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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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Candace L. LeClaire

artist, was born to Mattie Bell, an unmarried, teenage sharecropper in Emelle, Alabama. Dial was the second of Bell's twelve children and was named simply “Buck” at birth. He did not have a formal surname and grew up uncertain of the identity of his biological father. Mattie Bell married a man named Dan Pratt shortly after the birth of her third son, and the couple went on to have nine more children. His mother's new and growing family proved to be a difficult adjustment for Buck, and he was sent to live with his great-grandmother, Had Dial, on the nearby farm of Bell's older cousin, Buddy Jake Dial. The Dials, who were of African and Native American descent, raised and cared for Thornton; they put him to work on the farm, and gave him the last name of Dial.

Dial s artistic sensibilities in part developed ...

Article

crystal am nelson

folk artist, was born Samuel Doyle on St. Helena Island, the Gullah Islands, South Carolina, one of nine children of Thomas Sr. and Sue Ladsen Doyle farmers on the Wallace plantation of mostly freed slaves Doyle attended the Penn School which was one of the country s first vocational and agricultural schools created by the Freedmen s Associations of Philadelphia to educate freed slaves on St Helena s Island He studied literature and carpentry through the ninth grade but was recognized for his drawing skills A teacher encouraged him to travel to New York where he could better nurture his talent with the growing opportunities available to African American artists however owing to financial constraints Doyle chose to remain on the island He dropped out of the Penn School following the ninth grade and found a job as a store clerk He later took on work as a ...

Article

Natalia Majluf

better known as Pancho Fierro, one of the most influential artists of nineteenth-century Peru, was born in Lima on 5 October 1807. He was the illegitimate son of a slave, María del Carmen Fierro, and a Creole priest, Nicolás Mariano Rodríguez del Fierro y Robina, scion of a wealthy Lima family, who served as priest in the Indian parish of San Damián and taught at the University of San Marcos. Though his father does not seem to have protected him, his wider family did lend the child some level of support. The painter, in fact, had the rare privilege of being freed at birth, while his mother, a servant in the Rodríguez del Fierro household, would only gain manumission in 1826. His wife, Gervasia Rosa Cornejo Belzunce, whom he married in 1828 was also of Afro Peruvian descent At least three children are known to have been ...

Article

Ingrid Schorr

visionary and folk artist, was born in Elloree, South Carolina, to an itinerant minister father, also named James, who abandoned the family when Hampton was young, and a mother whose name is unknown. Indeed, as is the case with many visionary or outsider artists, little is known about Hampton himself. He left the rural South around 1931 to join his older brother, Lee, in Washington, D.C., where fully half of the newly arrived black residents also came from South Carolina. Hampton worked as a short-order cook until he was drafted into the army in 1943 as a noncombatant. He served in with the 385th Aviation Squadron in Texas, Hawaii, and in Saipan and Guam, and upon his discharge in 1945 he returned to Washington. In 1946 he found employment with the General Services Administration as a night janitor He lived in the Shaw neighborhood named after a ...

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

folk artist, community activist, and Mardi Gras Indian leader, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Alfred Montana, “Big Chief” of the Yellow Pocahontas, a leading Mardi Gras Indian organization, and Alice Herrere Montana, both natives of New Orleans. When he was young, one of his cousins nicknamed him Tootie, and the name stuck. Masking as Mardi Gras Indians ran deep in the Montana family. Tootie was a third-generation black Indian leader. His great-uncle Becate Batiste was the legendary founding Big Chief of the Creole Wild West, the city's first and oldest masking Indian society; his father Alfred Montana was a famous leader of the Yellow Pocahontas, which was an offshoot of the Creole Wild West; but Tootie eventually surpassed both by far in terms of craftsmanship, influence, and fame.

The Mardi Gras Indian culture developed as an expression of black resistance ...

Article

Todd Palmer

artist, was born to Joshua Ruley and Eudora Robinson in Norwich, Connecticut. Ruley's father found refuge in the North after escaping from slavery as a stowaway on a coal ship leaving Wilmington, Delaware. Ruley, the eldest of five boys, ended his schooling in the third grade and followed his father into work at coalyards and construction sites. He continued to work as a laborer into his adulthood. From a brief marriage that ended in 1925 with Ida Bee, he had one daughter, Marion.

In 1929 a lumber truck hit Ruley and a coworker as they drove from a construction site, and he suffered serious head injuries. He received $25,000 in a court-ordered insurance settlement as compensation in 1932 The unexpected change of circumstance allowed Ruley a few extravagances brass beds a new phonograph and a sporty new green Chevrolet that his family would dub the Green ...

Article

Thomas R. Wolejko

slave, sharecropper, and artist, was born in Benton, Alabama, on the plantation of George Hartwell Traylor, from whom Bill acquired his surname. His parents' names and occupations are not known, but they were likely slaves on the Traylor plantation. Although Traylor recalled 1854 as his date of birth (he could not read or write), the 1900 U.S. Census for Lowndes County recorded his actual birth date as two years later.

After the Civil War, nine-year-old Bill continued to live and work on the Traylor plantation, eventually becoming a sharecropper. George Hartwell Traylor died in 1881, leaving the plantation to his son, Marion. On 13 August 1891 Bill married a woman named Lorisa (some sources refer to her as Laura). At the time of the 1900 U.S. Census, Traylor had fathered nine children: Pauline (1884), George (1885), Sallie (1887 ...