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Article

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

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

(b St Andrews, NB, 1833; d Providence, RI, Jan 9, 1901).

American painter . Bannister grew up in St Andrews, a small seaport in New Brunswick, Canada. His interest in art was encouraged by his mother, and he made his earliest studies, in drawing and watercolour, at the age of ten. After working as a cook on vessels on the Eastern seaboard, he moved in 1848 with his brother to Boston, where he set up as a barber serving the black community. During the 1850s and 1860s he learned the technique of solar photography, a process of enlarging photographic images that were developed outdoors in daylight, which he continued to practise while working in Boston and New York. Documented paintings from this time include religious scenes, seascapes and genre subjects, for example the noted Newspaper Boy (1869; Washington, DC, N. Mus. Amer. A.), a rare study of urban black experience.

In 1870 Bannister and his wife moved to Providence, RI, where his work flourished and his paintings were collected by such patrons as ...

Article

Gina M. D’Angelo

(b Harrisburg, PA, Feb 22, 1841; d St Paul, MN, March 2, 1918).

African American painter and lithographer. Brown was the first African American artist to portray California and the Pacific Northwest. One of many artists who migrated West in the years after the gold rush, Brown began his career in San Francisco in the 1860s as a commercial lithographer, and made his mark in the 1880s as a landscape painter of the Pacific Northwest.

The son of freed slaves, Brown probably began his career working at the lithographic firm of P. S. Duval in Philadelphia, and in the late 1850s followed C. C. Kuchel, a Duval lithographer and his soon-to-be employer, to San Francisco. From 1861 to 1867 he worked as a draftsman and lithographer at the Kuchel & Dressel firm in San Francisco, and in 1867 established his own firm, G. T. Brown & Co. His most celebrated project, The Illustrated History of San Mateo County (1878), featured 72 city views whose sensitive topographical style would influence his paintings. Brown sold his firm in ...

Article

Joseph D. Ketner II

revised by Wendy Jean Katz

(b Fayette, Seneca County, NY, ?1821; d Detroit, MI, Dec 21, 1872).

African American painter. A self-taught artist and landscape painter of the Hudson River school tradition, Duncanson was the first African American artist to receive international recognition (see fig.). Born into a family of painters and handymen, Duncanson first worked as a house-painter and glazier in Monroe, MI. By 1841 he was in Cincinnati, OH, where he learnt to paint by executing portraits and copying prints. Throughout the 1840s he travelled as an itinerant artist between Cincinnati, Monroe, and Detroit. His early work included portraits, including those of local abolitionists and educators, as well as a few genre subjects and ‘chemical’ paintings for paying exhibition.

Around 1850 Duncanson was awarded his largest commission, the murals for the Cincinnati estate Belmont, formerly the Martin Baum House (now Cincinnati, OH, Taft Mus.), then owned by prominent art patron Nicholas Longworth (1869–1931). These consist of eight landscape panels (2.77×2.21 m each) in ...

Article

Bridget Cooks

(b Nashville, TN, c. 1874; d Nashville, TN, 1951).

African American sculptor. Edmondson is known for his blocky, abstracted images of animals and angels. Edmondson was born around 1874 in Davidson County near Nashville, TN, where he lived and worked his entire life. While working for the St Louis Railroad in 1907, Edmondson became disabled and took a job as a janitor at Woman’s Hospital. In 1933, he was inspired by God to carve limestone tombstones. He displayed many of his works in his yard where they were seen by Nashville-based poet and Vanderbilt University professor Sidney Hirsch in 1936. This encounter sparked Edmondson’s eventual “discovery” by the New York art world. In 1936 and 1937, fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe took photographs of Edmondson and his sculptures and presented them to Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) director Alfred H(amilton) Barr. Edmondson became the first African American artist to have a solo exhibition at MOMA, titled Exhibition of Sculpture by William Edmondson...

Article

Margaret Moore Booker

(Eva)

(b Long Creek, NC, Dec 1, 1892; d Wilmington, NC, Dec 16, 1987).

African American painter. As a self-taught artist who has been labeled a southern folk artist, outsider artist, a Surrealist painter and a visionary, Evans created highly personal works inspired by her private and very vivid dream world.

The descendant of a Trinidadian woman brought to the United States as a slave, Evans was the only child of farmers who lived in rural Pender County, NC. In early childhood she moved with her parents to Wilmington, NC, where she attended school. At 16 she married Julius Evans and had three sons. She worked as a domestic and later as gatekeeper at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington (from 1948 to 1974). A highly religious woman, she attended St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wrightsville Beach, NC.

Beginning in her youth, she often heard voices and had waking dreams and visions. After a voice (which she believed was a message from God) told her to “draw or die,” Evans, then in her early 40s, began to record the complex imagery of her visions. Using pencil and wax crayons, she created semi-abstract forms on scraps of paper. By the late 1940s she worked in crayon, pencil and ink, and created scenes that were a combination of abstract and realistic forms. Later she experimented with oil paints, and by ...

Article

Revised and updated by Margaret Barlow

(b Philadelphia, PA, Jan 9, 1877; d Framingham, MA, 1968).

African American sculptor. Her long career anticipated and included the period of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and early 1930s (see African American art §I 2.). Born Meta Vaux Warrick, she studied at the Pennsylvania Museum and School for Industrial Art, Philadelphia, from 1893 to 1899. This was followed by a period in Paris (1899–1902) at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and the Académie Colarossi, during which time one of her figures caught the eye of Auguste Rodin. She exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her early work, with themes of death and sorrow, was characterized by a powerful expressionism. At the Tercentennial Exposition (1907) she was awarded a gold medal for the Jamestown Tableau, a 15-piece sculpture that recorded the settlement of the black community of Jamestown in 1607. In 1909 she married Solomon Carter Fuller and settled in Framingham, MA. After the loss of her early work in a fire in ...

Article

Phoebe Wolfskill

(Cole) [Hedgeman, Peyton Cole]

(b Widewater, VA, Jan 15, 1890; d New York, Feb 18, 1973).

African American painter. Although Hayden received only sporadic formal instruction in painting, his serene seascapes and unique interpretations of African American life secured his place as a leading artist of the Harlem Renaissance.

After taking various odd jobs and enlisting in the US Army, Hayden traveled to New York in 1920 to study painting and composition. He took summer classes at Columbia University, studied briefly with an instructor at Cooper Union, and relocated to Maine to work and study at the Boothbay Art Colony. In 1926, Hayden submitted a seascape to the first annual competition of the Harmon Foundation, an organization that promoted and exhibited black art. Awarded the first-place medal, Hayden used his prize money, along with financial assistance from an employer, to travel to Paris and further hone his skills. Joining Harlem Renaissance contemporaries, including Hale Woodruff and Countee Cullen (1903–46), Hayden produced seascapes and Nous quatre à Paris...

Article

David Bjelajac

(fl c. 1796–1824).

American painter, perhaps of West Indian heritage. Johnson was the first significant, identifiable African American professional painter. He worked primarily in Baltimore, painting portraits from 1796 to 1824. His career and his identity as a ‘Free Householder of Colour’ are sketchily documented in city records. He had once been a slave and apprenticed to a blacksmith, but was freed by the 1780s. More than 80 portraits have been attributed to him (see fig.). Sarah Ogden Gustin (c. 1798–1802; Washington, DC, N.G.A.) is the only signed work and typifies his early style. Although the figure is woodenly rendered and awkwardly seated within a flattened space, the view through a window reveals a painterly landscape and an attempt at atmospheric perspective. Johnson’s early portraits closely resemble compositions by members of Charles Willson Peale’s family, particularly Peale’s nephew Charles Peale Polk, suggesting that he may have studied under them. His later work is more tightly painted and includes several large family portraits, such as ...

Article

[Wildfire]

(b New York, 1845; d after 1911).

American sculptor. Born to an African American father and a Native American mother, she was the first black American sculptor to achieve national prominence. During her early childhood she travelled with her family in the Chippewa tribe, by whom she was known as Wildfire. At 12 she attended school at Albany, NY (1857–9), then a liberal arts course at Oberlin College, OH (1860–63). Lewis then went to Boston (1863) to study with Edward Brackett (1818–1908) and Anne Whitney. Her medallion of the abolitionist John Browne and a bust of the Civil War hero Col. Robert Shaw were exhibited at the Soldiers’ Relief Fair (1864), Boston; the latter sold over 100 plaster copies, enabling Lewis to travel to Rome (1865). There she was introduced to the White Marmorean Flock, a group of women sculptors, including Harriet Hosmer and Emma Stebbins...

Article

Geoffrey Belknap

(b Paris, c. 1816; d New Orleans, LA, Jan 9, 1866).

African American lithographer, daguerreotypist, and painter of French birth. Lion was born in Paris and trained as an artist in France before moving to the United States in 1837. He is noted as the first African American to adopt the daguerreotype method, and one of the first daguerreotypists active in the United States. For much of his life, Lion resided in New Orleans and operated his photographic studios in the city. He was active as a photographer for a relatively short period of time—between 1840 and 1845—and because of this only a small number of his views of New Orleans streets remain, primarily in the form of lithographic prints made from daguerreotypes (now presumed lost). In addition to making his lithographic copies, Lion gained notoriety in New Orleans for offering lectures and exhibitions of the daguerreotype process following the announcement of its invention. After leaving photography behind in 1845...

Article

Amy M. Mooney

(b New Orleans, LA, Oct 7, 1891; d Chicago, IL, Jan 16, 1981).

American painter. Motley consciously dedicated himself to the depiction of African Americans. Through his portraits and genre scenes, Motley created a visual legacy that extended the Harlem Renaissance beyond the boundaries of New York and incorporated the individualist and reform spirit of the Ashcan school. Optimistically, he believed that art could contribute to the end of racial prejudice, a sentiment espoused by both W. E. B. Du Bois and Alain Locke. During his academic training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1914 to 1918, Motley synthesized a variety of approaches towards the composition, color and meaning of art. He believed that each element of a painting should be carefully considered for both its significance and aesthetic contribution to the overall composition. After graduation, Motley began to exhibit works in Chicago, winning prestigious prizes and critical acclaim. In 1919 The Chicago Defender published his article the “Negro in Art,” in which he urged African American patronage and participation in art making. Though his realist portraits may reflect realist tenets, Motley synthesized elements of modernism, experimenting with abstraction and artifice as especially evident in his scenes of black urban life....

Article

James Smalls

Philosophical position and cultural movement in which the goal was to promote a public image of African Americans as industrious, urbane, independent, distinct and apart from the subservient and illiterate “Old Negro” of the rural South. The term and the concept evolved over the years to become important to the African American scene during the first three decades of the 20th century. The New Negro was self-sufficient, intellectually sophisticated, creative, knowledgeable and proud of his/her racial heritage. The expression “New Negro” first appeared during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War and was generally used to describe a person of African descent who was no longer willing to comply with the dominant white culture. During the late 1800s, those who promoted Booker T. Washington’s proposals for economic advancement of African Americans often used the phrase “New Negro.” However, the influential black author and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois interpreted Washington’s philosophy as one of black accommodation of white racism. In his ...

Article

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

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

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

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

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....

Article

Sarah Kate Gillespie

(b Trenton, NJ, 1820/21; d Monrovia, June 7, 1875).

American photographer, active also in Liberia. One of the few African American daguerreotypists whose career has been documented by modern scholars, Washington was born in Trenton, NJ, as the son of a former slave. He became interested in the abolitionist movement at an early age, and worked hard to achieve an education, first studying at the Oneida Institute and later at Kimball Union Academy, Meriden, NH. Washington attended Dartmouth College in 1843 and learned daguerreotyping during his freshman year as a way to help pay for his schooling. He left Dartmouth in 1844 and moved to Hartford, CT, where he opened one of the city’s first daguerreotype studios two years later. By the early 1850s Washington was one of the premiere daguerreotypists in Hartford, catering to a broad and fairly élite clientele. One of his best-known portraits from this period dates from 1846–7, and is the earliest surviving photograph of abolitionist John Brown (daguerreotype; Washington, DC, N. P. G.). Brown is pictured holding a flag, possibly for the ‘Subterranean Pass Way’ (Brown’s version of the underground railroad), in one hand; the other hand raised as if taking a pledge. Despite Washington’s success, he remained wary of race relations in the United States, unconvinced that emancipation would lead to improved circumstances for blacks living in the United States. Closing his studio in Hartford, Washington immigrated to Liberia with his wife and two children in ...