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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

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

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

Sandra Sider

(b Lafayette, LA, 1967).

African American painter. Charles graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA, in 1985, having studied advertising design, illustration, and painting. He received his MFA from the University of Houston in 1993, and subsequently taught at the University of Texas at Austin. His paintings, which manipulate images of historical black stereotypes, have generated critical controversy and hostile reactions from viewers. Charles, however, saw himself as investigating these images and their place in American history, exploring and exposing their negativity. He typically signs his work with an actual copper penny, oriented to display the profile of Abraham Lincoln.

Charles also collected black memorabilia, such as Aunt Jemima dolls and other advertising ephemera, and has researched 19th-century blackface and minstrelsy performers. Some of his most controversial figures have been of childhood literary icons, including a black Sambo reminiscent of Mickey Mouse. Charles is interested in how these images remain in America’s collective memory, and the different attitudes of Caucasians and African Americans when viewing them. He creates extreme caricatures, such as a sinister-looking black face with a watermelon slice for a mouth and black seeds instead of teeth—images meant to stimulate thought. The faces in his paintings confront the viewer with their oversized scale, some of them more than 1 m high. Charles felt that American advertising conditioned people of all types to pigeonhole blacks as representing the body (instead of the mind), and as entertainers—and that these stereotypical attitudes have been retained in the American psyche. To emphasize this point, Charles juxtaposed African American celebrities with advertising imagery, such as Oprah Winfrey as a cookie-jar mammy figure....

Article

Jenifer P. Borum

(b Emelle, AL, Sept 10, 1928; d McCalla, AL, Jan 25, 2016).

African American painter and sculptor. Dial was born into poverty and left school at age nine to work various jobs, including fieldwork. At age ten, his mother gave up Thornton and his half-brother Arthur to be raised by their great-grandmother. Upon her death they were taken in by their aunt for two years, and then given to their great-aunt, Sarah Dial Lockett, in Bessemer, AL.

Throughout most of his life, Dial worked as a farmer, a gardener, a bricklayer, and a construction worker. He worked for the Bessemer Water Works for 13 years and the Pullman Standard for nearly 30 years. Dial’s labor gave him a great many skills that he would later apply to making artwork. He was handy with found objects and materials, often making cemetery decorations, as well as for his yard—both of which should be considered in the context of vernacular signifying practices within the African diaspora. Unfortunately, he buried or destroyed much of his early mixed-media yard work, as it often carried messages of social protest and could have been a source of trouble for him and his family. The practice of destroying his work changed when he met his future patron, the Atlanta collector Bill Arnett, 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

Karen Kurczynski

Alternative art space founded by Stefan Eins (b 1943) at 2803 Third Avenue near 147th Street in the South Bronx, New York, from 1978 to 1993. Eins arrived in New York from Austria in 1967. He referred to Fashion Moda as a museum of “Science, Art, Technology, Invention, and Fantasy,” the title of its inaugural exhibition in 1979. He had previously run a downtown storefront art space called the Mercer Street Store at 3 Mercer Street from 1971 to 1978. Black downtown artist, poet and musician Joe Lewis served as Co-Director of the space with Eins, and William Scott, then a teenager from the neighborhood, served as Junior Director. Their collaborative ventures attempted to connect the street culture of the South Bronx, by then a neighborhood in the midst of massive economic decline, to an international cultural scene.

From its opening in 1978, annually funded with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council of the Arts and other sources, Fashion Moda held auctions, performances, seminars and other events. Joe Lewis described it as “an outlet for the disenfranchised, a Salon des Réfusés that cut across the uptown/downtown dichotomy, across the black/white/Hispanic isolation.” Although its glass storefront was located in a neighborhood far from the Soho gallery district, its impact has been measured largely by its effect on the more mainstream art world of the 1980s and early 1990s. It introduced and exhibited a number of artists including Charles Ahearn, John Ahearn (...

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

Jenifer P. Borum

(b Dallas, GA, Oct 11, 1928; d Alcoa, TN, Aug 12, 1994).

Sculptor of African American and Native American heritage. Born to Homer and Rosie Mae White, Bessie Ruth White was the seventh of 13 children. She married Charles Harvey at age 14, and moved with him to Buena Vista, GA. She later separated from Harvey and moved to Alcoa, TN, where she settled and raised 11 children as a single mother.

Throughout most of her adult life, Harvey experienced visions that did not engage the dogma of her Christian faith, but rather revealed a powerful divine presence in nature. After the death of her mother in 1974, she began to see faces in the dead branches and roots found in the woods near her home in Aloca, and believed them to be animated by spirits. By adorning these roots and branches with paint, costume jewelry and found materials, Harvey revealed the identity of the spirits locked therein—some Biblical and some lost African ancestors. She understood her role as that of a conduit for divine intelligence, claiming “God is the artist in my work.”...

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

[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

Kate Wight

(b Lafayette, AL, 1900; d New Orleans, LA, July 8, 1980).

American painter, musician and evangelical preacher. Morgan lived in Alabama and Georgia in her early life and was married to Will Morgan in 1928. At the age of 38 she experienced a divine calling, which prompted her to become a street evangelist. Morgan believed she was called by God to preach the Gospel and serve through her art. She left her family and husband and moved to New Orleans. There, she ran a mission and orphanage for 17 years until in 1956 she again heard the voice of God, this time specifically telling her to paint.

The subject of her art was primarily the Bible, and particularly the Book of Revelation. Morgan’s drawings and paintings were often figural and featured text with apocalyptic messages. A popular phrase in her works was “Jesus is my airplane.” After a later revelation, Morgan believed she was the bride of Christ and began wearing only white garments. She began portraying herself in this way within her works....

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

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

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

Adrienne L. Childs

(b Atlanta, GA, Nov 2, 1902; d Washington, DC, Jan 20, 1993).

American printmaker, painter and educator. Wells’s 70-year career had a major impact on the development of African American art in the 20th century. He studied at the National Academy of Design, Columbia University Teachers College and the Atelier 17 printmaking workshop, both in New York. In 1929 he began teaching at Howard University, Washington, DC, where he remained an influential professor of art until his retirement in 1968.

One of the first black artists to embrace modernism, Wells’s early linocuts such as African Phantasy (1928) and Sisters (1929) embody the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance as African American artists looked toward African ancestral arts for inspiration. His graphic works were included in journals such as The Crisis, Opportunity and New Masses and became central to the visual culture of the New Negro Movement. Wells’s graphic style was influenced by European Expressionism, African and Egyptian art as well as popular Art Deco motifs. His extensive repertoire as a printmaker incorporated lithography, linoleum cut and wood engraving; his subjects included Bible stories, the urban worker, mythology, Africa and the nude. Also known for his expressionistic painting style, the Harmon Foundation awarded Wells a gold medal in ...