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Abele, Julian  

Sandra L. Tatman

(Francis)

(b Philadelphia, PA, April 29, 1881; d Philadelphia, PA, April 23, 1950).

African American architect. Born and educated in Philadelphia, Abele was the chief designer in the firm of Horace Trumbauer. Unknown for most of his life, Julian Abele has become renowned as a pioneer African American architect.

Abele attended the Institute for Colored Youth and Brown Preparatory School before enrolling at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, where in 1898 he earned his Certificate in Architectural Drawing and the Frederick Graff Prize for work in Architectural Design, Evening Class Students. Abele then enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. Again he distinguished himself in the architectural program, and at his 1902 graduation he was awarded the prestigious Arthur Spayd Brooke Memorial Prize. Abele’s work was also exhibited in the Toronto Architectural Club (1901), the T-Square Club Annual Exhibition (1901–2), and the Pittsburgh Architectural Club annual exhibition of 1903.

As an undergraduate Abele worked for Louis C. Hickman (...

Article

African American architecture  

Amber N. Wiley

[Afro-American architectureBlack architecture]

Term used to describe the built environment as shaped by members of the African diaspora in the United States. This includes enslaved and free people, from the first European colonial settlements to the present day. This entry is geographically specific to the margins of the USA, with attention paid to the connections between West and Central Africa, the Americas, and Europe due to the transatlantic slave trade.

Enslaved Africans carried their building knowledge with them to lands colonized by Europeans. Given the tropical nature of the Caribbean and American South, enslaved peoples used their localized material knowledge—incorporating tabby, palmetto leaves, wattle and daub, and rammed earth (pisé)—to create shelter suited for the climate and environment. Both colonizers and enslaved peoples adapted these building traditions to their new homes.

Highly skilled artisans and craftsmen, both free and enslaved, worked on buildings of all kinds in the antebellum period. In his 1912...

Article

African American art  

Regenia Perry, Christina Knight, Ellen Tani, dele Jegede, Kelvin L. Parnell Jr., Bridget R. Cooks, Jessica M. Ditillio, Camara Dia Holloway, Meaghan Walsh, and Jenifer P. Borum

[Afro-American artBlack American art]

Term used to describe art made by Americans of African descent from the 17th century through the present. While the crafts of African Americans before the end of the 19th century continued largely to reflect African artistic traditions (see Africa: Art of the African diaspora), the earliest fine art made by professional African American artists was in an academic Western style (see fig.). Since at least the early 20th century, African American artists have worked in myriad contexts, many of which blur the boundaries between fine and vernacular art.

Regenia Perry, revised by Christina Knight and Ellen Tani

The first African artists in North America arrived in the 16th century as the result of the transatlantic slave trade, through which millions of Africans were forcibly displaced to the Americas under inhuman conditions. Before 1776 the work of enslaved African artists consisted largely of metalwork, ceramics, weaving, and making musical instruments, furniture, and clothing. Enslaved artists and artisans made significant contributions to colonial economies through their craftsmanship. In the Carolinas, they created a type of earthenware called colonoware (1500–1860s), possibly descended from West/Central African pottery. They also made undecorated earthenware pottery produced for domestic use and for trade....

Article

African American Expatriate Artists  

Theresa Leininger-Miller

[Negro Colony]

Group of African American artists active in France in the 1920s and 1930s. Between the world wars Paris became a Mecca for a “lost generation” of Americans. Hundreds of artists, musicians, and writers from all over the world flocked to the French capital in search of a sense of community and freedom to be creative. For African Americans, the lure of Paris was enhanced by fear of and disgust with widespread racial discrimination experienced in the United States. They sought a more nurturing environment where their work would receive serious attention, as well as the chance to study many of the world’s greatest cultural achievements. France offered this along with an active black diasporal community with a growing sense of Pan-Africanism. Painters, sculptors, and printmakers thrived there, studying at the finest art academies, exhibiting at respected salons, winning awards, seeing choice art collections, mingling with people of diverse ethnic origins, dancing to jazz, and fervently discussing art, race, literature, philosophy, and politics. Although their individual experiences differed widely, they had much in common, including exposure to traditional European art, African art, modern art, and proto-Negritude ideas. As a result of their stay in Paris, all were affected artistically, socially, and politically in positive ways and most went on to have distinguished careers....

Article

AFRICOBRA  

James Smalls

revised by Phoebe Wolfskill

[African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists]

African American group of artists. AFRICOBRA was an art movement formed in Chicago in 1968 by a coalition of eight African American artists devoted to celebrating and affirming the legitimacy of Black artistic expression. The movement paralleled the Black cultural revolution of the 1960s and incorporated elements of free jazz, vibrant color, the spiritual or transcendental, and “TransAfricanism.” The term TransAfricanism was invented and defined by Jeff Donaldson (1932–2004), one of AFRICOBRA’s principal founders, as a transcendent African-based aesthetic that simultaneously defines, directs, and fashions historical evolution. AFRICOBRA sought to develop a new and revolutionary Black aesthetic based on African and African American approaches to art, taste, and beauty. These aspirations were combined with principles of social responsibility and involvement of artists in their local communities. The goal was to promote and instill pride in Black self-identity through a self-defined Black visual aesthetic.

Unlike most prior movements within African American art, AFRICOBRA’s work was not individualistic, but rather focused on collectivity and collaboration. AFRICOBRA grew out of the Chicago-based artists’ workshop OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture), whose founders included Donaldson, Wadsworth Jarrell (...

Article

Ali, Laylah  

Nizan Shaked

(b Buffalo, NY, May 9, 1968).

American painter and draftsman. She studied English and Studio Art at Williams College, Williamstown, MA, graduating with a BA in 1991. Shortly thereafter, she attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York, and completed her MFA in 1994 at Washington University, St Louis. Ali became known for her painting series Greenheads, in which round-headed characters perform choreographed activities against flat, light-blue backgrounds. These cartoon-styled allegories of American history and culture examine the sublimated or overt aggression inherent in activities such as team sports, ceremonies, military training, court marshaling and lynching. Referencing folk art or hieroglyphs, Untitled (Greenheads) (gouache on paper, 1998) depicts a sequence of disputes between uniformed characters and injured figures in athletic apparel. As with most of Ali’s oeuvre, the gestures and expressions of the figures communicate a sense of violent intensity, while the exact nature of the interaction remains enigmatic. Addressing the power dynamics of race, religion and gender, her scenarios respond to personal experience as well as local or world events, yet do not serve to represent them directly. Correspondingly, the single figures that appear in her later drawings and paintings display what initially seem to be specific ethnic tributes or dress codes, subsequently revealed to be invented and constructed by Ali. As it remains up to the viewer to interpret who these characters are or what may distinguish them as individuals, the perspective and biases of the viewer become part of the artwork’s meaning. The young, green-faced character in ...

Article

Jordana Moore Saggese

In 

Article

Alston, Charles  

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

Alston, Charles  

American, 20th century, male.

Born 28 November 1907, in Charlotte (North Carolina); died 27 April 1977, in New York.

Painter, sculptor, illustrator, lithographer. Murals.

Groups: Spiral, 306.

Charles Alston moved to New York with his mother in 1914, after his father died. Alston received his BA and MA (...

Article

Amos, Emma  

Joan Marter

(b Atlanta, GA, March 16, 1938).

African American painter, printmaker, and weaver. Amos studied fine arts and textile weaving at Antioch College at Yellow Springs, OH, where she received her BFA in 1958. She went on to study etching and painting at the Central School of Art, London (1958–9), and the following year she moved to New York, where she began working at two printmaking studios: Robert Blackburn’s workshop and that of Letterio Calapai (an outpost of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17). She completed her MA at New York University (NYU) in 1966. Through Hale Woodruff, an art professor at NYU and family friend, she was invited to exhibit with Spiral, an all-male art group founded by Woodruff and Romare Bearden and featuring recognized African American artists. Spiral, closely allied with the Civil Rights movement, dissolved in 1967 and subsequently Amos had trouble exhibiting her work. In 1974, after the birth of her two children, Amos found a position as an instructor in textile design at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. She continued her own weaving in New York and benefited from the revival of interest in women’s traditional art forms in the early years of the feminist art movement....

Article

Amos, Emma  

American, 20th century, female.

Born 1938, in Atlanta.

Painter, draughtswoman, print artist, photographer. Mosaics, posters.

Spiral Group.

Emma Amos studied at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, the Central School of Art, London, and New York University. She started her career as a fabric designer. From ...

Article

Anderson, Akili Ron  

American, 20th – 21st century, male.

Born 19 February 1946, in Washington DC.

Painter, sculptor, draughtsman, engraver, photographer, video artist, glassmaker, decorative designer. Theatre design.

AfriCobra Group.

Akili Ron Anderson attended the Corcoran School of Art and Howard University in Washington DC where he lives and works. He is a member of AfriCobra (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) founded in ...

Article

Andrews, Benny  

Deborah Cullen

(b Plainview, GA, Nov 13, 1930; d Brooklyn, New York, Nov 10, 2006).

African American painter, collagist, printmaker, and art advocate. Benny Andrews grew up under segregation in the rural South, one of 10 children in a sharecropper’s family. After graduating from high school, he served in the US Air Force. Afterwards, through the GI Bill of Rights, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received his BFA. In 1958, he moved to New York. Andrews received a John Hay Whitney Fellowship (1965–6) as well as a CAPS award from the New York State Council on the Arts (1971). From 1968 to 1997, he taught at Queens College, City University of New York and created a prison arts program that became a national model. In 1969, Andrews co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), an organization that protested against the Harlem on my Mind exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Between ...

Article

Andrews, Benny  

American, 20th century, male.

Born 13 November 1930, in Plainview (Georgia); died 10 November 2006, in New York (New York).

Painter, collage artist, installation artist, sculptor, photographer, illustrator, draughtsman, watercolourist, print artist. Figures, portraits, interiors with figures, landscapes, animals.

Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, Rhino Horn Group

African-American artist Benny Andrews was the second of ten children born to George and Viola Andrews in the small rural farming town of Plainview, Georgia. He served in the US Air Force during the Korean War. Upon his honorable discharge, Andrews moved to Chicago and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating with a BFA in 1958. He then moved to New York, where, in 1969, with Cliff Joseph and Valerie Maynard, he founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), the aim of which was to force the major museums to include work by African-American artists in their shows. Andrews helped organize protests of several major museum shows including the Whitney Museum of American Art’s ...

Article

Artis, William Ellisworth  

American, 20th century, male.

Born 2 February 1914, in Washington (North Carolina), 1919, according to some sources; died 1977.

Sculptor, print artist, ceramicist, illustrator.

William E. Artis studied at the University of Syracuse, New York, New York State University and the Art Students League, New York. He was also a student of Augusta Savage at the Harlem Community Art Center, New York. Artis expressed his humanist ideals by depicting impassive faces in a purified style, combining African and classical sculpture....

Article

Avedon, Richard  

American, 20th century, male.

Born 15 May 1923, in New York City; died 1 October 2004, in San Antonio, Texas.

Photographer, photojournalist. Portraits, fashion, news.

Born to a merchant of women’s clothing, Avedon was exposed to fashion and its consumers from an early age. He greatly admired the work of Hungarian fashion photographer Martin Munkasci, who exploited photography’s new ability to capture the immediacy of motion. After serving in the US Merchant Marines ...

Article

Bailey, Radcliffe  

American, 20th – 21st century, male.

Born 1968, in Bridgeton (New Jersey).

Painter, sculptor, mixed media artist.

Contemporary art.

Bailey was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where he continues to live and work. Since receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Atlanta College of Art in 1991, where he concentrated primarily on sculpture, Radcliffe Bailey’s work has taken on many different forms and utilised a wide array of media. Bailey’s conceptual exploration of history and memory as filtered through his complex relationship to America and Africa has led the artist’s work to evolve into installation, mixed-media, drawing, painting, and assemblage. His work is made up of two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms of various scale, ranging from smaller curio cabinet-like objects to monumental installations.

Bailey incorporates painting, photography, and found objects to create engaging works that evoke the past, the present, and the magical unknown. Through his signature use of layering imagery, text, marking, and found objects, Bailey unveils important themes within his work. Often incorporating culturally evocative elements, such as bits of wood or textile, each element is pieced together to create an inquiry into Bailey’s own experience of history through the lens of his racial and global perspective....

Article

Ball, J(ames) P(resley)  

Camara Dia Holloway

(b Virginia, 1825; d Honolulu, HI, May 3, 1904).

African American photographer. Ball’s parents, William and Susan Ball, were freeborn Americans of African descent. J. P. Ball learned how to make daguerreotypes from a black Bostonian, John P. Bailey. He opened his first photographic enterprise in Cincinnati, OH, in 1845. Black-owned businesses seemed viable in this abolitionist stronghold and key conduit to the West. After a failed first venture and time as an itinerant photographer, he returned and opened Ball’s Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West in 1849, which became one of the largest and most successful photographic studios in the region with an enthusiastic multi-racial clientele. Ball hired other African Americans as operators, including his brother, Thomas Ball, his brother-in-law, Alexander Thomas, and the African American landscape painter, Robert S. Duncanson.

An activist for abolition, Ball produced a painted panorama that illustrated the history of African enslavement in 1855 and authored the accompanying pamphlet to great acclaim. With a national reputation and important portrait commissions from such cultural icons as Frederick Douglass and Jenny Lind, Ball expanded with a second studio operated by his brother-in-law who had become a favorite with clients. Together they started an additional studio, the Ball & Thomas Photographic Art Gallery. Ball’s Cincinnati enterprises survived well into the 1880s in the hands of Thomas and other Ball relatives since they remained current with photographic technologies....

Article

Ball, James Presley  

American, 19th century, male.

Born in 1825, in Virginia; died in 1905, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Photographer (daguerreotypes). Portraits, genre subjects, architectural subjects.

Born a free man in Virginia, James Presley Ball became one of the first African American photographers after learning the daguerreotype process from the Bostonian John B. Bailey, also an African American, in ...

Article

Bannister, Edward Mitchell  

Meaghan M. Walsh

(b St. Andrews, NB, Nov 2, 1828; d Providence, RI, Jan 9, 1901).

American painter of Canadian birth. Bannister grew up in St. Andrews, a seaport in New Brunswick, but lived the majority of his life in New England. While primarily known for his landscapes, Bannister also painted seascapes, genre scenes, and figure studies. In addition to his award-winning artistic output, he was an art critic, prominent figure in New England African American cultural and political circles, a founding member of the Providence Art Club, and a board member at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Now regarded as one of the most important African American painters of the 19th century, Bannister’s path to becoming a successful artist was difficult. Encouraged by his mother, he made his earliest drawings at the age of ten. After his mother died in 1844, Bannister lived with a wealthy white family in St. Andrews before embarking on a seafaring life, as was the custom for young men in coastal towns. During his four years at sea, Bannister worked as a cook on fishing and sailing vessels. His maritime voyages took him to Boston and New York, where he enriched his knowledge of art through the city’s libraries, museums, and art galleries. In ...