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Veronica Roberts

(b West Chester, PA, Feb 22, 1888; d West Chester, PA, July 5, 1946).

African American painter. Pippin was a self-taught artist who began making art in the 1920s, producing modestly sized paintings on canvas and burnt-wood panels. In the 1930s—a time when the art world became captivated by folk art and indigenous traditions—Pippin achieved nationwide recognition and was hailed as a distinctly American talent. Although his artistic career spanned only approximately two decades, he brought dignity to a wide range of subjects, including humble domestic interiors, portraits and scenes inspired by wartime memories and experiences.

Born in West Chester, PA, Pippin was raised in Goshen, NY, where his mother worked as a domestic servant. At the age of 14, he dropped out of school to help support his family. In 1917, when he was 29, he enlisted in the army, serving in one of the rare all-black units allowed to participate in combat. He was honorably discharged in 1919, after sustaining a bullet in his right shoulder. In ...

Article

Camara Dia Holloway

(b Bessemer, AL, Nov 25, 1898; d Tuskegee, AL, Dec 29, 1984).

African American photographer. Born Herman Polk to Jacob Prentice Polk and Christine Romelia Ward, he attended Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later University) in Alabama from 1916 to 1920, where he became known as “P. H.” having adopted his deceased father’s name. At Tuskegee, he was the first student of the African American photographer C. M. Battey (1873–1927) who founded the school’s Photographic Division in 1916. Polk moved to Chicago in 1922 where his family had relocated. He continued learning photography via a correspondence course followed by an internship with Fred A. Jensen, a prominent local white photographer, while working as a painter for the Pullman Company.

In Chicago, Polk met and married Margaret Blanche Thompson on 12 January 1926. Over a year and a half later, he moved back to Tuskegee with his wife and son and established his own studio. During this period, African American practitioners around the country were able to establish successful photography studios that catered to a predominantly African American clientele. It was around this time as well that Polk began his “Old Characters” series of uncommissioned portraits of formerly enslaved Africans from the surrounding Macon County. A popular and critically acclaimed image of an older woman from the series titled ...

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

Margaret Moore Booker

(b nr Athens, GA, Oct 29, 1837; d Athens, GA, Jan 1, 1910).

African American quiltmaker. Born into slavery on a plantation near Athens, GA, Powers is known today as the finest African American quiltmaker of the late 19th–early 20th century. Drawing upon narrative folk tradition, Powers recorded in fabric the sermons and stories she had heard living in the South. Following her emancipation, Powers lived with her husband, Armstead Powers, and their children on a farm in the Sandy Creek region of Clarke County, GA. In 1895, at the age of 58, she became the head of her household and supported her family by working as a seamstress. She could neither read nor write, and likely learned to sew from her plantation mistress.

Powers created her quilts by cutting simple shapes (figures, animals, stars and other forms) from printed fabric and sewing them onto squares of plain cloth. She arranged the squares in rows on a large rectangular cloth and embroidered the details by hand and by machine with plain and metallic yarns. Textile scholars note that her quilting method is closely related to the appliqué technique of the Fon people of Abomey, the capital of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) in West Africa....

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

(b Warwick, RI, March 19, 1890; d Providence, RI, Dec 1960).

African American sculptor and teacher, active also in France. Prophet studied drawing and painting at the Rhode Island College School of Design, Providence, where she graduated in 1918. She went on to make portraits in Providence and then moved to Paris in 1922 looking for more opportunities and to escape a difficult marriage. There she studied with Victor Segoffin at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, completing at least two busts in 1923, one of which was included in the Salon d’Automne the following year. In 1924 Prophet made and sold batik, and sculpted her first lifesize statue, Volonté, which she subsequently smashed because she found it mediocre.

Lonely, frustrated, and nearly penniless, Prophet moved to a tiny atelier in Montparnasse in June 1926, where she lived for the next seven years. Her first work there was Poverty (or Prayer, 1926), a life-size plaster female nude in a contrapposto pose, with a snake curling about her ankles. Her other untitled androgynous figures and busts from the same time are reminiscent of the work of Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, a student of Auguste Rodin. They feature close-cropped hair, heavy-lidded eyes, enigmatic smiles, and small breasts and hips; usually ethnically ambiguous, Prophet’s works may reflect her ambivalence about her mixed African American and Naragansett–Pequot heritage....

Article

(Willie)

(b New York, Oct 8, 1930).

African American painter and sculptor. Born in Harlem, Jones studied art at the City College of New York beginning in 1950. By 1955 she had completed her degree in Fine Arts and Education, and had two daughters, Michele Faith Wallace and Barbara Faith Wallace. From 1955 to1973 Ringgold taught in the New York City public schools. She spent many summers in Provincetown, MA, painting landscapes. In 1959 she completed a Masters degree in fine arts at City College of New York. Two years later Ringgold made her first trip to Europe, where she visited museums in Paris, Florence, and Rome. In 1962 she married Burdette Ringgold and began using his name professionally. Her first political paintings, including The American People series (1963–7), were inspired by the writings of James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka (then Leroi Jones) and included the powerful imagery of The Flag Is Bleeding. In 1966...

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

Jordana Moore Saggese

(b Baltimore, MD, Nov 15, 1948).

African American sculptor, jeweller, printmaker, installation artist, performance artist, and poet . Daughter of the renowned quiltmaker Elizabeth Talford Scott (b 1914), she received a BFA in art education from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, in 1970 and her MFA from Institute Allende in Mexico in 1971. She also studied at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, ME. As a visual and performance artist, Scott is most noted for works that engage with both politics and popular culture. The signature of Scott’s visual work is the application of beads, which she frequently used in her sculptures, installations, and jewellery. Her predilection for a material typically associated with craft, rather than fine arts, was inspired in part by the handicraft traditions of African and African American cultures. Such traditions were very familiar to Scott as her maternal grandfather was a basket-maker and a blacksmith and her paternal grandfather was a woodworker; her mother and grandmother both made quilts as well. The use of beads also connects Scott to a broader history of art. For example, one can see the influence of Yoruba beadwork in her creation of objects that are both beautiful and functional. The work also extends beyond Africa to include many other cultures and communities—Native American, Czech, Mexican, and Russian—which all have beading traditions. Scott’s manipulation of so-called women’s arts (i.e. quilting, sewing, and beadwork) connects her to a longer tradition of black feminist artists including Betye Saar and Howardena Pindell. Even with these connections to personal, cultural, and artistic histories, however, Scott’s materials are unique in that the sparkling and seductive surfaces they create are integral to the artist’s desire to shock and to surprise her viewers....

Article

Annie Dell’Aria

(b New York, April 14, 1964).

African American sculptor and installation artist. Raised in New York City and upstate New York, Simmons earned his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1988 and his MFA from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 1990. Studying at CalArts at the height of identity politics, Simmons became interested in cultural assumptions of his own African American identity. Following his graduate work, Simmons returned to New York and took up his practice in a studio space in a former school building. Simmons was primarily a sculptor when he first returned to New York, creating works such as Eraser Chair (1989; col. Blake Byrne, Los Angeles) and Six-X (1989; priv. col.), both of which address racial difference through the lens of childhood using schoolroom furniture. In his studio, Simmons became fascinated with the large rolling chalkboards around him, which led to the formal and aesthetic breakthrough that would inform much of his work for the next two decades....

Article

Anne K. Swartz

(b Brooklyn, NY, Aug 13, 1960).

African American photographer and multimedia artist. Simpson attended the High School of Art and Design then received her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York City in 1982 and her MFA in Visual Arts from University of California, San Diego in 1985. She focused on photography for both degrees. While still in graduate school she started complicating the presumed transparency of photography, experimenting with the clarity of the narrative, the deconstruction of narrative as associated with photography and an investigation of the transparency of photography. She would incorporate images of a figure turned away from the viewer alongside text that commented on the experience of women of colour in the patriarchy, as evidenced in The Waterbearer (1996; New York, Sean and Mary Kelly col.). A lone female figure pours water from two containers and the text at the bottom proclaims, ‘She Saw Him Disappear By The River, They Asked Her To Tell What Happened, Only To Discount Her Memory’, as an indication of the way the woman’s voice and experience is disregarded....

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

(b New York, Sept 17, 1896; d Haute-Savoie, April 3, 1940).

African American painter, printmaker and jazz musician. Smith was an internationally renowned artist in the 1920s and 1930s. He was an only child to chauffeur Alfred Renforth Smith and Elizabeth Smith, immigrants from Bermuda. Smith studied piano and guitar while attending the Ethical Culture Art School on scholarship and DeWitt Clinton High School in New York. Later, he studied under William Auberbach-Levy (1889–1964), Charles Curran (1861–1942) and Kenyon Cox at the National Academy of Design (1915–18), where he won several prizes, and the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Liège, Belgium. (Smith had first been abroad with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.) Once he settled in Paris in 1920, he exhibited his etchings, lithographs, paintings and drawings of scenes in France, Italy and Spain. Among other places, Smith also exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1921 as well as in Cannes, Brussels, New York and Boston. His frequent illustrations in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and National Urban League magazines, ...

Article

Spiral  

Sandra Sider

Group of 13 African American artists founded in New York City in 1963 by Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff . Spiral was an informal group of African American artists who assembled to discuss the art market and Civil Rights issues, among other topics; “Spiral” symbolized outward and upward movement. All three founders were well known among African American artists in New York; Woodruff was already famous in the 1940s, being one of the first professors of studio art in Georgia. He taught at Atlanta University, where he was instrumental in building their collection of African American art, and at Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA. Woodruff came to New York to teach in the Department of Art Education at New York University. The other members were Charles (“Spinky”) Alston (Bearden’s cousin by marriage), Emma Amos (the only woman), Calvin Douglass (b 1931), Perry Ferguson, Reginald Gammon (1921–2005), Alvin (“A. C.”) Hollingsworth (...

Article

Ilene Susan Fort

(b Pittsburgh, June 21, 1859; d Paris, May 25, 1937).

American painter. He was one of the foremost African American artists, achieving an international reputation in the early years of the 20th century for his religious paintings. The son of an African Methodist Episcopal bishop, he studied art with Thomas Eakins from 1880 to 1882 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He then worked in Philadelphia and Atlanta, GA, where he ran a photography studio and taught at Clark College. He also exhibited in New York and Philadelphia and attracted several patrons who sponsored him to study abroad.

In 1891 Tanner travelled to Paris, enrolling at the Académie Julian where he received instruction from Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. He first exhibited his figure paintings at the Paris Salon of 1894 and by 1897 received a medal for the Raising of Lazarus (1897; Mus. Orsay, Paris), which was bought by the French government. With Daniel in the Lions’ Den...

Article

Deborah F. Pokinski

(b Columbus, GA, Sept 22, 1891; d Washington, DC, Feb 24, 1978).

African American painter and art educator. Thomas was the first graduate of the fine arts program at Howard University in Washington, DC. After retiring from teaching art in Washington public schools at age of 69, she set up a studio in her kitchen, devoted herself full-time to painting and became a prominent color field abstractionist. In 1972, she was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at a major American museum (the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York).

During the years she taught, Thomas kept up with the latest developments in art by attending classes, visiting exhibitions in New York, and being actively involved in the Washington arts community. In 1943, she helped found the Barnett-Aden Gallery, the first modern art gallery in Washington and the first to break the color line. Between 1950 and 1960, Thomas studied at American University where her work began to move toward abstraction....

Article

Marisa J. Pascucci

( Robert Louis )

(b Louisville, KY, June 26, 1937; d Rome, May 30, 1966).

African American painter. Thompson spent much of his short-lived professional career in Europe, where he discovered in churches and museums the classical, religious and mythological themes that informed his embrace of figure painting and Western mythology. He studied at the University of Louisville’s Hite Art Institute (1956–8) where he began his figurative abstractions. He spent the summer of 1958 in Provincetown, MA working under the influence of Jan Müller (1922–58) and with Red Grooms in his performance art and Happenings. In the fall of 1959 he moved to New York City. He married Carol Plenda, a clothing designer, in 1960 and left New York for a two and half-year sojourn in Europe funded by a Walter Gutman Foundation Grant and a John Hay Whitney Fellowship. They settled first in Paris, then Ibiza. Thompson studied the Western painters of the classical tradition such as Goya, Titian, Piero della Francesca and Poussin. The couple returned to New York in ...

Article

Jacqueline Francis

(b Griffin, GA, 22 March ?1893; d Philadelphia, PA, April 19, 1965).

American printmaker. Best known for his development of the carborundum print, Thrash produced moody genre portraits of African Americans and landscapes in this medium. Thrash was born in a small town just south of Atlanta. He dropped out of school in 1903 and left home in 1908. Thrash continued his education by taking art correspondence courses while living an itinerant life. In 1914 he started night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and reported studying with the painter William Edouard Scott (1884–1964), but the circumstances of their association remain unclear. In 1917 Thrash joined the US Army and suffered injuries fighting in France. In 1919 he returned to the US and resumed his training at the Art Institute, studying composition, lettering and poster and mural design for the next four years.

In 1925 Thrash permanently relocated to Philadelphia. He worked blue-collar jobs, did commercial art on the side and found his métier in printmaking, which he began studying with Earl Horter (...

Article

James Smalls

(b Benton, AL, 1854; d Montgomery, AL, 1949).

African American draftsman. Traylor was a self-taught artist born into slavery on a plantation in Benton, AL. He was one of 20 to 30 slaves, including members of his own family, who lived and worked on the plantation after the Civil War. When he was 82, Traylor finally left the place of his birth and moved to Montgomery, AL, where he took a job in a shoe factory. He was forced to quit, however, due to rheumatism. He received government assistance checks and slept in the back room of the Ross-Clayton Funeral Home on Monroe Street. In 1939, and for unexplained reasons, Traylor began to draw obsessively on discarded scraps of paper, cardboard or on whatever support he could find. From that year until his death, he produced over 1800 drawings. His works were executed in pencil, crayon and tempera and are characterized by geometric silhouettes of human and animal figures. He used a short stick as a ruler. His intuitive use of pattern, space and flat color, coupled with his background and biographical circumstance, has garnered interest in him from those in the mainstream modern art world. For many, Traylor, who was underprivileged, unschooled, poor, old and infirm, seemed to effortlessly tap into an intuitive, honest and whimsical freedom of expression that many schooled modern artists sought and envied....

Article

Erika Billeter

(b Lenox, MA, June 29, 1886; d Washington, DC, May 15, 1983).

American photographer. America’s first eminent black photographer, he lived in Harlem, New York, and there in 1916 opened his own photographic studio, Guarantee Photos (later called GGG Photo Studio), which he ran until 1968. He worked on commission as a photo-reporter and as a portrait and society photographer. In his work he sought to uncover glamour in Harlem, the cultural capital of black America, picturing it not as a ghetto but as a characterful part of the city. He succeeded in producing a cumulative view of the social structure of Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s; however romanticized, his photographs form an important historical archive, which is now kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Van Der Zee, James The World of James Van Der Zee: A Visual Record of Black Americans (New York, 1969) The Legacy of James Van Der Zee: A Portrait of Black Americans...

Article

Jacqueline S. Taylor

(b Hartford, CT, May 16, 1887; d Feb 3, 1948).

African American painter. Waring studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Thomas Anshutz and William Merritt Chase . After graduating in 1914, she received a scholarship to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, a popular atelier in Paris where she spent many years studying and perfecting her art. On returning to the United States, Waring founded the Department of Art and Music at the Cheney State Normal School, an African American teachers college (now Cheney University) in Pennsylvania.

Waring was best known for her portraiture, much of which epitomized the ideals of the Harlem Renaissance , countering class and racial stereotypes by portraying urban, educated blacks and ordinary working class citizens with a perceptive dignity and grace. Waring’s style blended aspects of realism with romanticism. Her portraits exhibited sensitive modeling and fine, energetic brushwork with a strong palette. Color in her landscapes and still lifes became lyrical with soft gradations and tonal hues. Waring’s work was exhibited at prestigious institutions including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Galerie du Luxembourg in Paris....