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Article

Pamela M. Fletcher

painter, was born in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of Hannah Alexander, a native of New Brunswick, and Edward Bannister, from Barbados. While his birth date has generally been given as 1828, recent research has suggested that he was born several years earlier. After the death of his father in 1832, Edward was raised by his mother, whom he later credited with encouraging his artistic aspirations: “The love of art in some form came to me from my mother. … She it was who encouraged and fostered my childhood propensities for drawing and coloring” (Holland, Edward Mitchell Bannister, 17). His mother died in 1844 and Edward and his younger brother William were sent to work for a wealthy local family where he was exposed to classical literature music and painting Edward s interest in art continued and an early biography of the ...

Article

Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker

prima ballerina, modern dancer, choreographer, teacher, and painter, was born Janet Fay Collins in New Orleans, the daughter of Ernest Lee Collins, a tailor, and Alma de Lavallade (the noted dancer Carmen de Lavallade was a first cousin on this side of the family), a seamstress. At the age of four Collins moved to Los Angeles with her family, which included three sisters and one brother. In Los Angeles, Collins had trouble being accepted into “whites-only” dance studios, so she worked with private tutors. Her first formal ballet lessons were at a Catholic community center at the age of ten.

When she was fifteen Collins auditioned for the prestigious Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo led by the legendary Leonide Massine Collins was accepted but only on the condition that she stay in the corps de ballet and that she paint her face white to blend in with the other ...

Article

Amy Helene Kirschke

artist and educator, was born in Topeka, Kansas, the son of Aaron Douglas Sr., a baker from Tennessee, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown), an amateur artist from Alabama. Aaron had several brothers and sisters, but he was unique in his family in his singular drive to pursue higher education. He attended segregated elementary schools and then an integrated high school. Topeka had a strong and progressive black community, and Aaron was fortunate to grow up in a city where education and social uplift were stressed through organizations such as the Black Topeka Foundation. He was an avid reader and immersed himself in the great writers, including Dumas, Shakespeare, and Emerson His parents were able to feed and clothe him but could offer him no other help with higher education When he needed money to pursue a college degree he traveled via rail to Detroit where ...

Article

Mark G. Emerson

As the second son and namesake of his father, Frederick Douglass Jr. was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He attended public schools in Rochester, New York, where he also helped his brothers, Lewis and Charles, to aid runaway slaves who were escaping to Canada on the Underground Railroad. While he did not serve in the Civil War as his brothers did, Frederick acted as a recruiting agent for the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry regiments, as did his father. Following the war, Frederick attempted to enter the typographical workers' union. When that plan failed, he went with his brother Lewis in 1866 to Colorado, where Henry O. Wagoner, a longtime family friend, taught him the trade of typography. While he was in Colorado, Frederick worked with his brother Lewis in the printing office of the Red, White, and Blue Mining Company. In the fall of 1868 Frederick returned ...

Article

Daryle Williams

was born in Rio de Janeiro. Monteiro was known for his voracious reading, a strong interest in color and technique, and a wide range of subjects including history and genre paintings as well as landscapes. Although Firmino Monteiro’s style maintained many conventions of the Brazilian academic tradition, his early embrace of painting en plein air produced a fresh, sometimes sentimental palette for landscapes and seascapes captured in the moment.

Little has been written about Firmino Monteiro’s private life or temperament. Death notices from 1888 indicate an unnamed wife and children. A posthumous lithograph portrait by Angelo Agostini (1843–1910 an Italian illustrator well known for his abolitionist sympathies depicted a solitary confident man of color in three quarter profile Arms crossed at his chest and sporting a mustache the artist wears a suit and tie To the sitter s right rests a palette and brush To his left through ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, was born Meta Vaux Warrick in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William H. Warrick and Emma Jones. Meta's great grandmother, according to family lore, was an Ethiopian princess brought to the American colonies as a slave. Emma owned and operated several hairdressing parlors that catered to a white clientele. William owned a chain of barbershops and dabbled in real estate. Meta was ten years younger than her two siblings, William and Blanche. Through lessons and field trips to museums and concerts, the Warricks introduced their children to art and encouraged their creative endeavors. Meta, who played the guitar, took dancing lessons, and sang in the church choir, exhibited an early talent for drawing.

After graduation from public high school in 1894, Warrick won a three-year scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum and School for Industrial Arts (now the Philadelphia College of Art). In 1897 her ...

Article

Christine G. McKay

cartoonist, was born Oliver Wendell Harrington in New York City, the son of Herbert Harrington, a porter, and Euzenie Turat. His father came to New York from North Carolina in the early 1900s when many African Americans were seeking greater opportunities in the North. His mother had immigrated to America, arriving from Austria-Hungary in 1907, to join her half sister. Ollie Harrington grew up in a multiethnic neighborhood in the South Bronx and attended public schools. He recalled a home life burdened by the stresses of his parents' interracial marriage and the financial struggles of raising five children. From an early age, he drew cartoons to ease those tensions.

In 1927 Harrington enrolled at Textile High School in Manhattan He was voted best artist in his class and started a club whose members studied popular newspaper cartoonists Exposure to the work of Art Young Denys ...

Article

Thomas M. Inge

cartoonist, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of George Herriman Jr., a tailor, and Clara Morel. There is uncertainty about Herriman's ethnic background. His birth certificate identified him as “Colored,” his parents were listed in the 1880 New Orleans federal census as “Mulatto,” but his death certificate noted that he was “Caucasian.” During his lifetime, friends often thought he was Greek or French because of his Adonis-like appearance, and he has been called a “Creole.” The family moved to Los Angeles when Herriman was a child, and his father opened a barbershop and then a bakery.

Herriman attended St. Vincent's College, a Roman Catholic secondary school for boys. When he finished school in 1897 he followed his artistic bent and began to contribute illustrations to the Los Angeles Herald After the turn of the century he moved to New York City and began to ...

Article

Thomas N. Whitehead

folk artist, was born Clemence Reuben at Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana, the daughter of John Reuben and Antoinette Adams, plantation workers. Her exact birth date is unknown. Most sources agree that she was born in either late December 1886 or early January 1887.

Leaving Catholic school in Cloutierville at a young age because she disliked the discipline of the nuns, Reuben, now called Clementine, became a cotton picker and field hand at several plantations in the Cloutierville area. In her adolescence her father moved the family to Melrose Plantation, about fifteen miles south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, in the central part of the state.

Melrose Plantation had been established in 1796 by Marie-Therese Coincoin a freed female slave who became one of the most successful plantation and slave owners in the United States After the Civil War ownership of the plantation was transferred to white ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

artist, was born William Henry Johnson in Florence, South Carolina, the first of five children of Henry Johnson and Alice Smoot. From the moment of William's birth, neighbors speculated whether this light-skinned, wavy-haired child was the offspring of Henry Johnson, a dark-skinned laborer, and his wife, a woman with dark mahogany skin who worked as a domestic in the home of a prominent white family.

As a child Johnson attended Wilson School an all black elementary school where he exhibited an early interest in sketching A teacher encouraged his talent by giving him supplies and Johnson thought of becoming a cartoonist However as a youth he devoted most of his time to supplementing the meager family income as a pinsetter at a bowling alley shoveling coal and working at a laundry Realizing that his opportunities for professional and artistic development were severely limited in a small segregated southern ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

artist and teacher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the second of two children of Carolyn Dorinda Adams, a beautician, and Thomas Vreeland Jones, a building superintendent. Jones's father became a lawyer at age forty, and she credited him with inspiring her by example: “Much of my drive surely comes from my father—wanting to be someone, to have an ambition” (Benjamin, 4). While majoring in art at the High School of Practical Arts, Jones spent afternoons in a drawing program at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. On weekends she apprenticed with Grace Ripley, a prominent designer of theatrical masks and costumes. From 1923 to 1927 she studied design at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and became one of the school s first African American graduates Upon graduation Jones who had earned a teaching certificate from the Boston Normal Art School received a one ...

Article

Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part-Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles's will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839 when a court hearing concluding that his guardian s impending move to slave state Missouri would imperil the boy s freedom and inheritance forced him to leave the family Subsequently he boarded in four different homes white and black in Chillicothe and Cincinnati worked ...

Article

Thomas Adams Upchurch

Born in Virginia to a wealthy white planter and a slave mother, John Mercer Langston was one of the most influential African Americans of the nineteenth century. Widely regarded by contemporaries and historians alike as second in importance only to Frederick Douglass, Langston actually superseded the venerable Douglass in certain ways. Although Douglass enjoyed more widespread renown, Langston held more government positions and had a more varied career. The two men first met in 1848 and maintained a friendship for many years thereafter. They disagreed on some important racial issues, however, which sometimes led to hard feelings and, near the end of their lives, an intense rivalry that most observers would say made them bitter enemies.

Langston was about ten years younger than Douglass and while they were both mulattoes born to slave mothers their upbringings could hardly have been more different Whereas Douglass endured the most abhorrent circumstances ...

Article

Lisa Gail Collins

artist and teacher, was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to migrant parents. His father, Jacob Lawrence, a railroad cook, was from South Carolina, and his mother, Rose Lee Armstead, hailed from Virginia. In 1919 the family moved to Pennsylvania, where Jacob's sister, Geraldine, was born. Five years later Jacob's brother, William, was born, and his parents separated.Jacob moved with his mother, sister, and brother to a Manhattan apartment on West 143d Street in 1930. Upon his arrival in Harlem, the teenage Lawrence began taking neighborhood art classes. His favorite teacher was the painter Charles Alston who taught at the Harlem Art Workshop This workshop sponsored by the Works Progress Administration was first housed in the central Harlem branch of the New York Public Library before relocating to Alston s studio at 306 West 141st Street Many community cultural workers had studios ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, was born to an African American father and a mother of African American and Mississauga descent, whose names are not known. The Mississauga, a Chippewa (Ojibway in Canada) band, lived in southern Ontario. Information about Lewis's early life remains inconsistent and unverified. She was probably born in 1844 or 1845, most likely near Albany, New York. Orphaned by age nine, Lewis and her older brother, Samuel were taken in by their maternal aunts Mississaugas living near Niagara Falls Lewis joined the tribe in hunting and fishing along Lake Ontario and the Niagara River and in making and selling moccasins baskets and other souvenirs Although she later gave her Mississauga name as Wildfire Lewis s translation from the Chippewa may have been intended to authenticate her Indian background and appeal to whites She remained with the Mississauga until age twelve when Samuel using earnings amassed during the ...

Article

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan

Edmonia Lewis was the first major sculptress of African American and Native American heritage. Her early biographical circumstances are sketchily known at best. Although Lewis claimed 1854 as her birth date, it is more likely that she was born in 1843 or 1845. Various sources, including the artist herself, claimed Greenhigh, Ohio, and Greenbush, New York, as well as the vicinity of Albany, New York, as her birthplace, but none can be verified.

Lewis s father employed as a gentleman s servant was African American her mother was a Chippewa Indian who may have been born near Albany It was she who presumably named her daughter Wildfire Lewis appears to have spent little if any time with her father and instead lived with her mother s tribe Orphaned before she was five Lewis remained with the Chippewa until she was about twelve years old As Wildfire she learned to ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

photographer, filmmaker, author, and composer, was born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in the small prairie town of Fort Scott, Kansas, to Andrew Jackson Parks, a dirt farmer, and Sarah Ross, a maid. Gordon was the youngest of fifteen children, the first five of which, he later discovered, were really half siblings, born to his father and a woman other than his mother. Parks's poor Kansas childhood, and his memories of its unbridled racism, feature prominently in his later work, especially his books “thick with those memories.” The first phase of Parks's life ended with the death of his mother in 1928. “Before the flowers on my mother s grave had wilted Parks remembered my father had me on a train to my sister in Minnesota I ran into some hell there Russell 145 Within a month of his arrival in Minneapolis ...

Article

J. Susan Isaacs

painter, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the son of Horace Pippin. On a biographical questionnaire Pippin listed his mother as Harriet Johnson Pippin, but Harriet may actually have been his grandmother; she was the mother of Christine, a domestic servant, who may have been Pippin's birth mother. When Pippin was quite young the family moved to Goshen, New York, so that his mother could find work, and it was there that Pippin attended a one-room school through the eighth grade. He showed an ability for and love of drawing while in school, but because he had to help support his family, he began a series of menial jobs at the age of fourteen. In 1905 he took a job as a porter in a hotel, and he worked there until his mother's death in 1911 He then moved to New Jersey where he worked at ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Quilts and the act of quilt making have played important roles in the history of African America. Rife with symbolism, quilts represent comfort, resistance, self-expression, poverty, and a dozen other aspects of the lives of black Americans. Most quilters are not known outside their own circle of friends and family, but there is one woman who stood out. Her quilts, startling in their quality and originality, and having caught the world’s attention, were displayed in the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where the name of their creator, Harriet Powers, is preserved.

Powers was born a slave in Georgia. Her maiden name is unknown, as are the circumstances of her birth and childhood. She was married to Armstead Powers and had three children, two of whom were born in slavery; the third was born in 1866 just after the end of the Civil War ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, educator, and advocate for black artists, was born Augusta Christine Fells in Green Cove Springs, Florida, the seventh of fourteen children of Edward Fells, a laborer and Methodist minister, and Cornelia Murphy. As a child, Savage routinely skipped school, preferring to model small figurines at local clay pits, much to the consternation of her religious father, who, as she recalled in a 1935 interview, “almost whipped the art out of me” (Bearden, 168). At age fifteen, Augusta married John T. Moore, and a year later a daughter, Irene Connie Moore, was born; John Moore died several years later. In 1915 the Fells family moved to West Palm Beach, where Savage taught clay modeling at her high school. She later spent a year at Tallahassee Normal School (now Florida A&M). At some point after 1915 she married a carpenter named James ...