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Pamela Lee Gray

wood carver, sculptor, and folk artist, was born Jesse James Aaron in Lake City, Florida, to descendants of slaves and Seminole Indians. Aaron attended school for less than one year before he was sent to work as a contract laborer for local farms. Trained as a baker when he was twenty-one years old, he found he enjoyed the creativity it required. He opened several bakeries, worked as a cook at Gainesville's Hotel Thomas from 1933 to 1937, and then cooked for a variety of fraternities and hospitals in Florida. Aaron also worked as a cook aboard the Seaboard Air Line Railroad during this time.

Aaron married Leeanna Jenkins, and when the family settled in northwest Gainesville in the 1930s they opened a nursery. From this point until 1968 when Aaron became a folk artist at the age of eighty one it is difficult to determine what is ...

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Baye Yimam

Ethiopian painter, diplomat, customs director, entrepreneur, linguist, university professor, and novelist, was born in Zage, Gojjam province of Ethiopia, on 10 July 1868. His father, Gebre Iyesus Denke, was a priest serving a local church, and his mother, Fenta Tehun Adego Ayechew, was presumably a housewife. In Zage, then a center of learning, Afewerq learned the painting, poetry, church music, and liturgical dancing of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition.

Afewerq was related to Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menilek (1844–1913 on account of which he was brought to the palace to continue what he had started in Zage He was later sent to Italy to further his studies at the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti in Turin Upon his return from Italy he began to produce mural paintings by order of the palace and decorated the churches at Entotto then the capital city However he soon ...

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Diane Mutti Burke

fugitive slave, was born near Richmond, Virginia, on a plantation owned by the Delaney family. Despite his memories of being well treated, his father, Aleck, was sold to pay his master's debts and taken south. Rev. Delaney justified Aleck's sale by claiming that the literate slave had shared ideas about freedom with other slaves in the neighborhood. When Rev. Delaney died in 1831, Alexander's mother, Chloe, was left to Mrs. Delaney, and eighteen-year-old Alexander was left to the master's son, Thomas. Chloe Alexander died six months after Thomas Delaney took her son with him to Missouri.

Delaney settled in western St Charles County Missouri where Alexander married a local slave woman named Louisa He later sold Alexander to Louisa s master Jim Hollman when he moved from the state and the couple spent the next twenty years living with their growing family on the Hollman farm Alexander was ...

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Pauline de Souza

was born in Trinidad, Cuba, in 1970. In 1994 he graduated from the Superior Institute of Art in Havana. In 1992, while still studying, he joined Los Carpinteros (The Carpenters), a Havana art collective. In 1994 the group decided that they would only sign their work as a collective. For them, art, whether physical or conceptual, was about collaboration. They intended to challenge cultural assumptions about cityscapes and public spaces by creating architecture that would get people to really look at their surroundings and the buildings.

Arrechea’s career as an artist took off when he received a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Culture, allowing him to spend five months in Spain. International recognition of Los Carpinteros occurred in 1998, when they showed at the International Contemporary Art Fair (ARCO), held in Madrid, Spain. They gained further recognition with their installation Transportable City (Ciudad transportable ...

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Charles L. Hughes

singer and member of the Supremes, was born in Rosetta, Mississippi, the eighth child of Jessie and Lurlee Ballard. In 1953 the Ballards, following the Great Migration path taken by millions of African Americans, moved to Detroit, Michigan, where Jessie Ballard worked in an automobile factory until his death in 1959. The family lived in the Brewster-Douglass Projects, and Ballard's powerful singing voice distinguished her both in school and around the neighborhood. Two of her neighbors, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, who were members of the local singing group the Primes, told their manager, Milton Jenkins, about Ballard, and Jenkins was impressed enough to book Ballard—still in her teens—as a solo act at the Primes' performances.

This early connection between Ballard and the Primes is vitally important both to Ballard s career and to the history of American popular music for two reasons First the Primes would ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

photographer and businessman, was born in New Orleans, where he remained professionally based throughout his sixty-plus-year career.

The leading African American photographer in New Orleans in the first half of the twentieth century, Bedou saw his reputation grow to national proportions as a result of his images of the life and travel of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University) President Booker T. Washington from the early 1900s through 1915. He photographed Washington at public-speaking engagements addressing crowds in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, California, and numerous other locations during his final tour, which ended in 1915. He recorded Washington in transit by coach, train, and automobile in addition to his famous portraits of the education leader posed upon his horse.

As official photographer for the Institute, Bedou covered any number of events for the school. He recorded the 24 October 1905 ...

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Theresa Leininger-Miller

artist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James F. Bell and Susanna County, probably laborers. Little is known about Bell's early life. She presumably attended segregated schools. It is unlikely that she ever received artistic training; she declared that she drew “without human teaching.” She probably worked as a domestic servant, laundress, or seamstress, beginning in her teenage years, and she may have traveled extensively. Bell said she “lived all around” before World War I. Since she does not appear in early-twentieth-century city directories or census records in Washington, D.C., or Boston, Massachusetts, and because she apparently never married or had children, it is likely that she resided with her various employers.

By the mid-1920s Bell was working for Edward Peter Pierce, justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1914 to 1937, and Adele Dutaud Pierce his wife as a live ...

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Nancy T. Robinson

historian, collector, archivist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born Wallace Michael Branch in Brooklyn, New York, one of two sons of Byrd Branch, an entrepreneur who operated a cleaning and tailoring business in New York City and held down a thirty-five-year job at the weekly newspaper Irish Echo to support his family, and Vera Barbour Branch. In Brooklyn, Branch and his family lived a solid middle-class lifestyle, making their home in a four-floor brownstone home that they owned.

Branch was born with sickle cell anemia a hereditary incurable chronic disorder with which patients suffer severe pain and tissue and organ damage as a result of oxygen and nutrient deficiencies At the time of Branch s birth information about and treatment of the disease were limited According to his family doctors who treated Branch as a child never gave him much hope for survival At fourteen Branch became so ill that he ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

draftsman, lithographer, painter, and entrepreneur, was born free in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Brown and Wilhelmina (maiden name unknown). Nothing is known about Brown's family or childhood. It appears that in the mid-1850s, Brown moved to San Francisco on the heels of the gold rush. While black fur traders, including Edward Rose and Jim Beckwourth, had already explored the West by the mid-1850s, few African Americans were living in California before this time. By 1860, though, close to five thousand blacks had moved to California, including Mary Ellen Pleasant and Edmond Wysinger. Just what precipitated Brown's decision to move to San Francisco is unknown, but records show that by 1861 he was employed as a draftsman for the commercial lithography firm of Kuchel and Dressel While his skill is evidenced by the quality work he produced for the firm Brown must also have been considered a ...

Article

Deborah Willis

James Conway Farley was born to slave parents in Prince Edward County, Virginia, on August 10, 1854. Following the death of his father, Farley and his mother moved in 1861 to Richmond, Virginia, where his mother was a storeroom keeper at the Columbia Hotel. He assisted in making candles, learned to read and write, and attended public schools for three years. After working briefly with a baker, he was employed in 1872 in the chemical department of the photographic establishment of C. R. Rees and Company in downtown Richmond. During a number of years after 1875, he set the scene and made photographs for the G. W. Davis Photograph Gallery, also in downtown Richmond on Broad Street. In 1895 he opened his own studio, the Jefferson Fine Arts Gallery.

For thirty five years Farley prospered in a profession that had few black men When four white ...

Article

Patricia Brady

sculptor and proprietor of a large marble yard and monument business, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the eldest son and third child of [René] Prosper Foy (b. 1787–d. 1854), a Napoleonic veteran, marble cutter, businessman, and writer, who had immigrated to the city from France in 1807, and Azelie Aubry (b. c. 1795–d. 1870), a free woman of color, native to New Orleans. Because interracial marriage was illegal, Foy's parents never married, but their sometimes stormy union lasted from 1810 until Prosper Foy's death; Aubry subsequently referred to herself in all public documents as his widow. The elder Prosper Foy prospered in business and fought with distinction at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Of Foy and Aubry's children, four daughters and Florville lived to adulthood.

Florville studied with a private tutor, and all the children were well educated, judging by their copybooks and letters. In 1836 ...

Article

Donovan S. Weight

entrepreneur, pioneer, and town founder, was born near the Pacolet River in Union County, South Carolina, the son of an enslaved woman named Juda. His paternity is a bit murky, but most evidence points to his owner George McWhorter. Little information exists about the West African–born Juda other than that she had been a slave to the McWhorters since 1775. Oral family tradition holds that although George McWhorter sent Juda to the woods with orders to kill the baby at birth, Juda protected Frank, preserved him, and brought him home alive the next morning. The boy who would become Free Frank spent his-formative years learning how to farm in the backwoods country of South Carolina. At eighteen Frank moved with his owner to a temporary homestead in-Lincoln County, Kentucky. In 1798 George McWhorter bought some farmland in newly formed Pulaski County Kentucky In ...

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Donna M. Wells

artist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, to Thomas Freeman and Sarah Freeman. Following his father's death, in 1877 he and his sister Delilah moved with their mother to Washington, where Freeman attended Washington, D.C., public schools and excelled in drawing and painting. It is not known if he finished high school. He held a variety of jobs, including laborer and waiter, to help support the family.

In 1885, at the age of seventeen, Freeman started to advertise his services as a painter in addition to art framer and bicycle repairman. Gradually he began to pursue a career as an artist and photographer. His early work consisted of pastel drawings of Washington's elite African American community. His most famous portraits were of the Washington lawyer John Mercer Langston, completed in 1893, and of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1895 That ...

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John Gruber

photographer, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and attended Howard High School in Chattanooga. His parents were King and Hattie Murfrees Ganaway. Ganaway did not go to college, although his sister, Mamie Egester, graduated from college in Chattanooga. He worked as a butler from 1906 to 1925 for Mary A. Lawrence, the widow of Edward F. Lawrence, a prominent Chicagoan, who lived on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago's “Gold Coast.” During these years, he tried to revive a childhood interest in drawing, but frustrated with his efforts, he turned to photography. He was self-taught, spending his off days perfecting his photographic skills.

Ganaway's photo, “Spirit of Transportation”—an image of two sections of a passenger train, the 20th Century Limited, arriving in Chicago on a cold day in February 1918 captivated the media when it won the first prize in the fifteenth annual exhibition of photographs at ...

Article

John Hanson Mitchell

photographer and naturalist, was born in Natural Bridge, Virginia. His parents' names and occupations are unknown. In 1881, after attending primary schools in Lexington, Virginia, Gilbert was taken by his family to Lynchburg, Virginia, to complete his education. In 1886 he followed his brother William north to Boston, where he found employment as a porter on the Portland Boston steamship line. He would work various odd jobs until 1896, when psychologist James Chadbourne hired him to help with laboratory rats. Gilbert, as he was generally known in the Boston white community, also took a temporary job setting up a bird museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the renowned nineteenth-century ornithologist William Brewster. Brewster subsequently hired Gilbert as a full-time manservant, field assistant, factotum, and, as some of the early private journal records state, “friend,” to the well-respected Brewster.

Under Brewster s tutelage Gilbert learned how to develop ...

Article

Renée R. Hanson

sculptor, illustrator, ceramicist, and entrepreneur, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the first of three children born to the Reverend Hathaway and Mrs. Hathaway. Hathaway's mother died when he was only two years old, and his father and grandmother raised him and his two sisters, Fannie and Eva.

A trip with his father to a local museum inspired Hathaway to become an artist. Walking through the museum's galleries, which were filled with busts of famous white American heroes, Isaac noticed the absence of-many African Americans, such as Frederick Douglass. He asked his father why they were absent, and the elder Hathaway simply stated that there were no trained African American sculptors to sculpt prominent African American people. The young Hathaway determined to change this by becoming a trained artist.

Hathaway began his career as an artist at Chandler College in Lexington and continued it ...

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David Bjelajac

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 ...

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J. Susan Isaacs

painter, was probably born in the West Indies. It is now generally believed by scholars of American art and history that Johnson was black and may have come to this country as a young man, probably as a slave. Johnson might be identified as the “negro boy” mentioned in the 1777 will of Captain Robert Polk of Maryland. This boy is thought to have been purchased by Polk's brother-in-law, the noted artist Charles Willson Peale. Stylistic resemblances between the work of Charles Willson Peale and Joshua Johnson are apparent. Unfortunately, very little documentation on Johnson exists, and identification of his works is accomplished through provenance (mostly oral family tradition), and connoisseurship—observation of technique, subject matter, iconography, and style.

Johnson s artistic career spanned nearly thirty years during which he worked only in Baltimore painting portraits of many of its citizens Like many artists of the period he more ...

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David C. Driskell

Born probably in the latter part of the eighteenth century, Johnston lived as a slave in the vicinity of Baltimore, Maryland, until the 1830s. He had three masters, all of Baltimore. The first, General Samuel Smith, was a hero of the American Revolution (1775–1783). Smith served in U.S. president Thomas Jefferson's cabinet as secretary of the navy and later as United States senator from Maryland. The second, General John Stricker, was a hero of the War of 1812. The third, Colonel John Moale, was one of the leading military figures in the regiment that defended Baltimore against the British during the American Revolution. Moale later became a wealthy landlord, judge, and prosperous merchant. One of the three owners encouraged young Johnston to master “doing likenesses,” or portrait painting. Johnston painted a portrait of Colonel Moale's wife, Ellin Moale sitting in the company ...

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Kane Kwei was born in Teshi, a town in southeastern Ghana, and worked much of his career there. Teshi, which is located about ten kilometers (6 miles) east of the capital Accra, lies in a coastal trading region of Ga-speaking peoples, who have ties to the Dangme, Akan, and Asante There are different versions of the origin of the coffin art tradition but one relates that Kwei s mentor Ata Owoo created the first fantasy coffin in the early 1950s when a cocoa pod shaped palanquin created for a local tribal chief was used as his coffin Encouraged to pursue the new art form by Owoo Kwei began sculpting wooden burial vessels that reflected the occupation of the deceased an eagle coffin for a chief a boat coffin for a fisher a cocoa pod or onion shaped coffin for a farmer or a hen ...