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Article

Deborah Cullen

(Henry) [Spinky]

(b Charlotte, NC, Nov 29, 1907; d April 27, 1977).

African American painter, sculptor, graphic artist, muralist and educator. In 1913, Charles Alston’s family relocated from North Carolina to New York where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School. In 1929, he attended Columbia College and then Teachers College at Columbia University, where he obtained his MFA in 1931. Alston’s art career began while he was a student, creating illustrations for Opportunity magazine and album covers for jazz musician Duke Ellington.

Alston was a groundbreaking educator and mentor. He directed the Harlem Arts Workshop and then initiated the influential space known simply as “306,” which ran from 1934 to 1938. He taught at the Works Progress Administration’s Harlem Community Art Center and was supervisor of the Harlem Hospital Center murals, leading 35 artists as the first African American project supervisor of the Federal Art Project. His two murals reveal the influence of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886–1957). His artwork ranged from the comic to the abstract, while often including references to African art. During World War II, he worked at the Office of War Information and Public Information, creating cartoons and posters to mobilize the black community in the war effort....

Article

Dennis Raverty

(b Charlotte, NC, Sept 2, 1911 or 1912; d New York City, Mar 12, 1988).

African American painter, collagist, and author. Bearden is best known for his collages, which often addressed urban themes (e.g. The Dove). He was a founding member of Spiral, a group of African American artists who started meeting at his downtown New York studio in 1963. He also published essays and cartoons, designed book jackets, magazine and album covers, and is widely regarded as the first African American artist to successfully enter the mainstream of the contemporary art world. The posthumously published book he co-authored with Harry Henderson, A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present (1993), in a very short time became an almost canonical text in the field.

Bearden’s family moved permanently to Harlem, a predominately black neighborhood of New York City, in 1920. His mother, Bessye Bearden, was the New York correspondent for the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, and through her Bearden was introduced to many of the artists, writers, and intellectuals associated with the ...

Article

American, 20th century, male.

Born 2 September 1911, in Charlotte (North Carolina); died 12 March 1988, in New York.

Painter (including gouache), watercolourist, lithographer, screen printer, engraver, collage artist, newspaper cartoonist, illustrator, art theorist. Religious subjects, figure compositions, local figures. Humorous cartoons, frontispieces, stage sets...

Article

James Smalls

The Black Arts Movement spans the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Inherently and overtly political in content, it was an artistic, cultural and literary movement in America promoted to advance African American “social engagement.” In a 1968 essay titled “The Black Arts Movement,” African American scholar Larry Neal (1937–81) proclaimed it as the “artistic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” The use of the term “Black Power” originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from “racist American domination” and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of “Blackness.”

In addition to “Black Power,” the slogan “Black is Beautiful” also became part of the Black Arts Movement and the Black Cultural Movement (also known as Black Aesthetics). The aim of these maxims was to counter and dispel the widespread notion throughout Western cultures that black people’s natural features, such as skin color, facial characteristics and hair, were inherently ugly. The central purpose was to subvert decades of anti-black rhetoric and “to make African Americans totally and irreversibly proud of their racial and cultural heritage.” Black Arts Movement cultural theorists and artists reasoned that promotion of a black aesthetic was mandatory to help the African American community perceive itself as not only beautiful, but also as proud of the legacy of African American achievement, self-determinacy and self-identification with all black peoples throughout the African diaspora. The tone was militant and separatist, not conciliatory and assimilationist, and resulted in a call for a revolutionary art that spoke to a definable black aesthetic. In ...

Article

revised by Margaret Barlow

(b Mooresville, NC, Jan 1, 1907; d New Hope, PA, Aug 29, 1995).

American sculptor, teacher, and writer. Burke initially trained as a nurse at the Women’s Medical College, NC, before studying philosophy at Columbia University, New York (1936–41). During the 1930s she became one of a few prominent black American sculptors (see African American art §I 2.) participating in the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Projects. She also became an instructor in sculpture at the Harlem Community Art Center and a frequent contributor to periodicals and newspapers, and she worked with Aristide Maillol in Paris and Hans Reiss (1885–1968) in New York. In 1940 she was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship and in the period 1943–6 was director of the Student’s School of Sculpture, New York. Her sculpture is characterized by an idealistic intent in sensitively moulded stone carvings on humanistic themes, for example Lafayette and Salome, exhibited at the McMillen Galleries, New York, in November 1941...

Article

American, 20th century, female.

Born 1 November 1917, in St Rose (Louisiana).

Sculptor (bronze), engraver, painter, illustrator, watercolourist, writer. Figures, portraits, genre scenes.

Margaret T.G. Burroughs studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and Illinois State University. In 1961, Burroughs and her husband founded the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art at their home in Chicago. The museum remains under Burroughs' directorship, but was later renamed the DuSable Museum of African American History. In ...

Article

American, 20th century, female.

Active in France.

Born 26 June 1939, in Philadelphia.

Sculptor, painter, print artist, illustrator, writer.

Barbara Chase-Riboud received her BFA from Temple University, Philadelphia, and her MFA from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. She also studied in Rome. She has lived and worked in Paris since ...

Article

Clair Joy

[née Chase]

(b Philadelphia, PA, June 26, 1935).

African American sculptor and writer. She was educated at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia, graduating in 1957, and at Yale University, New Haven, CT, where she studied with Josef Albers from 1958 to 1960. After gaining her MFA at Yale in 1960, she lived in Paris with her husband, Marc Riboud (b 1923), a photo-journalist. Their extensive travels in Africa and Asia profoundly influenced Chase-Riboud’s work. Her sculptures, which combine faceted, geometric bronze forms with braided silk and wool fibres, are often seen as an investigation of opposites—hardness and softness, masculinity and femininity—and how these qualities intersect. However, there are also striking connections apparent between her best-known sculptures (those of the 1970s) and African masks and artefacts. Her trait of disguising the plinth of her free-standing sculptures with hanging fibres, as for example in Confessions for Myself (1972; Berkeley, U. CA, A. Mus.), made in black bronze and black wool, gives another dimension to her work: behind the hanging braids and fibrous strands is a sense of something hidden—a supernatural element more obviously associated with the ritual and magic of Africa and of other non-Western cultures. A leading African-American artist, Chase-Riboud also became known as a writer, publishing poetry and a novel....

Article

American, 20th century, male.

Born 13 January 1937, in Sawyerville (Alabama).

Painter, watercolourist, art historian.

Floyd Coleman studied at Alabama State College, Montgomery, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Georgia, Athens, where he received his doctorate in 1975. He has taught at Howard University, Washington, DC. At the beginning of his career, Coleman painted brightly coloured abstracts with thick, lyrical calligraphic drawing. After he visited Africa in ...

Article

American, 20th century, male.

Born 7 June 1931, in Eatonton (Georgia).

Painter, draughtsman (including ink), collage artist, print artist, sculptor, collector, art historian. Religious subjects, figures, portraits, figure compositions, scenes with figures, landscapes. Designs for stained glass.

David C. Driskell earned a BFA at Howard University in ...

Article

Catherine M. Grant and Margaret Rose Vendryes

(b Cleveland, OH, 1959).

American printmaker, film maker, installation and conceptual artist and writer.

Green, of African descent, has worked primarily with film-based media, and has published criticism and designed installations that reveal her commitment to ongoing feminist and black empowerment movements. She earned her BA from Wesleyan University in 1981 and also spent some time at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1980, returning in the late 1980s to study in the Whitney Independent Study Program, graduating in 1990. At the age of 24 she began exhibiting her comparative compositions containing found objects, images, and texts that question recorded history.

Green’s work deals with issues of anthropology and travel. By undertaking projects via the methodology of the 19th-century explorer, she exposed the arbitrary and prejudiced nature of classification, as in Bequest (1991; see 1993 exh. cat.), an installation she made at the invitation of the Worcester Museum of Art to commemorate their 50th anniversary. Using the museum as a ready-made stage set, she installed works of art alongside 19th-century texts explaining stereotypes of whiteness and blackness. Green characteristically intervened in the history of her chosen site to produce a fiction that included her own responses as an African American woman to her findings. In ...

Article

American, 20th – 21st century, male.

Born 1948, in Ohio.

Painter, lithographer, art historian.

AfriCobra Group.

Michael D. Harris studied at Howard University, Washington DC, before earning a PhD from Yale University. He is a member of the group AfriCobra (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), which promotes an art in the service and for the advancement of the Afro-American community. He began teaching at the University of North Carolina in ...

Article

American, 20th century, female.

Born 27 February 1924, in New Orleans.

Painter, draughtswoman, watercolourist, print artist (including linocuts), sculptor, art historian. Figures, portraits, genre scenes, landscapes.

Samella Lewis studied with Elizabeth Catlett at Dillard University, New Orleans, and Hampton Institute, Hampton, Virginia. In 1951 she obtained her doctorate from Ohio State University, Columbus, the first African-American woman to receive her doctorate in art history and fine art. In ...

Article

Reinhold Misselbeck

revised by Kimberly Juanita Brown

(Roger Alexander Buchanan )

(b Fort Scott, KS, Nov 30, 1912; d New York, NY, March 7, 2006).

African American photographer, writer, film maker, and composer. Parks was the youngest of 15 children and, after the early death of his mother, he took on responsibilities for himself and his family as a teenager. Parks worked in a number of professions before becoming a self-taught freelance photographer in 1937. After getting his start in fashion photography, he worked as one of the Farm Security Administration’s photographic team (1942–3) and held a similar post with the Office of War Information (1943–5). During this time he produced now iconic pictures such as American Gothic (1942), which features a black cleaner in front of the American flag staring into the camera with mop and broom upturned, as if in salute. Parks was soon hired as a photographer for Life magazine, where he worked from 1948 to 1961. During this period he famously photographed such political figures as Malcolm X, members of the Black Panther Party (along with Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver), as well as urban strife and poverty in Harlem, NY, and Rio de Janeiro. He took photographs of actors (Marilyn Monroe), sports heroes (Muhammad Ali), and singers (Barbra Streisand) while remaining dedicated to social ...

Article

Jordana Moore Saggese

African American painter, performance artist, mixed-media artist, and writer. Pindell studied painting at Boston University, where she received a BFA in 1965, and also attended Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where she received an MFA in 1967. Throughout her career Pindell worked in and experimented with a variety of media, including painting, photography, text, printmaking, and video....

Article

Nikki A. Greene

(Amos)

(b Baltimore, MD, Dec 22, 1905; d Washington, DC, Feb 28, 1970).

American art historian, critic, educator and painter. Porter greatly influenced African American art and scholarship. He immediately began teaching art at Howard University, Washington, DC, upon graduation in 1926. He later continued his art training in New York, where he worked toward a degree at Teachers College and enrolled at the Art Students League in 1929, studying figure drawing with George Bridgman (1865–1943). He received a Master of Arts degree in Art History from the Fine Arts Graduate Center at New York University in 1937. Porter also received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Carnegie Foundation Institute of International Education scholarship for study in Paris and a Rockefeller Foundation grant for study in Belgium, Holland, Germany and Italy in 1935.

In 1953, Porter became Head of the Department of Art and Director of the Art Gallery at Howard University, the first of its kind established at a black institution. Under his leadership, he organized many important exhibitions, and the gallery expanded its collection of not only African American artists, but also Renaissance paintings and sculpture. His own work included realist oil paintings, pastels, watercolors and prints, with a keen interest in the human figure. Between ...

Article

American, 20th century, male.

Born 22 December 1905, in Baltimore (Maryland); died 28 February 1971, in Washington DC.

Painter, draughtsman, watercolourist, pastellist, illustrator, art historian. Figures, portraits, still-lifes. Murals, cartoons.

James Amos Porter Senior studied at Howard University in Washington DC, at Columbia University Teachers College in New York, and at the Art Students League and New York University in New York. He also studied in Europe. He taught at Howard University and was director of its Art Gallery ...

Article

Stuart Romm

(b Rotherham, England, Mar 27, 1920; d Arlington, VA, Nov 5, 1999).

American architectural historian, theoretician and educator. Born in Yorkshire, Rowe studied at the Liverpool School of Architecture, where he would later return as a tutor (1950–2), influencing several students of future international prominence, such as James Stirling . Between these periods Rowe had served in the British Infantry (1942) and studied at the Warburg Institute in London under Rudolf Wittkower (1945–6). In 1952 Rowe came to the USA, where he briefly taught at Yale University before taking an academic post at the University of Texas in Austin. After a short return to England where he taught at Cambridge, Rowe eventually settled in the United States to become the Andrew Dickson White Professor of Architecture at Cornell University for 28 years. Although Rowe became an American citizen in 1984, he received the Royal Institute of British Architects’ highest honor, the Gold Medal, in 1995. Colin Rowe was renowned as a major intellectual influence in the field of architecture and urbanism during the second half of the 20th century, pioneering a critical reappraisal of the modern movement’s espoused rupture with history. In his famous essay “The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa” (...

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

(Christine Fells)

(b Green Cove Springs, FL, Feb 29, 1892; d New York, March 26, 1962).

African American sculptor, administrator, and writer. She was an internationally renowned artist in the 1920s and 1930s, and one of the key leaders of the New Negro Movement. Savage was the seventh of fourteen children. At 16 she married John T. Moore, who died a few years after the birth of their only child. In the mid-1910s she married James Savage, a carpenter, but they divorced in the early 1920s. Around 1915 Savage moved to West Palm Beach, FL, and from 1919 to 1920 was studying teacher training at the Tallahassee State Normal School. As part of the Great Migration, Savage travelled to New York City from Florida in 1921 by train, arriving with just $4.60. She applied and was accepted to the Pratt Institute and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a tuition-free art school where she completed a four-year course in three years. In ...

Article

Camara Dia Holloway

(b Philadelphia, PA, Feb 5, 1948).

American photographer, curator and scholar. Willis was born in North Philadelphia to a hairdresser mother and a policeman father who was an amateur photographer. Within a familial and communal context, Willis learned that photographs could function as powerful statements of African American identity. These ideas were reinforced by reading her family’s copy of the publication The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955) that featured the photographs of Roy DeCarava, a major African American photographer. She also attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, Harlem on My Mind in 1969. Willis earned a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1975 and an MFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1979. Inspired by the quilting and storytelling traditions in her family, Willis developed a practice that combined her photographs, family photographs and other elements into autobiographical quilts. Her later works focused more on the female body.

From 1980 to 1992...