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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

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

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

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 ...

Article

Paul Von Blum

( Wilbert )

(b Chicago, IL, April 2, 1918; d Los Angeles, CA, Oct 3, 1979).

American painter and printmaker. White was one of the finest African American artists of the mid-20th century and an important figure in African American art history. Throughout his distinguished career, he combined outstanding technical skill in painting and printmaking with a lifelong commitment to chronicling the hopes and struggles of African Americans. His artworks celebrated both African American heroes and everyday women and men struggling to maintain dignity in a racially segregated society. He achieved major national and international acclaim at a time when Abstract Expressionism dominated the mainstream art world and African American artists were consigned critical marginality in galleries, art journals, newspapers, magazines, and colleges and universities.

Most of White’s artistic career was devoted to visual social commentary, which solidified his standing within the tradition of renowned political artists, including Francisco de Goya, Honoré Daumier, Käthe Kollwitz and the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. White’s artworks revealed the influence of a generation of American Social Realist artists, including Ben Shahn, William Gropper, Philip Evergood and many others....

Article

Tracy Fitzpatrick

( Donald J. )

(b New York, NY, April 7, 1961; d New York, Oct 2, 1998).

African American painter. One of the best known and respected graffiti artists who influenced and mentored a generation of younger writers. White was the youngest of five brothers, raised in the East New York section of Brooklyn by Catholic Italian and African American parents. Nicknamed Dondi by his mother, at age 9 White began scribbling on street lamps in his neighborhood, a practice that led to writing on buildings and train cars in his teens and 20s.

In 1976, White’s parents moved to a new house within three yards of three New York City train yards. White practiced his craft in the basement, worked with other writers in his bedroom and began writing on trains in earnest, using the tags NACO and DONDI. Many of the youths in White’s neighborhood were involved in gangs, including many of the writers. White, however, resisted gang writing and activity, preferring to focus on his style. During this time he refined his work and began working increasingly large-scale....

Article

Kristina Wilson

(b Los Angeles, CA, Feb 28, 1977).

American painter. Wiley grew up in south central Los Angeles and at the age of 11 his mother began enrolling him in weekend art classes at area museums. He attributed his later focus on the genre of portraiture to his early exposure to portraits in the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, by Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds . He earned a bachelor’s degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, and then received an MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2001. He subsequently became the artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. It was during this residency that Wiley developed the artistic program that would define his career for most of the next decade: large scale oil portraits of African American men wearing 21st century hip-hop-inflected attire (sweatshirts, down jackets, jeans, jewelry) in poses taken from old master paintings. Instead of a coherent narrative background, these figures stand against an abstract ground (a solid color or blue sky with billowing clouds) and are surrounded by ornate patterns (taken from a variety of sources) that swirl behind them and occasionally over their bodies. Wiley’s style is similar to that of the Photorealists of the 1970s, with its painstaking detail and lush, almost fetishistic attention to the folds of clothing and the glow of skin (...

Article

Margaret Rose Vendryes

(b Mayfield, KY, April 30, 1899; d New York, NY, Jan 1, 1977).

American painter. Wilson worked as graphic artist in Chicago for five years after completing the four-year commercial art program at the Art Institute of Chicago School in 1923. He became an adept colorist with a particular interest in still life composition. Wilson hoped to grow as a painter after moving to Harlem, New York in 1928 where he worked odd jobs for wages. Three years later, he permanently relocated to Greenwich Village. He exhibited with the Harmon Foundation, at the Detroit Museum, the Contemporary Arts and Roko Galleries in New York City, and at most of the large historically black universities and colleges. Wilson socialized with important members of the New Negro arts movement such as Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence whose abbreviated figurative works tempered his academic realist style ( see New Negro Movement ). His skill with linear gestures, affinity with nature, and ability to strike a coherent balance between them identify this best work. With two years of Guggenheim fellowships, he spent time with the African Americans living on South Carolina’s Sea Islands in ...

Article

Patricia Hills

(b Roxbury, MA, April 14, 1922).

American sculptor, painter, printmaker and teacher. Raised in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston, Wilson was the second of five children of Reginald and Violet Wilson, immigrants from British Guiana (now the Republic of Guyana). He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with a full scholarship and received a diploma with highest honors in 1945; a BS degree in art education followed in 1947 from Tufts University. With a fellowship from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he spent 1947–9 in Paris, where he studied with Fernand Léger. Returning to Boston he taught briefly at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, married Julie Kowitch and moved to Mexico City with a John Hay Whitney Fellowship. There he became friends with Elizabeth Catlett and her husband Francesco Mora, both active in the graphic workshop organized by leftist artists, the Taller de Gráfica Popular, where he worked. In Mexico he learned the techniques of true fresco, which had been popularized by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and painted the mural, ...

Article

Jenifer P. Borum

(b Ash Grove, MO, Feb 20, 1890; d Chicago, IL, Dec 25, 1972).

American painter of African, Cherokee, Creek, and European ancestry. Although Yoakum claimed to have been born on a Navajo reservation in 1888, his birthplace and childhood home has been established as Ash Grove, MO. His aunt was adopted by a Navajo family, and although the artist drew great inspiration from the Navajo, his connection to them was imaginary. Yoakum’s life was indeed one of adventure and travel—he toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the Ringling Bros. Circus, and also traveled around the world as stow-away and later as a soldier in World War I. Yet the line between fact and fantasy will always be blurred when contending with his lyrical landscapes that ostensibly offer a record of his far-ranging adventures to exotic locales.

While Yoakum began to draw by the 1950s, he did not devote himself to this calling until he had retired in the early 1960s. Settling in Chicago in ...