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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

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

Joan Marter

(b Atlanta, GA, March 16, 1938).

African American painter, printmaker, and weaver. Amos studied fine arts and textile weaving at Antioch College at Yellow Springs, OH, where she received her BFA in 1958. She went on to study etching and painting at the Central School of Art, London (1958–9), and the following year she moved to New York, where she began working at two printmaking studios: Robert Blackburn’s workshop and that of Letterio Calapai (an outpost of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17). She completed her MA at New York University (NYU) in 1966. Through Hale Woodruff, an art professor at NYU and family friend, she was invited to exhibit with Spiral, an all-male art group founded by Woodruff and Romare Bearden and featuring recognized African American artists. Spiral, closely allied with the Civil Rights movement, dissolved in 1967 and subsequently Amos had trouble exhibiting her work. In 1974, after the birth of her two children, Amos found a position as an instructor in textile design at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. She continued her own weaving in New York and benefited from the revival of interest in women’s traditional art forms in the early years of the feminist art movement....

Article

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

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

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

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 1976–8, 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 dialogue 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

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 ...

Article

Deborah Cullen

(b Los Angeles, CA, Aug 12, 1933).

African American filmmaker, sculptor, printmaker and archivist of African American culture. Camille Billops received her BA from California State College and her MFA from the City College of New York. A visual artist, filmmaker and archivist, Billops’s darkly humorous prints and sculpture have been exhibited internationally, including at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design, the New Museum and the Bronx Museum, New York; the Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Clark College, Atlanta University; the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia; Gallerie Akhenaton, Cairo, Egypt; the American Center, Karachi, Pakistan; and the American Cultural Center, Taipei, Taiwan. Billops received a Percent for Art commission in New York and was a long-time member of Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop (PMW), traveling to establish the first summer printmaking workshop in Asilah, Morocco, with the PMW delegation.

As a filmmaker, Billops earned a National Endowment for the Arts award. Her films have been shown on public television and at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She collaborated with photographer James Van Der Zee (...

Article

James Smalls

The Black Arts Movement spans the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Inherently and overtly political in content, it was an artistic, cultural and literary movement in America promoted to advance African American “social engagement.” In a 1968 essay titled “The Black Arts Movement,” African American scholar Larry Neal (1937–81) proclaimed it as the “artistic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” The use of the term “Black Power” originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from “racist American domination” and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of “Blackness.”

In addition to “Black Power,” the slogan “Black is Beautiful” also became part of the Black Arts Movement and the Black Cultural Movement (also known as Black Aesthetics). The aim of these maxims was to counter and dispel the widespread notion throughout Western cultures that black people’s natural features, such as skin color, facial characteristics and hair, were inherently ugly. The central purpose was to subvert decades of anti-black rhetoric and “to make African Americans totally and irreversibly proud of their racial and cultural heritage.” Black Arts Movement cultural theorists and artists reasoned that promotion of a black aesthetic was mandatory to help the African American community perceive itself as not only beautiful, but also as proud of the legacy of African American achievement, self-determinacy and self-identification with all black peoples throughout the African diaspora. The tone was militant and separatist, not conciliatory and assimilationist, and resulted in a call for a revolutionary art that spoke to a definable black aesthetic. In ...

Article

Deborah Cullen

[Bob] (Hamilton)

(b Summit, NJ, Dec 10, 1920; d New York, NY, April 21, 2003).

African American printmaker and educator. Robert Blackburn’s family moved to Harlem when he was six years old. Blackburn attended meetings at “306” and learned lithography in 1938 at the Harlem Community Art Center. He earned a scholarship to the Art Students League from 1940 to 1943 and worked for the Harmon Foundation in the mid 1940s. In 1948, he opened the Printmaking Workshop (PMW) in Chelsea, a cooperative where he and his friends could pursue experimental fine art lithography. By 1955, students from S. W. Hayter’s Atelier 17, an experimental intaglio workshop, were in attendance. Blackburn earned his living by teaching lithography and printing editions for artists. He became one of the first black technicians at Cooper Union. From 1952 to 1953, Blackburn went to Paris on a John Hay Whitney traveling fellowship, where he worked at the Jacques Desjobert Workshop and then traveled around Europe. He returned to New York and his Printmaking Workshop in ...

Article

Jacqueline S. Taylor

(b Dendron, Surry County, VA, Sept 16, 1898; d New York, Sept 27, 1955).

American sculptor. Educated at Hampton Institute and Virginia Union University, Leslie Garland Bolling supported himself through a number of jobs, working as a porter and as a schoolteacher, while perfecting his skill at carving wood into sculpture. Between 1926 and 1943 Bolling created over 80 wood sculptures consisting of portrait busts, nudes and figures illustrating African American life. His work was recognized by local art critics and supported by exhibition through the Richmond Academy of Arts (now the Virginia Museum of Fine Art) and New York’s Harmon Foundation, as well as important venues across the country.

Bolling’s technique consisted of drawing the figure from two angles on paper, tracing the cutout onto wood along two faces, then roughing out the shape with a scroll saw and carving the details using one of several ordinary pocketknives. The figures were generally finished with a light wax and sometimes painted. Although never self-consciously political, Bolling carved sculptures that celebrated the integrity of everyday African American life, and thus challenged prevailing class and racial stereotypes. Moreover, his work contributed to contemporary discourses of modern American art, blurring the arbitrary distinctions between “folk-” and “fine art,” while combining a keen sense of realism and abstraction. His nude figures were clearly individualized yet observed an abstract interpretation of African aesthetics with their overemphasized, physical proportions....

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

revised by Margaret Barlow

(b Mooresville, NC, Jan 1, 1907; d New Hope, PA, Aug 29, 1995).

American sculptor, teacher, and writer. Burke initially trained as a nurse at the Women’s Medical College, NC, before studying philosophy at Columbia University, New York (1936–41). During the 1930s she became one of a few prominent black American sculptors (see African American art §I 2.) participating in the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Projects. She also became an instructor in sculpture at the Harlem Community Art Center and a frequent contributor to periodicals and newspapers, and she worked with Aristide Maillol in Paris and Hans Reiss (1885–1968) in New York. In 1940 she was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship and in the period 1943–6 was director of the Student’s School of Sculpture, New York. Her sculpture is characterized by an idealistic intent in sensitively moulded stone carvings on humanistic themes, for example Lafayette and Salome, exhibited at the McMillen Galleries, New York, in November 1941...

Article

Paul Von Blum

(b Washington, DC, April 15, 1915; d Cuernavaca, Mexico, April 3, 2012).

African American sculptor, printmaker, and art educator, active also in Mexico. One of the leading African American feminist and political artists of the 20th century and early 21st century, Catlett devoted her career of more than 60 years to expressing critical ideas in powerful visual form both in the United States and in her adopted country of Mexico. Her strong academic background began at Howard University, Washington, DC, where she studied under African American art luminaries James Porter (d 1939), James Wells (1902–93), and Lois Jones. After graduating in 1937, she completed her MFA in 1940 at the University of Iowa.

In 1941 she married the artist Charles White. Visiting Mexico, they found the Mexican mural and printmaking tradition artistically and politically engaging. After her first marriage ended in 1946, she moved to Mexico in the wake of American post-war political repression. While working at the Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico City, she met the Mexican artist Francisco Mora (...

Article

Naomi Beckwith

(b Fulton, MO, Feb 4, 1959).

American sculptor and multimedia artist working in fibre, installation, video, and performance. The youngest of seven sons born into a central Missouri family, Cave demonstrated an early acumen with hand-made objects and throughout his career has created works out of texturally rich materials imbued with cultural meaning. Cave received his BFA (1982) from the Kansas City Art Institute, developing an interest in textiles and, after some graduate-level work at North Texas State University, received his MFA (1989) from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, renowned for their textile, fibre art, and design programmes. While working toward his art degrees, Cave simultaneously studied with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, a company known for introducing African American folk traditions into the modern dance vocabulary. Cave moved to Chicago where he became chair of the Department of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute in 1980.

Working across the disciplines of sculpture, textile, dance, and cultural performance, Cave’s oeuvre is based on the human figure; he has produced wearable art as sculptures, arrangements of human and animal figurines as installations, and performance works. Cave’s signature works, the multi-sensory ‘...

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

Clair Joy

[née Chase]

(b Philadelphia, PA, June 26, 1935).

African American sculptor and writer. She was educated at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia, graduating in 1957, and at Yale University, New Haven, CT, where she studied with Josef Albers from 1958 to 1960. After gaining her MFA at Yale in 1960, she lived in Paris with her husband, Marc Riboud (b 1923), a photo-journalist. Their extensive travels in Africa and Asia profoundly influenced Chase-Riboud’s work. Her sculptures, which combine faceted, geometric bronze forms with braided silk and wool fibres, are often seen as an investigation of opposites—hardness and softness, masculinity and femininity—and how these qualities intersect. However, there are also striking connections apparent between her best-known sculptures (those of the 1970s) and African masks and artefacts. Her trait of disguising the plinth of her free-standing sculptures with hanging fibres, as for example in Confessions for Myself (1972; Berkeley, U. CA, A. Mus.), made in black bronze and black wool, gives another dimension to her work: behind the hanging braids and fibrous strands is a sense of something hidden—a supernatural element more obviously associated with the ritual and magic of Africa and of other non-Western cultures. A leading African-American artist, Chase-Riboud also became known as a writer, publishing poetry and a novel....

Article

Corinne Robins

(b New Orleans, LA, May 6, 1926).

African American painter. Edward Clark experienced the excitement of being part of the younger generation of Abstract Expressionists and over a period of 50 years built up a solid body of work that has made something both unique and original out of his commitment to Jackson Pollock’s (1912–56) principles of action and spontaneity.

Born in New Orleans in 1926, Clark grew up in Chicago and, after studying at the Chicago Art Institute, took advantage of the GI Bill and went to Paris. There, he enrolled in the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in 1951 and by 1952 came under the influence of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and of Cubism. In 1954, the American Center for Students and Artists became interested in the artistic activity in Montparnasse studios and presented an exhibition titled Grandes Toiles de Montparnasse, in which Clark participated and was described in a review in ...

Article

James Smalls

(b Somerville, NJ, 1955).

African American sculptor, printmaker, and conceptual artist. He grew up in New Jersey and attended the Boston University School of Fine Arts, the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League of New York City. Cole is best known for assembling and transforming ordinary domestic objects, such as irons, ironing boards, high-heeled shoes, lawn jockeys, hair dryers, bicycle parts and other discarded appliances and hardware into imaginative and powerful configurations and installations embedded with references to the African American experience and inspired by West African religion, mythology and culture. Visual puns and verbal play characterized his works, thereby creating layered meanings. The objects he chose were often discarded mass-produced American products that had themselves acquired an alternate history through their previous handling and use.

In 1989, he became attracted to the motif of the steam iron both for its form and for its perceived embodiment of the experience and history of the unknown persons who had previously used it. He referred to the earliest versions of these irons as ‘Household Gods’ and ‘Domestic Demons’. With them, he engaged with ideas utilizing not only the found object but also the repetitive scorch mark of the iron arranged in either purely decorative patterns or in such ways as to suggest a face or African mask (...