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Article

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

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  

American, 20th – 21st century, female.

Born 1937, in Atlanta; died 20 May 2020, in Bedford (New Hampshire).

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 1964 to 1982, she worked at Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop in New York. She was the only woman in the Spiral Group from 1963 to 1965. Later, she became involved in the feminist movement, and contributed to publications such as Heresies and M/E/A/N/I/N/G. In 1980, she took up a teaching job at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.

Amos thought that her identity as an African-American artist led her necessarily to create political art to counter racism in the USA. Using various techniques, including photography, she sewed the sections of her pictures to pieces of African fabric. Her works, which do not use a stretcher, recall Faith Ringgold’s painted story quilts. Sometimes they are out-and-out political statements, such as ...

Article

Amos, Emma  

Joan Marter

revised by Gabriella Shypula

(b Atlanta, GA, Mar 16, 1937; d Bedford, NH, May 20, 2020).

American painter, printmaker, and weaver. Born in segregated Atlanta, GA, Emma Amos grew up in an upper-middle-class family with connections to influential Black figures including W. E. B. Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston. At age sixteen, she had exhibited her work at Atlanta University and enrolled in a five-year BFA program at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH (1953–1958). She went on to study etching, painting, and weaving at the Central School of Art, London (1958–1959) where she began creating gestural abstractions, experimenting with color, brushwork, and space to evoke specific places (e.g., Shepherd’s Path, 1958). In 1960 Amos moved to New York, where she worked as a rug designer for Dorothy Liebes, an art instructor. Simultaneously, she advanced her printmaking at two printmaking workshops: Robert Blackburn’s and Letterio Calapai’s (an outpost of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17). Amos completed her MA at New York University (NYU) in ...

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 ...

Article

Bannister, Edward Mitchell  

Canadian, 19th century, male.

Born 2 November 1828, in St Andrews (New Brunswick); died 9 January 1901, in Providence (Rhode Island).

Painter, draughtsman, watercolourist, engraver, photographer. Portraits, religious subjects, genre scenes, landscapes, seascapes, still-lifes.

Bannister's father was form Barbados and his mother was Scottish. He was born in Canada right after slavery was abolished. He went to live in New York were he was a sailor and settled in Boston in ...

Article

Barthé, James Richmond  

Margaret Rose Vendryes

(b Bay St Louis, MS, Jan 28, 1909; d Pasadena, CA, March 6, 1989).

African American sculptor and painter. Barthé was raised a devout Roman Catholic Creole. He was also the only African American artist of his generation to consistently portray the black male nude. Although closeted throughout his life, sensual figures such as Stevedore (1937; Hampton, VA, U. Mus.) expose his homosexuality. Barthé’s elementary education ended in 1914. As an adolescent, he skillfully copied magazine illustrations, especially figures. Barthé worked for the wealthy New Orleans Pond family, who summered on the Bay, and in 1917, he moved to New Orleans to become their live-in servant. Barthé had access to the Pond library and art collection, and while in their employment, he began to paint in oil. In 1924, his head of Jesus prompted the Rev. Harry F. Kane to fund the first of four years at the Art Institute of Chicago School, where Barthé studied painting with Charles Schroeder and sculpture with Albin Polasek (...

Article

Bearden, Romare  

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

Bearden, Romare Howard  

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

Bey, Dawoud  

Camara Dia Holloway

[Smikle, David Edward]

(b Queens, NY, Nov 25, 1953).

African American photographer. Bey was born and raised in the neighborhood of Jamaica, in Queens, New York City. His interest in photography was cemented by viewing the now infamous exhibition, Harlem on My Mind, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969. He studied at the School of Visual Arts during 1976–1978, later earning his BFA from Empire State College, State University of New York in 1990, followed by his MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1993.

Bey launched his career in 1975 with the Harlem, USA series, following in the footsteps of street photographers who found the predominantly African American community a compelling subject. This series of black-and-white portraits became the subject of Bey’s first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

During the 1980s, Bey continued making portraits expanding his terrain beyond Harlem. Sensitive to the politics of representing African Americans, he developed strategies to equalize the photographic encounter. Bey began using a large-format view camera on a tripod that he set up in the street. He established a dialog with his sitters and gifted them with a print of their portrait. This was facilitated by his discovery of 4 × 5 Polaroid positive/negative Type 55 film that yielded virtually instant prints....

Article

Biggers, John  

James Smalls

(b Gastonia, NC, April 13, 1924; d Houston, TX, Jan 25, 2001).

American painter, draftsman, printmaker and sculptor. John (Thomas) Biggers, the youngest of seven children, grew up in segregated Gastonia, NC. Upon the death of his father in 1937, his mother sent him away to Lincoln Academy to receive a high quality education. While there, he learned a great deal about African art and the value of African culture; these were lessons he would carry with him throughout his career. Although African influences were most noteworthy in his works, he also managed to synthesize elements from American Regionalism, the African American figurative tradition and Native American sources. In 1941, Biggers entered the Hampton Institute (later renamed Hampton University) in Virginia, where he studied art. In 1943, his mural Dying Soldier was featured in the landmark exhibition Young Negro Art, organized for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In that same year, he was drafted into the United States Navy. After receiving an honorable discharge three years later, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania State University. He received his BA and MA degrees in ...