dana Chandler is one of the most visible African American painters in the United States. Chandler’s huge, colorful black power murals can be spotted throughout the ghetto area of Boston, a constant reminder of the resolve and determination displayed by the new breed of young African American urban dwellers.
Chandler’s easel works are bold and simple. One piece The Golden Prison shows an African American man with a yellow and red striped flag “because America has been yellow and cowardly in dealing with the black man.” Fred Hamton’s Door shows a bullet-splintered door bearing a stamp of U.S. government approval.
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1941, Chandler received his B.S. from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1967. Chandler has worked as a critic of African American art for Simmons College in Boston, an assistant professor of art and art history at Bay State Banner, and an artist in residence at Northeastern University. Notable works include: Fred Hamton’s Door; Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassinated; Death of Uncle Tom; Rebellion ’68; Dynamite; Death of a Bigot; and The Golden Prison.
Chandler is a member of the National Conference of Black Artists, Boston Black Artists Association, National Conference of Artists, Boston Union of Visual Artists, and the American Association of University Professors.
BARBARA CHASE-RIBOUD (1936– ) Sculptor, Author
Barbara Chase-Riboud was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1936. She received a B.F.A. from Temple University in 1956 and a M.F.A. from Yale University in 1960. Chase-Riboud grew up encouraged to express herself artistically by her jazz musician mother and a father she describes as a “frustrated painter.” Enrolled in the Fletcher Art School at the age of seven, she studied piano and ballet as a child. Building on this early training, she majored in art at Temple University in Philadelphia. She then used a fellowship from the John Hay Whitney Foundation to
study in Rome for one year. Chase-Riboud returned to the United States and attended Yale School of Art and Architecture.
After moving to Europe, Barbara Chase married the French photojournalist, Marc Riboud. She has lived and worked in Europe as a sculptor and writer since 1961. Chase-Riboud’s mixed-media sculptures combine “soft” and “hard” materials, such as silk cords, juxtaposed to metals, usually bronze cast, in the lost-wax technique. She uses contrasting materials to explore formal concerns and metaphorically comment on issues regarding race and society. Chase-Riboud’s work has been exhibited in numerous one-woman shows and group shows such as Three Generations of African-American Women Sculptors: A Study in Paradox (1997) and Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris, 1945-1965 (1996).
In addition to making visual arts, Chase-Riboud writes historical novels and poetry. Her publications include: The President’s Daughter (1994); Sally Hemmings; Valide; Echo of Lions; From Memphis to Peking; and Portrait of a Nude Woman as Cleopatra, a Meloloque.
ROBERT COLESCOTT (1925– ) Painter
Robert Colescott was born in California in 1925. He received his B.A. from the University of California in 1949 and later his M.A. in 1952. In 1953, Colescott studied in Paris with Fernand Leger. His exhibitions include: The Whitney Museum of American Art 1983 Biennial; the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, 1984; and the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985. His works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the Delaware Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the University of Massachusetts’ fine art collection.
A controversial artist criticized by both African American groups and traditionalists, Colescott’s work questions the “heroic” and “pushes the standards of taste.” He has substituted black figures in place of white figures in famous European paintings as he explores racism and sex in his works, along with other taboos and stereotypes. Notable works include: Homage to Dela-croix: Liberty Leading the People; Eat Dem Taters; Shirley Temple Black and Bill Robinson White; and The Power of Desire, The Desire for Power.
HOUSTON CONWILL (1947– ) Performance Artist, Environmental Artist
Born in Kentucky in 1947, Conwill spent three years studying for the priesthood. His strong Catholic upbringing and Catholic ritual play a part in his art that draws from both American and African myths and religions. In his explorations, he mostly uses non-traditional materials such as replacing canvas with latex. The environments that he builds, paints, and fills with real chalices, candlesticks, carpets, or sand are works to which he adds his own personal iconography as well as some ancient symbols. Notable works include: The Cakewalk Manifesto; Passion of St. Matthew; East Shout; and JuJu Funk.
EMILIO CRUZ (1938– ) Painter
Emilio Cruz was born in New York City in 1938. His education includes work at the Art Students’ League under Edwin Dickinson, George Grosz and Frank J. Reilly. Cruz has exhibited widely since 1959. Recent exhibits have included the Anita Shapolsky Gallery, 1986, 1991; The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1987; the Portland Museum of Art in 1987; the Rhode Island School of Design, 1987; the Gwenda Jay Gallery, Chicago, 1991; and the G.R. N’amdi Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan, 1991.
An artist whose works are narrative and formalistic (emphasizing color and forms as the dominant elements), he combines these two theoretical approaches often with figurative subjects.
His awards include: the Cintas Foundation Fellowship, 1965-1966; John Hay Whitney Fellowship, 1964-1965; Walter Gutman Foundation Award, 1962. Notable works include: Silver Umbrella; Figure Composition 6; and Striated Voodoo.
ROY DECARAVA (1919– ) Photographer
Roy DeCarava’s existence in New York City prepared him for his work as a photographer. He began as a commercial artist in 1938 by studying painting at Cooper Union. This was followed by classes at the Harlem Art Center from 1940 to 1942, where he concentrated on painting and printmaking. By the mid-1940s, he began to use photography as a convenient method of recording ideas for his paintings. In 1958, DeCarava gave up his commercial work and became a full-time freelance photographer. Edward Steichen began to study his work and suggested that he apply for a Guggenheim Fellowship. Winning this award allowed DeCarava the financial freedom to take his pictures and tell his story. One of DeCarava’s photographs from this body of work appeared in Steichen’s exhibition Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art. Later, Langston Hughes worked with DeCarava to create the book Sweet Flypaper of Life.
DeCarava has worked as a photographer for Sports Illustrated and taught photography at Hunter College, New York. His work can be found in many important collections throughout the United States including: Andover Art Gallery, Andover-Phillips Academy, Massachusetts; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia; Belafonte Enterprises, Inc., New York; Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Harlem Art Collection, New York State Office Building, New York; Lee Witkin Gallery, New York; Menil Foundation, Inc., Houston, Texas; Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Olden Camera, New York; Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., New York; and Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Nebraska.
DeCarava received a Distinguished Career in Photography Award in 1991 from the Friends of Photography. That same year, the American Society of Magazine Photographers presented him with a special citation for photographic journalism. DeCarava has also received honorary doctorates from The Maryland Institute, Rhode Island Institute of Fine Arts, and Wesleyan University.
BEAUFORD DELANEY (1910–1979) Painter
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1910, Beauford Delaney was described by his elder brother Samuel as a “remarkably dutiful child.” For Beauford Delaney, recognition came by way of an elderly white artist of Knoxville named Lloyd Branson. Branson gave him lessons and, after a time, urged him to go to a city where he might study and come into contact with the art world.
In 1924, Beauford Delaney went to Boston to study at the Massachusetts Normal School, later studying at the Copley Society, where he took evening courses while working full-time at the South Boston School of Art. From Boston, Delaney moved on to New York.
It was in New York that Delaney took on the life of a bohemian, living in the village in coldwater flats. Much of his time was spent painting the portraits of the personalities of the day, such as Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, and Duke Ellington. In 1938, Beauford Delaney gained national attention when Life Magazine, in an article on “negroes,” featured a photograph of him surrounded by a group of his paintings at the annual outdoor exhibition in Washington Square in New York. In 1945, Henry Miller wrote the essay “The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney,” which was later reprinted in Remember to Remember. The essay describes Delaney’s bohemian lifestyle in New York during the 1940s and 1950s.
In the 1950s, Delaney left New York with the intention of studying in Rome. Taking the Ile de France, he sailed to Paris, next visiting Greece, Turkey, Northern Italy—but he never got to Rome. Returning to Paris for one more visit, Delaney began to paint, make new friends, and create a new social life filled with other artistic figures. Paris was to become Beauford Delaney’s permanent home.
By 1961, Delaney was producing paintings at such an intense rate that the pressure began to wear upon his strength, and he suffered his first mental collapse. He was confined to a clinic in Vincennes, and his dealer and close friends began to organize his life, hoping to help relieve some of the pressure. However, the rest of his life, Delaney was to suffer repeated breakdowns and by 1971 was back in a sanitarium, where he was to remain until his death in 1979.
Beauford Delaney’s numerous exhibitions took place in such venues as Artists Gallery, New York in 1948; Roko Gallery, New York, 1950-1953; Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1963; American Negro Exposition, Chicago, 1940; and Newark Museum, 1971. His work can be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Newark Museum, New Jersey; and Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland. Notable works include: Greene Street; Yaddo; Head of a Poet; and Snow Scene.
AARON DOUGLAS (1899–1988) Painter, Illustrator
Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1899, Aaron Douglas achieved considerable eminence as a muralist, illustrator, and academician. As a young man, Douglas studied at the University of Nebraska, Columbia University Teachers College, and l’Academie Scandinave in Paris. He had one-person exhibits at the Universities of Kansas and Nebraska and also exhibited in New York at the Gallery of Modern Art. In 1939, Douglas was named to the faculty of Fisk University and later became head of its department of art.
Douglas died on February 2, 1988. In 1992, Fisk University opened a new gallery in his memory. Douglas is considered one of the most important painter and illustrator of the “Negro Renaissance,” now known as the Harlem Renaissance. Notable works include: murals at Fisk University and in the Countee Cullen branch of the New York City Public Library; illustrations in books by Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, and Langston Hughes. Alexander Dumas, Marion Anderson, and Mary McLeod Bethune are among the many African Americans he painted or rendered in charcoal.
DAVID CLYDE DRISKELL (1931– ) Painter, Historian
Born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1931, Driskell studied at Howard University and earned his M.A. from the Catholic University of America in 1962. He also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Netherlands Institute for History of Art. He has taught at Talladega College, Fisk University, Institute for African Studies of the University of Ife in Nigeria, and the University of Maryland at College Park.
Immediately after the death of Alonzo Aden, Driskell was asked to direct the Barnett-Aden collection of African American Art. He has curated and mounted important exhibitions of African American art including 200 Years of African American Art, shown at major museums to audiences across the United States.
A recipient of many awards including the John Hope Award and prizes from the Danforth Foundation, American Federation of Arts, and Harmon Foundation, Driskell has exhibited at the Corcoran Art Gallery, National Museum, and Rhodes National Gallery in Salisbury, Rhodesia. Notable works include: Movement; The Mountain; Still Life With Gateleg Table; and Shango Gone.
ROBERT DUNCANSON (1817–1872) Painter
Robert Duncanson was the son of an African American mother and a Scottish-Canadian father. Born in upstate New York in 1817, he spent much of his childhood in Canada. During his youth, he and his mother moved to Mt. Healthy, Ohio, where in 1840 the Western Freedom’s Aid Society, an anti-slavery group, raised funds to send him to Glasgow, Scotland, to study art. Returning to Cincinnati three years later, Duncanson advertised in the local newspaper as the proprietor of a daguerreotype studio. He continued to work at his daguerreotype studio until 1855, when he began to devote all of his time to his painting. Similar to many landscape artists of this time, Duncanson traveled around the United States drawing his compositions from the images of nature before him. In 1853, he made his second trip to Europe—this time to visit Italy, France, and England.
Although Duncanson was active during and after the Civil War, with the exception of his painting of Uncle Tom and Eva, he made no attempts to present the turmoil that was taking place within the United States or the social pressures that he experienced. In September 1872, Duncanson suffered a severe mental breakdown and committed suicide in Detroit, Michigan. Notable works include murals in the Taft Museum and Bishop Payne.
WILLIAM EDMONSON (1882–1951) Sculptor
William Edmonson was a stonecutter and self-taught sculptor. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1882, he supported himself working as a hospital orderly and other menial jobs. His work was discovered by Mrs. Meyer Dahl-Wolfe, who had an extensive private collection and brought Edmonson to the attention of the Museum of Modern Art. His work was received extremely well in an exhibition of self-taught artists. In 1937 he was the first African American to have a one-person exhibit at the museum. Private collectors and museums have purchased his few sculptures.
Inspired by biblical passages, Edmonson worked on tombstones and his sculpture, which he did in limestone, at the home he shared with his mother and sister until their deaths. He continued to live alone and work there until his own death in 1951. Notable works include: Choir Girls; Lion; and Crucifixion.
ELTON CLAY FAX (1909–1993) Illustrator, Writer
Born in Baltimore in 1909, he graduated from Syracuse University with a B.F.A., in 1931. He taught at Claflin University from 1935 to 1936 and was an instructor at the Harlem Community Art Center from 1938 to 1939. His work has been exhibited at the Baltimore Art Museum, 1939; American Negro Exposition, 1940; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Visual Arts Gallery, New York, 1970. Examples of his work are included in some of the nation’s university collections including Texas Southern, the University of Minnesota, and Virginia State University.
Publications by Fax include: Africa Vignettes; Garvey; Seventeen Black Artists; and Black Artists of the New Generation. The Portfolio Black and Beautiful features his art work, and he has written Hashar, a book about the life of the peoples of Soviet Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Notable works include: Steelworker; Ethiopia Old and New; Contemporary Black Leaders; and Through Black Eyes.
Elton Fax died in Queens, New York, in May, 1993.
TOM FEELINGS (1933–2003) Illustrator
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 19, 1933, Thomas Feelings grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He began to draw cartoons at the age of four, and his art work flourished under the guidance of an African American artist named Thipadeux who encouraged Feelings to draw the people in his neighborhood. After high school, he attended the Cartoonists and Illustrators’ School in New York City on a three-year scholarship. Feelings’s art studies were interrupted by four years of service for the U.S. Air Force in England, but upon completion of his military service, he continued his art studies at the New York School of the Visual Arts.
While in art school, Feelings produced “Tommy Traveler in the World of Negro History,” a comic strip published in New York Age, a Harlem newspaper. Completing art school in 1961, Feelings marketed his portfolio to earn freelance assignments and began to get work with magazines of primarily African American readership. In 1964, Feelings traveled to Tema, a city in Ghana, with other African Americans enlisted by the Kwame Nkrumah, then head of Ghanian government, to help direct the newly independent country toward the future. Africa changed Feelings’s art on a spiritual and stylistic level. In 1966, he was forced to leave when the Nkrumah government fell.
Feelings returned to the United States hungry for work. There was a huge demand for works by and depicting African Americans, especially children’s books. In this new climate, Feelings illustrated such books as To Be A Slave (1968) and Moja Means One: A Swahili Counting Book, which won a Caldecott Honor Award in 1972. From 1971 to 1974, Feelings administered the Guyanese Ministry of Education’s children’s book project while living in Guyana. There he wrote his autobiography Black Pilgrimage published in 1972. After returning to the United States, Feelings illustrated more books spread over the next ten years including Now Sheba Sings the Song (1987), a collaboration with the poet/writer Maya Angelou.
While serving as an artist in residence at the University of South Carolina, Feelings has completed illustrations for two books. In 1993, he finished illustrations for Soul Looks Back In Wonder, a book compiling the poems of many African American authors. Two years later, he completed The Middle Passage, which portrays the passage of slave ships from Africa to the Western hemisphere. Both books received Coretta Scott King Awards from the American Library Association.
Feelings has earned many awards for his illustrations including two outstanding achievement awards from the New York School of Visual Arts, Visual Artists Fellowship and National Endowment for the Arts grants, and Distinguished Service to Children Through Art Award from the University of South Carolina (1991). Feelings has earned three Coretta Scott King Awards.
META VAUX WARRICK FULLER (1877–1968) Sculptor
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was a part of the transitional period between the artists who chose to simulate Euro-American subjects and styles and the later artistic periods. Her African American subjects of The Wretched, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1903 and 1904, did not suit popular tastes.
Born in 1877, in Philadelphia and educated at the School of Industrial Art and the Pennsylvania Academy, Fuller’s interest in sculpture led her to study with Charles Grafly and at the Academie Colarossi in Paris with Rodin. She was the first African American woman to become a professional artist.
She married and settled in the Boston area, where in 1910, most of her works were destroyed by fire. The Boston Art Club and the Harmon Foundation exhibited her works, and representative pieces of her sculpture can be found in the Cleveland Museum of Art today.
SAM GILLIAM (1933– ) Painter
Born in Mississippi in 1933, Sam Gilliam produces hanging canvases that are laced with pure color pigments rather than shades or tones. The artist bunches these pigments in different configurations on drooping, drape-like canvases, giving the effect, in the words of Time Magazine, of “clothes drying on a line.” His canvases are said to be “like nobody else’s, black or white.”
Gilliam received his M.A. from the University of Louisville and was awarded National Endowment of Humanities and Arts grants. He has had one-man and group shows at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art; Jefferson Place Gallery; Adams-Morgan Gallery in Washington, DC; the Art Gallery of Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri; the Speed Museum, Louisville; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art; the Phillips Collection and Corcoran Gallery of Art, both in Washington, DC; the San Francisco Museum of Art; the
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is represented in the permanent collection of over forty-five American museums.
Gilliam has also been represented in several group exhibitions including the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal (1966), “The Negro in American Art” at UCLA (1967), and the Whitney Museum’s American Art Annual (1969).
From 1968 through 1970, his work was displayed in one-man shows at Washington, DC’s Jefferson Place, and in 1971 he was featured in a one-man show at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
In 1980, Gilliam was commissioned, with thirteen other artists, to design work for installation in the Atlanta, Georgia Airport Terminal, one of the largest terminals in the world and the first to install contemporary artwork on its walls for public viewing. Notable works include: Watercolor 4 (1969); Herald (1965); Carousel Change (1970); Mazda (1970); Plantagenets Golden (1984); and Golden Element Inside Gold (1994).
TYREE GUYTON (1955– ) Multimedia Artist
Born in Detroit on August 24, 1955, Tyree Guyton has transformed the blighted urban pocket in which he has spent much of his life into an enormous ongoing art project that utilizes the debris of the abandoned cityscape. Interested in the arts from a young age, after high school Guyton served in the U.S. Army and then worked at Ford Motor Company for several years. He also began a family and in his spare time took art classes.
In 1984, Guyton left his firefighting job to become a full- time artist. He started transforming the small city block in which he and wife, Karen Smith, and their several children lived. His grandfather, a former house-painter, was both a source of early inspiration and an integral contributor to Guyton’s artistic project. Using ordinary housepaint, old toys, bicycles, and other found objects they salvaged from the junk piles that plague the city, Guyton transformed Heidelberg Street into a dynamic and unique art installation. A crack house, one of the many abandoned residences on the street, was painted in wild colors that discouraged the drug sales that even narcotics squad raids had not been able to stop. A tree was nailed several yards high with vintage bicycles. Polka dots decorated the street, Guyton’s own home, and nearly every other available surface. The combination of dots, stripes, lively patterning, and re-invention of discarded objects had been inspired by the style in which Guyton’s mother had decorated their home on a tight budget when he was growing up.
Long heralded by the international artistic community, Guyton’s art has periodically come under criticism, however. Other residents of the eastside Detroit neighborhood dismiss the out-of-town visitors and laudatory praise heaped on the Heidelberg Project by the art critics and harken for the days of a neatly manicured lawn and more placid environs. In the fall of 1991, city bulldozers demolished several of the houses that Guyton had
transformed, one of which had been slated for inclusion on a tour of local artistic sites. Ironically, that year he was named the Michiganian of the Year and the following year earned the Governor’s Arts Award. Guyton sued the city—with the support of prominent members of Detroit’s artistic community—but dropped the suit when a more sympathetic mayoral administration came into power in 1994. However, action by the Detroit City Council led to partial dismantling of the project by 1999.
RICHARD HUNT (1935– ) Painter, Sculptor
Richard Hunt was born in Chicago in 1935 and began his formal career after studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received a number of awards.
After graduating in 1957, Hunt was given the James Nelson Raymond Traveling Fellowship. He later taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at the University of Illinois. From 1962 to 1963, he pursued his craft under a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Hunt’s solo presentations have appeared at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Milwaukee Art Center; Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Springfield Art Museum, Massachusetts; Indianapolis Museum of Art; and a U.S.I.S.-sponsored show throughout Africa, which was organized by the Los Angeles Museum of African American Art. Hunt sits on the board of governors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; is a commissioner at the National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; and serves on the advisory committee at the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, Malibu.
His works are in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Art Institute of Chicago; Milwaukee Art Center; Baltimore Museum of Art; Martin Gallery, Washington, DC; National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC; Museum of Twentieth Century Art, Vienna, Austria; the Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York; National Museum of Israel, Jerusalem; Terry Dintenfass Gallery, New York; Dorsky Gallery, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Howard University. He has had many other commissions. Notable works include: Man on a Vehicular Construct (1956); Linear Spatial Theme (1962); The Chase (1965); and Arching (1986).
JOSHUA JOHNSTON (1765–1830) Painter
Active between 1789 and 1825, Joshua Johnston is the first known African American portrait painter from the Baltimore area. At least two dozen paintings have been attributed to this artist who was listed as a “free householder of colour, portrait painter”. He was listed in the Baltimore directories in various studio locations.
It is believed Johnston may have been enslaved of Charles Wilson Peale, the artist who is also known for having started a drawing school in Maryland in 1795; or Johnston may have simply known the artist and his works. In either case, Johnston was most likely self-taught. A portraitist in the style of the period, his work now seems quaint. Only one black subject has been attributed to him, Portrait of a Cleric. Notable works include Portrait of Adelia Ellender, Portrait of Mrs. Barbara Baker Murphy and Portrait of Sea Captain John Murphy.
LARRY JOHNSON (1949– ) Painter, Illustrator, Editorial Cartoonist
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1949, Larry Johnson attended the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He became a staff illustrator at The Boston Globe in 1968, where he covered many assignments including courtroom sketches, sports events, entertainment, editorial sports cartoons and drawings, and other features. Johnson is now nationally syndicated through Universal Press Syndicate.
Barry Gaither, director of the National Center of African American artists in Boston, says, “Johnson’s works can be divided horizontally between commercial illustration and fine art, and vertically between drawings and paintings in acrylics and watercolor.” In addition to working for the Globe, Johnson worked for the now defunct National Sports Daily, has designed book jackets for Little Brown, and has been commissioned by Pepsi-Cola, the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the National Football League, and Fortune, among others. He later left the Globe to freelance and run his own company, Johnson Editions, producer of fine arts prints and other multiples, such as greeting cards. Johnson was awarded the Associated Press Editorial Cartoon Award in 1985. Notable works include Island Chisel; Rainbow; and Promises.
In 1995, several of Johnson’s photographs were included in the six-artist exhibition entitled New Testament, which was hosted by the Marc Foxx Gallery in Santa Monica, California. The Margo Leavin Gallery in Los Angeles also hosted an exhibition of Johnson’s art work in 1995.
LESTER L. JOHNSON (1937– ) Painter, Educator
Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1937, Johnson attended the University of Michigan, where he received a B.F.A. in 1973, and a M.F.A. in 1974. He teaches at the Center for Creative Studies, College of Art and Design, in Detroit, Michigan.
His works are in many collections including: the Detroit Institute of Arts; Osaka University Arts, Japan; Johnson Publishers and The Masonite Corp., Chicago; Sonnenblick-Goldman Corp., New York; Taubman Co., Inc., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; and St. Paul Co., St. Paul, Minnesota.
Commissions have included: Urban Wall Murals, Detroit, 1974; New Detroit Receiving Hospital, 1980; and Martin Luther King Community Center. Johnson has exhibited at major institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, 1973; National African American Exhibit, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the National Academy of Design, Henry Ward Ranger National Invitational, 1977; and the Edward Thorp Gallery in New York City, 1994.
Among his awards are the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant, 1982 and 1984; and a Recognition Award, African American Music Art Association.
SARGENT JOHNSON (1888–1967) Sculptor
Sargent Johnson, who three times won the Harmon Foundation’s medal as the nation’s outstanding African American artist, worked in stylized idioms, heavily influenced by the art forms of Africa in sculpture, mural basreliefs, metal sculpture, and ceramics.
Born in Boston in 1888, he studied at the Worcester Art School and moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1915, where his teachers were Beniamino Bufano and Ralph Stackpole. He exhibited at the San Francisco Artists Annual, 1925 to 1931; Harmon Foundation, 1928 to 1931, 1933; Art Institute of Chicago, 1930; Baltimore Museum, 1939; and the American Negro Exposition, Chicago, 1940. He was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes.
From the beginning of his career he spoke of his sculpture as an attempt to show the “natural beauty and dignity of the pure American Negro” and wished to present “that beauty not so much to the white man as to the Negro himself. Unless I can interest my race, I am sunk.” Notable works include: Sammy; Esther; Golden
Gate Exposition Aquatic Park murals; and Forever Free. He died in 1967.
WILLIAM HENRY JOHNSON (1901–1970) Painter
William H. Johnson was a pioneer African American modernist whose work went from abstract expressionist landscape and flower studies influenced by Vincent Van Gogh, to studies of black life in America, and finally to abstract figure studies in the manner of Rouault.
Born in Florence, South Carolina, on March 18, 1901, he studied at the National Academy of Design; Cape Cod School of Art, under Charles Hawthorne; in southern France, 1926 to 1929, and Denmark and Norway, 1930 to 1938. Exhibits include Harmon Foundation (Gold Medal in 1929); Aarlins, Denmark, 1935; Baltimore Museum, 1939; American Negro Exposition, Chicago, 1940. He produced one-person shows in Copenhagen in 1935, and at the Artists Gallery, New York, in 1938. Notable works include: Booker T. Washington; Young Man in Vest; Descent from the Cross; and On a John Brown Flight. He died on April 13, 1970.
BEN JONES (1942– ) Painter, Sculptor
Ben Jones was born in Patterson, New Jersey, in 1942, and studied at the School of Visual Arts; New York University, where he received an M.A.; the Pratt Institute; the University of Science and Technology, Ghana; and the New School of Social Research.
Jones is a professor of fine arts at Jersey City State College. As a sculptor, his works made during the height of the Black Arts movement in 1970 were cast in plaster from living models and painted in brightly colored patterns, resembling traditional African symbols. Masks, arms, and legs arranged in multiples or singly seem to have roots in African ceremony ritual and magic.
His pieces are in such collections as: the Newark Museum; Studio Museum in Harlem; Howard University; and Johnson Publications, Chicago. His exhibits have included: The Museum of Modern Art; Studio Museum in Harlem; Black World Arts Festival, Lagos, Nigeria; Newark Museum; Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, and others.
Jones’s awards have included grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New Jersey Arts Council; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and others. Notable works include: Five Black Face Images; High Priestess of Soul; and Untitled (6 Arms).
KARL KANI (c.1968– ) Fashion Designer
Born Carl Williams, Kani was preoccupied with style as a youth. His fashion sense first became noticed on the streets of Flatbush, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. While his peers were buying the latest clothes, Williams was busy purchasing material he would later bring to various tailors, instructing them to make garments exactly how he wanted for a relatively small price. As time passed, people who had seen Williams in one of his “originals” wanted their own made-to-order clothes. Williams began taking orders and supplying the demand.
While working at Seasons Sportswear in south central Los Angeles, Williams developed the name Kani, based on the question “Can I?” as in “Can I do it?” In 1989, Kani met Carl Jones, co-founder of Threads 4 Life. Jones, who had already proven his ability to sell clothes with his Cross Colours line, agreed to help Kani get his designs out to the public. By 1992, the Kani line of clothing had added roughly $35 million dollars to the Threads 4 Life profit margin. Disagreements with Threads 4 Life eventually led Kani to venture off on his own.
Kani began “Karl Kani Infinity” in 1994. While competition for hip hop clothing had become fierce, Kani saw potential in the previously ignored market. Rap stars such as Tupac Shakur began wearing his designs, spreading the Kani name. In 1995, his designs were sold in more than three hundred stores nationwide.
JACOB LAWRENCE (1917–2000) Painter
Born on September 7, 1917, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Jacob Lawrence received his early training at the Harlem Art School and the American Artist School. He worked under the guidance of such artists as Charles Alston, Henry Bannarn, Anton Refregier, Sol Wilson, Philip Reisman, and Eugene Moreley. His rise to prominence was ushered in by his painting of several series of biographical panels commemorating important episodes in African American history. A narrative painter, Lawrence creates the “philosophy of Impressionism” within his work. Capturing the meaning and personality behind the natural appearance of a historical moment, Lawrence creates a formal series of several dozen small paintings that relate to the course of a particular historic event in American history, such as The Migration Series (“. . .and the Migrants keep coming”), which traces the migration of the African American from the South to the North, or the discussion on the course of a man’s life (e.g., Toussant L’Ouverture and John Brown).
Lawrence is a visual American historian. His paintings record African American in trade, theater, mental hospitals, neighborhoods, or running in Olympic races. Lawrence’s works are found in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Museum of American Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.
Lawrence lives in Seattle, Washington. His notable works include: The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture (forty one panels, 1937); The Life of Harriet Tubman (forty panels, 1939); and The Negro Migration Northward in World War (sixty panels, 1942). He has also produced commissioned book and magazine illustrations, murals, posters, drawings, and prints. Among these are a 1976 print for the U.S. Bicentennial, illustrations for a 1983 special edition of John Hersey’s book Hiroshima and a 1984 poster for the National Urban League.
In 1970, Lawrence was awarded the NAACP’s Spin-garn Medal. He received an invitation to paint the 1977 presidential inauguration of Jimmy Carter. President George Bush bestowed on Lawrence the National Medal of Arts in 1990. He is also the recipient of numerous honorary degrees.
Lawrence wrote and illustrated the book The Great Migration: An American Story in 1993.
HUGHIE LEE-SMITH (1915–2000) Painter
Hughie Lee-Smith was born on September 20, 1915, in Eustis, Florida. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Wayne State University, where he received his B.S. in art education in 1953.
From childhood, Lee-Smith was encouraged to pursue his art, and he has enjoyed a long career. He worked for the Ohio Works Progress Administration and the Ford Factory at River Rouge during the 1930s and 1940s. He did a series of lithographic prints and painted murals at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois. He taught art at Karamu House in Cleveland, the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Michigan, Princeton Country
Day School, Howard University, the Art Students League, and other institutions.
Lee-Smith’s works can be seen in museums, schools, galleries, and collections across the United States including the American Negro Exposition, Chicago; Southside Community Art Center; Snowden Gallery; Detroit Artists Market; Cleveland Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of Modern Art; the June Kelly Gallery, New York City, and the Evans-Tibbs Collection, Washington, DC. His painted environments are often of decaying or ghetto environments in a state of revitalization peopled by a single or sometimes double-figured occupant. His subjects suggest desolation or alienation, but waving banners or balloons in the scene counter the expression in their symbolism of hope and gaiety.
Lee-Smith’s one-person shows and exhibitions are numerous. He has received more than a dozen important prizes including the Founders Prize of the Detroit Institute of Arts (1953), Emily Lowe Award (1957, 1985), Ralph Fabri Award, Audubon Artists, Inc. (1982), Binny and Smith Award (1983), and Len Everette Memorial Prize, Audubon Artists, Inc. (1986). He is a member of the Allied Artists of America, the Michigan Academy of the Arts, Sciences & Letters, and the Artists Equity Association. Notable works include: Portrait of a Sailor; Old Man and Youth; Waste Land; Little Diana; and Aftermath.
EDMONIA LEWIS (1845–1890) Sculptor
Edmonia Lewis was America’s first black female artist and also the first of her race and sex to be recognized as a sculptor. Born on July 4, 1845 in Albany, New York, she was the daughter of a Chippewa Indian woman and a free African American man. From 1859 to 1863, under the patronage of a number of abolitionists, she was educated at Oberlin College.
After completing her schooling, Lewis moved to Boston, where she studied with Edmund Brackett and did a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commander of the first black regiment organized in the state of Massachusetts during the Civil War. In 1865, she moved to Rome, where she soon became a prominent artist. Returning to the United States in 1874, she fulfilled many commissions including a bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that was executed for the Harvard College Library.
Her works are fine examples of the neo-classical sculpture that was fashionable during her lifetime. It is believed that she died in Rome in 1890. Notable works include Hagar in the Wilderness, Forever Free, and Hiawatha.
NORMAN LEWIS (1909–1979) Painter
Norman Lewis was born in New York City in 1909. He studied at Columbia University and under Augusta Savage, Raphael Soyer, Vaclav Vytacil, and Angela Streater. During the Great Depression he taught art through the Federal Art Project from 1936 to 1939 at the Harlem Art Center. He received a Carnegie International Award in Painting in 1956 and has had several one-person shows at the Willard Gallery in New York.
As one of the artists to develop the abstract movement in the United States, Lewis participated in many group shows in such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Notable works include Arrival and Departure and Heroic Evening.
GERALDINE MCCULLOUGH (1928– ) Sculptor
Geraldine McCullough’s steel and copper abstraction Phoenix won the George D. Widener Gold Medal at the 1964 exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In earning this award, she added her name to a roster of artists who have already won the same honor including Jacques Lipchitz and Theodore Roszak.
A native of Arkansas, McCullough has lived in Chicago since she was three years old and is a 1948 graduate of the city’s Art Institute. She also studied at the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois.
McCullough taught at Wendell Phillips High School from 1950 to 1964 in Chicago and at Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois. Currently, she works and resides in Oak Park, Illinois. She has received many awards and commissions. Her works are represented in collections at Howard University; in Oak Park, Illinois; the Oakland, California museum, and many others. Notable works include: Bessie Smith; View from the Moon; Todd Hall Front; Atomic Rose; Phoenix; and Martin Luther King.
Geraldine McCollough is a renowned sculptor and painter. She was born on December 1, 1922, in Kingston, Arkansas, and raised in Chicago from the time she was three years old. McCullough attended the Art Institute of Chicago for undergraduate and graduate studies, receiving a B.A. in 1948 and an M.A. in art education in 1955. As a student, she earned a John D. Standecker Scholarship, a Memorial Scholarship and a Figure Painting Citation. ??After completing her graduate studies, McCullough taught art at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago. She also began exhibiting her paintings at various national galleries, receiving first prize in 1961 at the Art Exhibit of Atlanta University. With help from her husband, Lester McCullough, she took up welded sculpture and made her sculpting debut in 1963 at the Century of Negro Progress Exposition in Chicago. She received the George D. Widener Gold Medal for Sculpture in 1965 for her steel and copper structure, Phoenix. In 1967, she became the chairperson of the Art Department at Rosary College (later Dominican University) in River Forest, Illinois. Upon her retirement from the school in 1989, she was given an honorary doctorate. ??McCullough’s various works are informed by African ritual art to European and American influences. She has been a distinguished guest artist of the Russian government and her work has been exhibited at such respected institutions as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the National Woman’s Museum. McCullough is based in Oak Park, Illinois.
IONIS BRACY MARTIN (1936– ) Painter, Printmaker, Educator
Born on August 27, 1936, in Chicago, Illinois, Ionis Bracy Martin attended the Junior School of the Art Institute of Chicago before going to Fisk University, where she studied with Aaron Douglas and earned her B.S. in 1957. Martin received an M.Ed. degree from the University of Hartford (1969) and an M.F.A. from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (1987). She is a trustee of the Wadsworth Atheneum, 1977, co-founder of the Artists Collective (with Jackie McLean, Dollie McLean, Paul Brown, and Cheryl Smith), 1972, co-trustee and chairperson of the Ella Burr McManus Trust for the Alfred E. Burr Sculpture Mall, 1985, and a member of the advisory board of the CRT Craftery Gallery, Hartford, 1973.
Exhibiting in the Hartford area, Martin has also been exhibited in New York; Springfield, Boston, and Northampton, Massachusetts; Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee; and the University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. Among her many prizes and honors are a grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts (1969); a graduate fellowship in Printmaking, Pratt Institute (1981); a Summer-Six Fellowship from Skidmore College (1987); and a fellowship with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University (1994).
Martin has been a teacher at Weaver and Bloomfield High Schools since 1961 and lecturer in African American art at Central Connecticut State University since 1985. Martin also lectures on and demonstrates serigraphy. Notable works include: Mother and Child; Allyn’s Garden; Gran’ Daddy’s Garden; and Little Women of the Amistad: Series.
EVANGELINE J. MONTGOMERY (1933– ) Jeweler, Photographer, Sculptor
Evangeline Montgomery was born in New York City on May 2, 1933. She received an associate’s degree from Los Angeles City College in 1958 and her B.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1969 and also studied at the University of California, Berkeley and California State University.
Montgomery has worked as a freelance artist; an art consultant to museums, community organizations, and colleges for EJ Associates; and program director for Arts America. Known primarily for her metal boxes, incense burners, and jewelry, Montgomery has also been awarded prizes for her photography. Her works are in collections at the Oakland Museum and the University of Southern Illinois.
Active with many organizations, Montgomery has served on the San Francisco Art Commission, the advisory board of Parting Ways Ethnohistory Museum, and the board of directors of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists. She is currently a member of the Michigan Chapter of the National Conference of Artists, the College Art Association, the American Museums Association, and the Women’s Art Caucus. Montgomery is also on the board of directors of the District of Columbia Arts Center.
Her awards have included a Smithsonian Fellowship and a museum grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1989, Montgomery was presented with a Special Achievement Award from Arts America. Notable works include Ancestor Box 1 and Justice for Angela Davis.
ARCHIBALD MOTLEY (1891–1980) Painter
Born in New Orleans in 1891, Motley’s artistic talent was apparent by the time he attended high school. His father wanted him to become a doctor, but Archibald insisted on art and began formal education at the Art Institute of Chicago. During this time he worked as a laborer, coming into contact with the drifters, scavengers, and hustlers who are now immortalized in his street scenes. His genre scenes are highly stylized and colorful and are often associated with the Ash-Can school of art, a popular style in the 1920s.
In 1928, Motley had a one-person show in downtown New York and became the first artist, black or white, to make the front page of the New York Times. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1929 and studied in France. He was the recipient of a Harmon Foundation award for an earlier, more literal portrait. Notable works include: The Jockey Club; The Plotters; Parisian Scene; Black Belt; and Old Snuff Dipper. Motley died in 1980.
JOHN WILFRED OUTTERBRIDGE (1933– ) Sculptor
John Wilfred Outterbridge was born in Greenville, North Carolina, on March 12, 1933. He studied at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro; the Chicago Art Academy; the American Academy of Art, Chicago; and the Art Center School of Design, Los Angeles.
From 1964 until 1968, Outterbridge worked as an artist/designer for the Traid Corporation. He worked as artistic director and co-founder of the Communicative Arts Academy from 1969 until 1975. He has also taught at California State University and Pasadena Art Museum. Outterbridge was director of the Watts Towers Art Center, Los Angeles, from 1976 until 1992.
Outterbridge’s sculptures are assemblages constructed from discarded materials. Some of his works are tributes to African ancestors and their descendants in Los Angeles and in other communities. Outterbridge is known for making and helping create “Street Art,” a combination of painting, relief sculpture, and construction that incorporates words and symbols expressing community goals and social ideas.
Outterbridge was featured in Black Artists on Art, Volume I (Selma Lewis/Ruth Waddy, Los Angeles Contemporary Crafts, 1971, 1976). Notable works include: Shoeshine Box; Mood Ghetto; and Ethnic Heritage Group.
In 1990, Outterbridge was presented with the Malcolm X Freedom Award by the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the First Annual King Blvd. Memorial Project. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Outterbridge with its Visual Arts Fellowship in 1994. That same year, he was presented with an honorary doctorate of fine arts by the Otis College of Arts and Design and the J. Paul Getty Visual Arts Fellowship.
GORDON PARKS (1912–2006) Photographer, Composer, Writer, Director
Parks was born on November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas. After the death of his mother, Parks went to St. Paul, Minnesota to live with relatives. He attended Central and Mechanical Arts high schools. Despite having fond childhood memories of his father on the family farm, Parks had a dysfunctional upbringing. He worked at a variety of jobs including janitor, busboy, and semi-pro basketball player. Always interested in the arts, Parks also tried sculpting, writing and touring with a band, but these artistic endeavors were largely without focus.
In 1933, Parks joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and in the late 1930s, while working as a railroad porter, he became interested in photography as a medium on which he could finally concentrate his artistic interests. After purchasing a used camera, Parks worked as a freelance photographer and as a photojournalist. In 1942, he became a correspondent for the Farm Security Administration, and from 1943 to 1945 he was a correspondent for the Office of War Information. After the war he worked for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, and in 1948 he became a staff photographer for Life magazine. He soon achieved national acclaim for his photographs and in the mid-1950s he began doing consulting work on Hollywood productions. In the 1960s Parks began doing television documentaries, and in 1966 he published his biography A Choice of Weapons.
Parks is also the author of the following titles: Flash Photography (1947); Camera Portraits: The Techniques and Principals of Documentary Portraiture (1948); The Learning Tree (1963); A Poet and His Camera (1968); Born Black (1971); Gordon Parks: Whispers of Intimate Things (1971); Moments without Proper Names (1975); Flavio (1977); To Smile in Autumn (1979); Shannon (1981); Voices in the Mirror (1990); and Arias in Silence (1994). In 1968 Parks produced, directed, and wrote the script and music for the movie production of The Learning Tree. Parks also directed and scored the following movies: Shaft (1971); Shaft’s Big Score (1972); The Super Cops (1974); Leadbelly (1976); Odyssey of Solomon Northrup (1984); and Moments Without Proper Names (1986).
Parks is a recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Award (1972), the Rhode Island School of Design’s Presidents Fellow Award (1984), and Kansan of the Year (1986). In 1988 President Ronald Reagan presented him with the National Medal for the Arts. That same year, Parks won the World Press Photo Award. In 1989, he was awarded the Library of Congress National Film Registry Classics film honor for The Learning Tree. He was also presented with the New York Mayor’s Award and the Artist of Merit Josef Sudek Medal in 1989.
Parks is a member of the NAACP, Urban League, Newspaper Guild, Association of Composers and Directors, Writer’s Guild, AFTRA, ASCAP, International Mark Twain Society, American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and the American Society of Magazine Photographers.
On July 7, 1995, the Library of Congress announced that it had acquired the archives of Gordon Parks. The archives include roughly 15,000 manuscript pages of Parks’s poems, novels and screenplays, as well as several thousand photographs and negatives.
MARION PERKINS (1908–1961) Sculptor
Born in Marche, Arkansas, in 1908, Perkins was a self-taught artist. His early works were composed while he tended a newspaper stand on Chicago’s South side. He later studied privately with Simon Gordon as the two men became close friends.
Perkins’s work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, American Negro Exposition (1940), Xavier University, and Rockland College, Illinois (1965). As artist in residence at Jackson State College in Mississippi, where much of his sculpture is housed, Perkins founded a scholarship fund for art students. Perkins died in 1961.
HOWARDENA PINDELL (1943– ) Painter
Born in Philadelphia on April 14, 1943, Howardena Pindell received a B.F.A. from Boston University in 1965 and a M.F.A. from Yale University in 1967. She first gained national recognition for her 1969 exhibition “American Drawing Biennial XXIII” at the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences in Virginia. By the mid-1970s, Pindell’s work began appearing in such exhibitions as “Eleven Americans in Paris,” Gerald Piltzer Gallery, Paris, 1975; “Recent Acquisitions; Drawings,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976; and “Pindell: Video Drawings,” Sonja Henie Onstad Foundation, Oslo, Norway, 1976.
Pindell began to travel around the world as a guest speaker. Some of her lectures included “Current American and Black American Art: A Historical Survey” at Madras College of Arts and Crafts, Madras, India, 1975; and “Black Artists, U.S.A.,” Academy of Art, Oslo, Norway, 1976. She is currently a professor of art at State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Her work is part of the permanent collection in over thirty museums including the Brooklyn Museum, High
Museum in Atlanta, Newark Museum, Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pindell has received two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggengeim Fellowship.
Pindell has received numerous awards throughout her career. In 1990, she won the College Art Association Award for Best Exhibitor. She received the Studio Museum in Harlem Award and Joan Mitchell Fellowship in 1994. In 1996, the Women Caucus for Art presented Pindell with its Distinguished Contribution to the Profession Award.
JERRY PINKNEY (1939– ) Illustrator
Born in Philadelphia on December 22, 1939, Jerry Pinkney studied at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art. Pinkney has exhibited in illustrator shows throughout the country and is best known for his illustrations for children’s and text books.
From his studio in his home in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, Pinkney has been a major contributor to the U.S. Postal Service’s stamps in the Black Heritage Series. Benjamin Banneker, Martin Luther King, Jr., Scott Joplin, Jackie Robinson, Sojourner Truth, Carter G. Woodson, Whitney Moore Young, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Harriet Tubman stamps were designed by Pinkney.
A recipient of many honors, he has created illustrations in children’s books such as The Talking Eggs, written by Robert San Souci; earned a Caldecott Honor of Medal (Pinkney’s second such honor) in 1989, received a Coretta Scott King Honor Book Award; was named an American Library Association Notable Book; and won the Irma Simonton Black Award from the Bank Street College of Education. In 1994, Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in the book John Henry. That same year, he won two Parent’s Choice Awards for the books John Henry and The Sunday Outing.
Pinkney has worked in Boston as a designer and illustrator. He is one of the founders of Kaleidoscope Studio in Boston, where he also worked for the National Center of Afro-American Art. He also was a visiting critic for the Rhode Island School of Design. He has taught at Pratt Institute, the University of Delaware, and in the Art Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Notable works include: The Tales of Uncle Remus, published by Dial Brooks; Call It Courage, written by Armstrong Sperry and published by Aladdin Books; Self Portrait; and Back Home, written by his wife, Gloria Jean Pinkney.
HORACE PIPPIN (1888–1946) Painter
Horace Pippin has been ranked in the company of Henri Rousseau due to his accomplishment as a self-taught artist. Born on February 22, 1888, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Pippin began painting in 1920, and continued until his death on July 6, 1946. Among his most vivid works are battle scenes that he remembered from his own experience in World War I.
Pippin’s earliest works are designs burned into wood with a hot poker. He did not make his first oil painting until 1930. This task was complicated by his wartime injury; he had to guide his right arm with his left hand in order to paint. He painted family reunions, Biblical stories, and historical events. Notable works include: John Brown Goes to a Hanging; Flowers with Red Chair; The Den; The Milk Man of Goshen; and Dog Fight Over the Trenches.
JAMES A. PORTER (1905–1971) Art Historian, Painter
James A. Porter was a painter who also earned acclaim as a writer and educator. Born in Baltimore in 1905, he studied at Howard University receiving a B.S. in 1927; Art Students League, New York; Sorbonne; and received a M.A. from New York University. He was awarded numerous travel grants that enabled him to study African and European art firsthand.
Among his ten one-person shows are exhibits at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1946; Dupont Gallery, Washington, DC, 1949; and Howard University, 1965. His works are in the collections of Howard University; Lincoln University, Missouri; Harmon Foundation; IBM; and others. The first African American art historian, he wrote Modern Negro Art (1943), as well as numerous articles. In 1953, he became chairman of the Department of Art and director of the Gallery of Art at Howard University, a position he held until his death. He was a delegate to the UNESCO Conference on Africa held in Boston in 1961, and to the International Congress of African Art and Culture in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, 1962. In 1965, at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the National Gallery of Art, he was named “one of America’s Most Outstanding Men of the Arts.” His notable works include: On a Cuban Bus; Portrait of F. A. as Harlequin; Dorothy Porter; and Nude.
MARTIN PURYEAR (1941– ) Sculptor
Martin Puryear was born in Washington, DC, in 1941. He attended Catholic University of America and received an M.F.A. from Yale University in 1971. He has studied in Sweden and worked in Sierra Leone with the Peace Corps from 1964 to 1966.
Representing the United States in the 1989 São Paulo Bienal in Brazil, he received first prize. His work has been described as post-minimalist, but it really defies categorizing. Puryear executes his own large pieces in wood and metal.
Puryear was the only African American artist in the contemporary section of the exhibit “Primitivism in Twentieth-Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and Modern” at the Museum of Modern Art 1984; his other exhibits include Brooklyn Museum, 1988 to 1989, the Whitney Biennal, 1989, and New York Galleries, since 1987.
Puryear studied in Japan in 1987 on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Notable works include: For Beckwith; Maroon Desire; and Sentinel. His works since 1985 have been untitled.
FAITH RINGGOLD (1930– ) Painter, Fiber Artist
Committed to a revolutionary perspective both in politics and in aesthetics, Faith Ringgold is a symbolic expressionist whose stark paintings are acts of social reform directed toward educating the consciousness of her audience. Her most intense focus has been upon the problems of being black in America. Her works highlight the violent tensions which tear at American society including the discrimination suffered by women. Ring-gold is also known for her distinctive story quilts. These quilts feature paintings on canvas that are bordered with quilted textiles and handwritten strips of white fabric that contain fanciful stories.
Born in Harlem on October 8, 1934, she was raised by parents who made sure she would enjoy the benefits of a good education. She received her B.S. in 1955 and her M.F.A. in 1959 from the City College of New York. She is a professor of Art at the University of California at San Diego.
Ringgold’s boldly political work has been widely shown. Since 1968 she has had several one-person shows and her paintings are included in the collections of the Chase Manhattan Bank, New York City; the Museum of Modern Art, the Bank Street College of Education, New York City; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
In 1972, Ringgold became one of the founders of the Women Students and Artists for Black Liberation, an organization whose principal goal is to make sure that all exhibitions of African American artists give equal space to paintings by men and women. In line with her interest in sexual parity, she has donated a large mural depicting the roles of woman in American society to the Women’s House of Detention in Manhattan.
Her first quilt Echoes of Harlem, Tar Beach was completed in 1980. Other quilts produced by Ringgold
include The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles, and Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima. In 1991, she illustrated and wrote a children’s book Tar Beach. This book was followed in 1992 by Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky. Notable artistic works include: The Flag Is Bleeding; Flag for the Moon; Die Nigger; Mommy & Daddy; and Soul Sister, Woman on a Bridge.
Ringgold has received several awards for her work including honorary doctorates from Moore College of Fine Art, Wooster College, Massachusetts College of Art, and City College of Art. In 1996, she received an award from the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
BETYE SAAR (1926– ) Painter, Sculptor
Betye Saar was born in California on July 30, 1926. She went to college, got married, and raised her children—all while creating artwork built upon discarded pieces of old dreams, postcards, photographs, flowers, buttons, fans, and ticket stubs. Her motifs range from the fetish to the everyday object. In 1978, Saar was one of a select group of American female artists to be discussed in a documentary film entitled Spirit Catcher: The Art of Betye Saar. It appeared on WNET-13 in New York as part of “The Originals: Women in Art” series. Her exhibitions include an installation piece especially designed for The Studio Museum in Harlem in 1980, and several one-person exhibitions at the Monique Knowlton Gallery in New York in 1981.
Saar studied at Pasadena City College, University of California where she received a B.F.A. in 1949, as well as Long Beach State College, University of Southern California, San Fernando State College, Valley State College, California, and the American Film Institute. She was a teacher-in-residence at Hayward State College, California. She has exhibited throughout the United States. In 1994, Saar’s works were displayed with over two hundred other artists at Brazil’s Bienal, a biannual art exhibition featuring the works of artists from over 71 countries. Notable works include: The Vision of El Cremo; Africa; The View from the Sorcerer’s Window; and House of Gris Gris, a mixed-media installation created with daughter Alison Saar.
SYNTHIA SAINT JAMES (1949– ) Illustrator, Author
Saint James was born in 1949 in Los Angeles, California. She is a self-taught illustrator and author whose work has been exhibited internationally in Stockholm, Sweden, Paris, France, Seoul, Korea, Quebec, Canada, Los Angeles, New York City, and Salt Lake City, as well as the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC.
Saint James’s colorful figurative images celebrate the daily life and culture of African Americans in her paintings. The stylized silhouettes take shape through the use of broad sweeps of contrasting color. Her pictures grace the covers of over fifty books including those by Terry McMillan, Iyanla Vanzant, and Alice Walker. Dozens of corporations, organizations, and individuals have commissioned Saint James to design work for their licensed products, event, and commemorative posters. The United States Postal Service, commissioned her to create the first Kwanzaa Stamp, made available on October 22, 1997.
Saint James is an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books including The Gift’s of Kwanzaa and Sunday. She received a 1997 Coretta Scott King Honor for her illustrations in Neeny Coming . . . Neeny Going. Saint James’s eighth children’s book No Mirrors In My Nana’s House (1998) was written by Ysaye Barn-well, and her ninth book Girls Together (1999) was written by Sherley Anne Williams.
AUGUSTA SAVAGE (1900–1962) Sculptor
A leading sculptor who emerged during the Harlem Renaissance, Augusta Savage was one of the artists represented in the first all-black exhibition in America, sponsored by the Harmon Foundation at International House in New York City. In 1939, her symbolic group piece Lift Every Voice and Sing was shown at the New York World’s Fair Community Arts Building.
Savage was born in Green Cove Springs, Florida, on February 29, 1900, and studied at Tallahassee State Normal School at Cooper Union in New York City, as well as France as the recipient of Carnegie and Rose-nwald fellowships. She was the first African American to win acceptance in the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors.
In the 1930s she taught in her own School of Arts and Crafts in Harlem and helped many of her students take advantage of Works Progress Administration projects for artists during the Depression. Notable works include: Lift Every Voice and Sing; The Chase; Black Women; Lenore; Gamin; Marcus Garvey; and W.E.B. Du Bois.
CHARLES SEARLES (1937– ) Painter, Educator
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1937, Searles studied at Fleicher Art Memorial, and the Penn Academy of Fine Arts (1968 to 1972). His works have been exhibited at the Dallas, the Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Reading, High, Milwaukee, Whitney, and Harlem Studio Museums; Columbia University; and many other galleries and museums.
Searles has traveled to Europe and Africa. He has taught at the Philadelphia College of Art, the Philadelphia Museum Art Studio Classes, University of the Arts, Brooklyn Museum Art School, Jersey State College, and Bloomfield College in New Jersey.
He was commissioned to execute several murals including the U.S. General Service Administration interior; Celebration (1976) for the William J. Green Federal Building; Play Time (1976) for the Malory Public Playground; Newark, New Jersey Amtrak Station wall sculpture (1985); and the Dempsey Service Center wall sculpture (1989).
His works are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC; New York State Office Building; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Federal Railroad Administration; Ciba-Gigy, Inc.; Dallas Museum of Art; Montclair Art Museum; Phillip Morris, Inc.; and Howard University.
The human figure, color, and rhythmic patterns dominate his paintings. Notable works include: Cultural Mix; Rhythmic Forms; Play Time; and Celebration.
LORNA SIMPSON (1960– ) Photographer, Conceptual Artist
Simpson was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 13, 1960, and attended the School of Visual Arts, where she earned her B.F.A. in 1982. She received her M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego, in 1985. Her works are concerned with language and words, especially those with double and contradictory meanings, as well as stereotypes and cliches about gender and race.
Simpson is among the new young photographers who have broken into the mainstream of conceptual based art. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum. She is on the advisory board of the New Museum, New York City, and also on the board of Artists Space.
In 1990, Simpson became the first African American woman to have her work featured in the Venice Biennale, an international art exhibition. Her work has been shown in exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Japan. Several institutions have offered exhibitions of her work, among them the Ansel Adams Center in San Francisco, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Her works have also been exhibited in the Just Above Mid-Town Gallery, Mercer Union (Toronto), and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum’s Matrix Gallery. Notable works include: Outline; Guarded Conditions; Easy for Who to Say; Flipside; Bio; Untitled (“prefer/refuse/decide”); and the interactive multimedia composition Five Rooms.
NORMA MERRICK SKLAREK (1928– ) Architect
Sklarek was born on April 15, 1928, in New York City, and received a B.A. in architecture from the Barnard
College of Columbia University in 1950. In 1954, she became the first African American woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States. In 1966, Sklarek became the first African American woman to be named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
Sklarek’s career began at Skidmore, Owens, Merrill, where she worked as an architect from 1955 until 1960. She also served on the faculty of New York City College from 1957 until 1960. In 1960, she took a position with Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles, California, where she worked for the next twenty years. She also served as a faculty member at UCLA from 1972 until 1978. Sklarek became vice president of Welton Becket Associates in 1980 and worked there until 1985. From 1985 until 1989, Sklarek was a partner in the firm Siegel, Sklarek, and Diamond, the largest female-owned architectural firm in the United States. In 1989, she began working as a principal for The Jerde Partnership before retiring in 1992.
Among the notable structures designed by Sklarek are the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo; Courthouse Center, Columbus, Indiana; City Hall, San Bernardino, California; and Terminal One, Los Angeles International Airport.
MONETA SLEET, JR. (1926–1996) Photographer
Moneta Sleet was born on February 14, 1926, in Owens-boro, Kentucky. He studied at Kentucky State College under Dr. John Williams, a family friend, dean of the college, and an accomplished photographer. In 1947, he received his B.A. from Kentucky State College. He earned a master’s degree from New York University in 1950.
Sleet taught photography at Maryland State College from 1948 until 1949. He moved to New York City in 1950 to work as a sportswriter for Amsterdam News. He also worked as a photographer for Our World from 1951 until 1955. Sleet moved to Chicago and took a job with the Johnson Publishing Company, where he has been staff photographer for Ebony and Jet magazines since 1955.
In 1969, Moneta Sleet became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize in Photography. Although employed by Ebony, he was eligible for the award because his photograph of Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral was picked up by a wire service and published in daily newspapers throughout the country. He has also received awards from the Overseas Press Club of America, National Urban League, and the National Association of Black Journalists. In 1989, the University of Kentucky inducted Sleet into its Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.
His work has appeared in several group exhibitions at museums including The Studio Museum in Harlem and Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1970, solo exhibitions were held at the City Art Museum of St. Louis and at the Detroit Public Library. Other solo exhibitions of Sleet’s work have been held at the New York Public Library, Newark Public Library, Chicago Public Library Cultural Center, Milwaukee Public Library, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Albany Museum of Art, New York State Museum, and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture. Sleet is a member of the NAACP and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters.
WILLI SMITH (1948–1987) Fashion Designer
Born on February 29, 1948, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Willi Smith studied at the Parsons School of Design on a scholarship and became popular during the 1960s. He was known for his designer wear in natural fibers, that were cross-seasonal and affordable. His clothes were sportswear pieces that mixed readily with Willi-wear from previous years as well as other clothes. Smith was innovative in mixing and matching plaids, stripes, and vivid colors. He designed for both men and women. Smith had his clothes manufactured in India, traveling there several times a year to supervise the making of his functional and practical collections.
In 1983 Willi Smith received the Coty American Fashion Critics Award for Women’s Fashion. He died in 1987.
NELSON STEVENS (1938– ) Muralist, Painter, Graphic Artist
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1938, Stevens received a B.F.A. from Ohio University in 1962 and a M.F.A. from Kent State University in 1969.
An active member of AFRI-COBRA—a group exploring the aesthetics of African American art, which includes the use of the human figure, bright colors, African inspired patterns, text, letters and other symbols relating to the African American experience. He is also a member of the National Conference of Artists.
Stevens is a professor of art at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts. He has exhibited at the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Howard University; Kent State University. Notable works include: Madonna and Child, for a 1993 calendar; Art in the Service of the Lord; Malcolm—King of Jihad; and A Different Kind of Man.
HENRY OSSAWA TANNER (1859–1937) Painter
Alain Locke called Henry Ossawa Tanner the leading talent of the “journeyman period” of African American art. Born in Pittsburgh on June 21, 1859, Tanner chose painting rather than the ministry as a career, overcoming the objections of his father, an African Methodist Episcopal bishop. After attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he taught at Clark University in Atlanta while working as a photographer. Some of Tanner’s most compelling work, such as The Banjo Lesson (1890), was produced during this period in which he emerged as the most promising African American artist of his day.
In 1891, Tanner abandoned black subject matter and left the United States for Paris, where he concentrated on religious themes. In 1896, his Daniel in the Lion’s Den, a mixture of realism and mystical symbolism, won honorable mention at the Paris Salon. The following year, the French government purchased his Resurrection of Lazarus. In 1900, Tanner received the Medal of Honor at the Paris Exposition and the Lippincott Prize.
Tanner died in 1937. Notable works include: Flight into Egypt; The Annunciation; Thankful Poor; and The Sabot Makers.
ALMA W. THOMAS (1891–1978) Painter
Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1891, Alma Thomas moved to Washington, DC, as a teenager. She enrolled at Howard University and was the first graduate of its art department in 1924. In 1934 she received her M.A. from Columbia University and later studied at American University.
Retiring after a thirty-eight-year teaching career in public schools, Thomas concentrated solely on her painting. She is best known for her non-objective, mosaic-like works that emphasize color, pattern, and space. The optical relationships of her colors in flat shapes create three-dimensional forms, enlivening the painted surfaces with movement and pulsating rhythms. It is this later work that brought her many prizes and awards.
Her works are in the collections of the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Howard University, Concord Gallery, Metropolitan Museum, La Jolla Museum, and private corporations. Notable works include: The Eclipse; Arboretum Presents White Dogwood; Elysian Fields; Red Sunset; and Old Pond Concerto.
BOB THOMPSON (1937–1966) Painter
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1937, Thompson studied at the Boston Museum School in 1955 and later spent three years at the University of Louisville. In 1960,
Thompson participated in a two-person show at Zabriskie Gallery and two years later received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship. For the next several years, Thompson had several one-person exhibitions in New York and Chicago. His work was also seen in Spain. He died in Rome at the age of twenty-nine.
Thompson’s work is in several permanent collections around the country including the Chrysler Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 1970, Thompson’s work was featured in the African-American Artist exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Notable works include: Ascension to the Heavens; Untitled Diptych; The Dentist (1963); and Expulsion and Nativity (1964).
JAMES VANDERZEE (1886–1983) Photographer
James VanDerZee was born on June 29, 1886, in Lenox, Massachusetts. His parents had moved there from New York in the early 1880s after serving as maid and butler to Ulysses S. Grant. The second of six children, James grew up in a family filled with creative people. Everybody painted, drew, or played an instrument, so it was not considered out of the ordinary when, upon receiving a camera in 1900, VanDerZee became interested in photography.
By 1906 VanDerZee had moved to New York, married, and took odd jobs to support his growing family. In 1907, he moved to Phoetus, Virginia, where he worked in the dining room of the Hotel Chamberlin in Old Point Comfort, Virginia. During this time he also worked as a photographer on a part-time basis. In 1909, he returned to New York.
By 1915, VanDerZee had his first photography job as assistant in the Gertz Department Store in Newark, New Jersey. With the money he saved from this job, he was able to open his own studio in 1916. Over the course of a half century, James VanDerZee would record the visual history of Harlem. His subjects included Marcus Garvey, Sweet Daddy Grace, Father Divine, Joe Louis, Madame Walker, and many other famous African Americans.
In 1969, the exhibition Harlem On My Mind produced by Thomas Hoving, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, brought James VanDerZee international recognition. He died in 1983.
LAURA WHEELER WARING (1887–1948) Painter
Born in 1887 in Hartford, Connecticut, Waring received her first training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied for six years. In 1914, she won the Cresson Memorial Scholarship, which enabled her to
continue her studies at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris.
Waring returned to the United States as an art instructor at Cheyney State Teachers College in Pennsylvania. Eventually she became head of the art department. Her work, particularly portraiture, has been exhibited at several leading American art galleries. In 1927, she received the Harmon Award for achievement in fine art. With Betsy Graves Reyneau, Waring completed a set of twenty-four re-paintings of a variety of their works titled Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin for the Harmon Foundation in the 1940s.
Waring was also the director in charge of the African American art exhibits at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1926 and was a member of the national advisory board of Art Movements, Inc. She died in 1948. Notable works include: Alonzo Aden; W.E.B. Du Bois; James; Weldon Johnson; and Mother and Daughter.
CARRIE MAE WEEMS (1953– ) Photographer, Conceptual Artist
Carrie Mae Weems was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1953. She received her B.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts in 1981 and a M.F.A. from the University of California at San Diego in 1984. She also received an M.A. in African American folklore from the University of California at Berkeley.
A young artist who explores stereotypes, especially those of African American women, Weems has been widely exhibited in the last few years. Formerly a photo documentarian, Weems also teaches filmmaking and photography at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her new works are “about race, gender, class and kinship.”
She has exhibited at the Rhode Island School of Design and Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. Notable works include: Mirror, Mirror; Black Woman With Chicken; High Yella Girl; Colored People; Family Pictures and Stories; and Ain’t Jokin’.
EDWARD T. WELBURN (1950– ) Automobile Designer
Edward T. Welburn is the chief designer of automobiles for the Oldsmobile Studio of General Motors. In 1992, his design for the Olds Achieva was honored as one of the outstanding designs of the model year.
Welburn began his career with the GM Design Staff as a creative designer in 1972, advancing to the positions of senior creative designer and assistant chief designer. While a member of the GM Design Staff, he designed the Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Ciera, and the Oldsmobile Calais. In 1989, he moved to the Oldsmobile Studio as chief designer.
In 1985, the Indianapolis 500 pace car was designed by a team on which Welburn served. He was named Alumni of the Year in 1989 by the Howard University Student Association. Welburn won the Industrial Designers Society of America Award for Design Excellence for his part in the design for Oldsmobile Aerotech in 1992.
Welburn is a member of The Cabinet and the Founders Society of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
JAMES LESESNE WELLS (1902–1993) Artist
Born on November 2, 1902, in Atlanta, James Lesesne Wells was a pioneer of modern American printmaking. After graduating from high school, Wells lived with relatives in New York City and worked for two years to earn money for college. He studied drawing at the National Academy of Design for one term from 1918 to 1919. Wells spent one year at Lincoln University before transferring to Teachers College at Columbia University in 1923 and earned a B.S. in 1927. He received an M.S. from Columbia in 1938.
Immediately after earning his undergraduate degree, Wells created African American print illustrations for magazines. He also made connections with art dealer and gallery owner J. D. Neumann, who included Wells’s work in a 1929 exhibition of International Modernists. These projects captured the attention of Howard University’s James V. Herring, who invited Wells to join the prestigious school’s art faculty that year. Thus began a 39-year career at the university, during which Wells established a graphics arts department and taught several soon to be well-known artists including Charles Alston and Jacob Lawrence. Wells taught clay modeling, ceramics, sculpture, metals, and block printing.
During the Great Depression, Wells devoted himself to printmaking involving African American history and industrial themes. Despite a lack of critical recognition, Wells’s work won numerous art competitions throughout the 1930s including the George E. Haynes Prize in 1933. At this time, he also served as the director of a summer art workshop that preceded the Harlem Community Art Center.
After World War II, Wells spent a sabbatical year working at Stanley Hayter’s famous Atelier 17, then the most innovative center of etching and printmaking in the United States. Wells continued to teach and win awards for his artwork in the 1950s and 1960s. He moved the Washington, DC, and joined his brother-in-law Eugene Davidson, president of the local NAACP, in segregation protests. The harassment Wells suffered as a result of his outspokenness—a cross was burned in his yard in 1957—may have inspired the religious themes of much of his work from the era. He took first prize in a religious art exhibition sponsored by the Smithsonian in 1958.
After retiring from Howard in 1968, Wells continued to paint and make prints in the 1980s. In 1980, then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter bestowed Wells with a presidential citation for lifelong contributions to American art. Four years later, Washington, DC, had a “James L. Wells Day.” Designated a “living legend” by the National Black Arts Festival in 1991, Wells’s work was featured in a retrospective exhibition by the Harmon Foundation, which had recognized him for his artwork as early as 1916, when he took a first prize in painting and second prize in woodworking. He died of congestive heart failure at the age of ninety.
CHARLES WHITE (1918–1979) Painter
White was born in 1918 in Chicago and was influenced as a young boy by Alain Locke’s critical review of the Harlem Renaissance, The New Negro. At the age of twenty-three, White won a Rosenwald Fellowship which enabled him to work in the South for two years, during which time he painted a celebrated mural depicting the black people’s contribution to American democracy. It is now the property of the Hampton Institute in Virginia.
The bulk of White’s work is done in black-and-white, a symbolic motif which he felt gave him the widest possible purview. Notable works include: Let’s Walk Together; Frederick Douglass Lives Again; Women; and Gospel Singer.
PAUL REVERE WILLIAMS (1894–1980) Architect
Williams was born in Los Angeles, California, on February 18, 1894, and graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles. He later attended the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in Paris and received honorary degrees from Howard, Lincoln, and Atlanta Universities as well as Hampton Institute.
Williams became a certified architect in 1915. After working for Reginald Johnson and John Austin, he opened his own firm in 1923. Williams designed some four hundred homes and a total of three thousand buildings including homes for Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyk, William Holden, Frank Sinatra, Betty Grable, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Bert Lahr.
In 1926 he was the first African American to become a member of the American Institute of Architects. He served on the National Monument Commission, an appointee of President Calvin Coolidge. Notable works include: Los Angeles County Airport; Palm Springs Tennis Club; and Saks Fifth Avenue at Beverly Hills. He died on January 23, 1980.
WILLIAM T. WILLIAMS (1942– ) Painter
William T. Williams was born in Cross Creek, North Carolina, on July 17, 1942. He received his B.F.A. from Pratt Institute in 1966 and his M.F.A. from Yale University in 1968.
In 1970, Williams taught painting classes at Pratt Institute and at the School of Fine Arts. Since 1971, he has been a professor of art at City University of New York, Brooklyn College. He also served as a visiting professor of art at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Williams has been the recipient of several awards. In 1992, the Studio Museum in Harlem presented him with its Annual Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was also awarded the Mid-Atlantic Foundation Fellowship in 1994.
Exhibitions of Williams’s work have been presented at, among others, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Wadsworth Atheneum, Art Institute of Chicago, and The Whitney Museum of American Art. Notable works include: Elbert Jackson L.A.M.F. Port II; Big Red for N.C.; and Buttermilk.
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JOHN WILSON (1922– ) Painter, Printmaker
Born in Boston on April 14, 1922, John Wilson studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Fernand Leger School, Paris; El Instituto Politecnico, Mexico City; and the Escuela de las Artes del Libro, Mexico City. In 1947, Wilson received a B.A. from Tufts University. He has been a teacher at Boston Museum, Pratt Institute, and Boston University.
His numerous exhibits include: the Albany Institute; the Library of Congress National (and International) Print Exhibit(s); Smith College; Carnegie Institute; and the American International College, Springfield, Massachusetts. His work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art; Schomburg Collection; Department of Fine Arts, French Government; Atlanta University; and Bezalel Museum, Jerusalem. Notable works include: Roxbury Landscape (oil, 1944); Trabajador (print, 1951); and Child with Father (graphic, 1969).
Wilson created the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument in Buffalo, New York, in 1983 and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Statue at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. In 1987, he completed the monument Eternal Presence, which resides at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts.
HALE WOODRUFF (1900–1979) Painter, Muralist
Hale Woodruff’s paintings were largely modernist landscapes and formal abstractions, but he has also painted rural Georgia scenes evocative of the “red clay” country. Born in Cairo, Illinois, in 1900, he graduated from the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. Encouraged by a bronze award in the 1926 Harmon Foundation competition, Woodruff went to Paris to study at both the Academie Scandinave and the Academie Moderne, as well as with Henry Ossawa Tanner.
In 1931, he became art instructor at Atlanta University and later accepted a similar post at New York University. In 1939, he was commissioned by Talladega College for The Amistad Murals, an episodic depiction of a slave revolt.
In 1948, Woodruff teamed with Charles Alston to work on the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company Murals in California, which presented the contribution of African Americans to the history of the development of California. Woodruff’s last mural assignment came in 1950 when he developed the series of mural panels for Atlanta University entitled The Art of the Negro. Other notable works include: Ancestral Remedies; The Little Boy; and The Amistad Murals.
RICHARD YARDE (1939– ) Painter
Richard Yarde was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 29, 1939. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and at Boston University, where he received a B.F.A. in 1962 and an M.F.A. in 1964. He has taught at Boston University, Wellesley College, Amherst College, Massachusetts College of Art, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Massachusetts.
Yarde has received numerous awards for his art including Yaddo fellowships in l964, l966, and l970, McDowell Colony awards in l968 and l970, and the Blanche E. Colman Award in l970.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Wadsworth Atheneum, Rose Art Museum, National Museum of African-American Artists, and Studio Museum in Harlem have all exhibited his works. He has held one-person shows at numerous galleries and universities. His works are in many collections, such as the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Notable works include:
The Stoop;Passage Edgar and I; The Corner; Paul Robeson as Emperor Jones; Head and Hands I; Josephine’s Baffle Triptych; and Richard’s Cards.
George Washington Carver Museum
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PO Drawer 10
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College of Charleston
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Intersection of Front and Screven Sts.
PO Box 902
Georgetown, SC 29442
Fax: (843) 545-9093
Black Cultural Exchange Center
1927 Dandridge Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37915
Blues City Cultural Center
39 Carnes Ave.
Memphis, TN 38114
Carl Van Vechten Gallery of Fine Arts
Dr. D. B. Todd Blvd. and Jackson St.
N. Nashville, TN 37203
Chattanooga African American Museum
200 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Chattanooga, TN 37203
Memphis Black Arts Alliance
985 S. Bellevue
Memphis, TN 38106
Tennessee State University Institute for African Studies
Tennessee State University
PO Box 828
Nashville, TN 37209
African American Museum
3536 Grant Ave.
Dallas, TX 75315
Fax: (214) 421-8204
Black Art Gallery
5408 Almeda Rd.
Houston, TX 77004
Utah Museum of Fine Arts
370 South 1530 East, Rm. 101
Salt Lake City, UT 84122
Fax: (801) 585-5198
Alexandria Black History Resource Center
220 N. Washington St. Alexandria, VA 22314
Black Historical Museum and Cultural Center
00 Clay St.
Richmond, VA 23220
Hampton University MuseumHampton University
Hampton, VA 23668
Harrison Museum of African American Culture
523 Harrison Ave., NW
Roanoke, VA 24016