Term used to describe art made by Americans of African descent. While the crafts of African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries continued largely to reflect African artistic traditions (see Africa, §VIII), the earliest fine art made by professional African American artists was in an academic Western style (see fig.).
Regenia A. Perry, Camara Dia Holloway, Christina Knight, Dele Jegede, Bridget R. Cooks, and Jenifer P. Borum
London‐born poet, printer, visionary, and ‘prophet against empire’. Over the course of his lifetime Blake confronted the horrors of slavery through his literary and pictorial art. He was able both to counter pro‐slavery propaganda and to complicate typical abolitionist verse and sentiment with a profound and unique exploration of the effects of enslavement and the varied processes of empire.
Blake's poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ from Songs of Innocence (1789 examines the mind forg d manacles of racial constructions in the minds of individuals both in the poem itself in the form of the black child and his white counterpart and also in the minds of those involved in the political dispute over abolition Seeming to explain a desire for racial acceptance and spiritual purity through assimilation into white British society and seeming also to be endorsing conventional assumptions of white racial superiority the poem ...
Susan B. Iwanisziw
commercial painter, artist, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only known child of Jeremiah Bowser from Maryland and Rachel Bustill, daughter of the prosperous black abolitionist and educator Cyrus Bustill. The intermarriage among the region's free black Quaker families headed by Cyrus Bustill, Robert Douglass Sr., Jeremiah Bowser, and David Mapps created a dynamic force that benefited all African Americans and particularly spurred David s personal growth and accomplishments Jeremiah a member of the Benezet Philosophical Society served as a steward on the Liverpool lines and later it seems he was the proprietor of an oyster house near the intersection of 4th and Cherry Streets where David Bowser first hung up his sign as a commercial painter Later the Bowser family moved to the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia into a house at 481 North 4th Street where Bowser remained for the ...
Dorothy A. Washington
museum cofounder, college equity officer, educator, and community volunteer, was born Fredi Mae Sears in Bradenton, Florida. She was the only daughter of three children born to Mary Miller, a laundress, and Oscar C. Sears Sr., a laborer at a trailer park operated by the local Kiwanis Club. She grew up in a deeply religious community that valued family, friends, and the church, and her father was a deacon and a founding member of St. Mary Baptist Church. Such lived experiences prepared Sears for a life of service.
In 1939 she graduated as valedictorian of her class at Lincoln High School in Bradenton. Upon graduation, she enrolled at Florida A&M College (later University) in Tallahassee, Florida, where in 1944 she earned a bachelor of science degree in Home Economics with minors in Science and English While at Florida A M Sears wrote for the student newspaper and her ...
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Campeche was the son of a free black father and a Spanish-born mother. Campeche started drawing at an early age, influenced by his father, who was an artisan. He later had contact with the Spanish painter Luis Paret, who was exiled for three years (1775–1778) in Puerto Rico. Paret, a more experienced and formally trained painter, greatly influenced the style of the gifted Campeche.
Campeche is best known for his paintings of religious images and political figures. Among his works we find some of the first artistic representations of blacks in colonial slave society: the Exvoto de la Sagrada Familia (around 1800, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture Collection) and the street scene in Gobernador Ustariz (1789–1792, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture Collection). Another example is the artist's lost Self-Portrait that survives in two copies done by Ramón ...
painter, illustrator, and graphic artist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the second oldest of nine children of Herbert and Irene Crichlow, immigrants from Barbados. Using his bricklaying and plastering skills, Crichlow's father made beautiful, patterned ceiling decorations that Ernest recalled as his earliest artistic inspiration. In the 1920s Crichlow won his first artistic commission: a neighborhood preacher paid him and a close friend to paint a black Jesus on a window shade. Not only did this assignment encourage Crichlow to pursue a career in art, it also marked the beginning of his work with black subjects.
Realizing Crichlow's artistic potential, his art teachers at Haaren High School in Brooklyn raised money for a scholarship for him to attend the School of Commercial Illustrating and Advertising Art in Manhattan. In a 1968 interview Crichlow recalled that he left school during the height of the Depression but whether this ...
Joseph D. Ketner
painter, was born in Fayette, New York, the son of John Dean Duncanson, a carpenter and handyman, and Lucy Nickles. Robert's grandfather Charles Duncanson was a former slave from Virginia who was emancipated and around 1790 moved north. Perhaps because he was the illegitimate offspring of his master, Charles had been permitted to learn a skilled trade and later to earn his release from bondage. After the death of Charles, the Duncanson family moved west to the boomtown of Monroe, Michigan, on the tip of Lake Erie. There Robert, along with his four brothers, was raised in the family trades of house painting, decorating, and carpentry, a legacy of his grandfather's bondage. At the age of seventeen, after several years of apprenticeship, Robert entered into the painting trade with a partner, John Gamblin, advertising as “Painters and Glaziers.”
For unknown reasons the painting partnership disbanded after ...
See also Art in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Lisa E. Rivo
artist, was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, the seventh of eight children of Sam Gilliam, a carpenter and truck driver, and Estery C. Cousin, a schoolteacher. Around 1942 the Gilliams moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where Sam's artistic promise was encouraged by his parents and his teachers at Virginia Avenue Elementary School, Madison Junior High School, and Central High School, all segregated public facilities. Following high school graduation in 1951, he enrolled at the newly desegregated University of Louisville, earning a BA in Fine Arts in 1955. After serving two years in the U.S. Army, he returned to the University of Louisville and completed an MA in Painting in 1961 The following year Gilliam moved to Washington D C and married the journalist Dorothy Butler Over the next several years they had three daughters For the next twenty five years Gilliam worked as a teacher first ...
the first-native born portrait painter in New Orleans, and possibly the second documented painter of African descent in the United States (the first is believed to be Joshua Johnson of Baltimore), was born in the Crescent City, the son of Jeanne Susanne Desirée Marcos, a free woman of color, and John Thomas Hudson, a London-born merchant.
Historian Patricia Brady has traced Hudson's ancestry back three generations, to an enslaved woman, possibly born in Africa, named Annette, owned by a family named Leclerc. Annette may have been freed, but gaps in the documentary record leave this point uncertain. Her daughter, Françoise Leclerc, was purchased by one François Raguet in 1769, under a contract requiring that she be freed within six years. There is no record of any marriage, but Raguet freed her in 1772, purchased a home for her in 1776 and acknowledged her daughter Adelaide Raguet born ...
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 ...
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 ...
artist, was born in France, but the exact place of his birth is unknown. Nothing is known about his parents or his youth, but it seems likely that he received a traditional artistic education in Europe. Lion's lithographs were exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salons of 1831 (four prints, including L'affût aux canards [Duck Blind], which won honorable mention), 1834 (four works, including a scene based on Victor Hugo'sNôtre Dame de Paris), and 1836 (lithographs after Van Dyck, Jacquand, Waltier, Boulanger, and others). In the mid-1830s Lion immigrated to New Orleans, where the 1837 city directory listed him as a freeman of color and as a painter and lithographer; he worked in a lithography shop opened by the newspaper L'Abeille (The Bee Light skinned Lion often passed for white and appeared in other records as such His studio was located at ...
Despite Scipio Moorhead's position as a slave in the home of John Moorhead, a Presbyterian minister in Boston, he managed to develop his artistic talent. Sarah Moorhead, a painter who was the wife of the minister, probably provided some instruction.
The painting of African-American poet Phillis Wheatley that inspired the engraved frontispiece of her book of poetry is attributed to Moorhead. The volume, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in London in 1773 and created public debate concerning the intellectual abilities of those of African descent.
Unfortunately no signed works by Moorhead are known to exist. It is believed that it is Moorhead whom Wheatley immortalized with her 1773 poem, To S. M., A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Work. The poem is thought to be inspired by Scipio Moorhead and describes two paintings presumably by Moorhead, Aurora and Damon and Pythia ...
Anthony Aiello and William Pencak
The history of early African American painting is scattered and incomplete. In fact, evidence of the existence of black painters before the late nineteenth century comes not from paintings still in existence but from newspaper advertisements selling their services. The economic and social difficulties for free black fine artists and painters were severe, and the opportunities for slaves to engage in such pursuits were virtually nonexistent. Additionally, as with early American art in general, African American art consisted, for the most part, of folk art produced by anonymous people for practical use. Very little work dating to before the nineteenth century survives.
The earliest known African American artifact is a drum that was found in 1645 in colonial Virginia Resembling a West African chief s drum its decorative wood carving shows the high regard in which African and African American society held skilled carvers The earliest African American sculpture ...
painter, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Holdridge Primus, a porter at a grocery store and an active member of the Talcott Street Congregational Church, and Mehitable Jacobs, a dressmaker. The Primuses, one of the few African American families in the state to own property, consisted of the parents, Nelson, and his siblings Rebecca, Isabelle, and Henrietta, and their home was located on Wadsworth Street in Hartford. During Reconstruction, Rebecca Primus was active in efforts to educate the southern freedmen. Nelson Primus discovered his artistic talent at an early age. At the Hartford County Fair, he was recognized twice: in 1851, when he was only nine years old, he received a diploma for his sketches, and in 1859 he received a medal for his drawings.
Nelson Primus wanted to pursue that talent by painting professionally His father likely thought that this ...
Dewey Franklin Mosby
painter and draughtsman, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Benjamin Tucker Tanner, a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and editor of the Christian Recorder, and Sarah Miller. Tanner's parents were strong civil rights advocates; his middle name, Ossawa, was a tribute to the abolitionist John Brown of Osawatomie.
The Tanner family moved in 1868 to Philadelphia, where Henry saw an artist at work in Fairmont Park and “decided on the spot” to become one. His mother encouraged this ambition although his father apprenticed him in the flour business after he graduated valedictorian of the Roberts Vaux Consolidated School for Colored Students in 1877. The latter work proved too strenuous for Tanner, and he became ill. After a convalescence in the Adirondacks, near John Brown's farm, in 1879 he entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and studied under Thomas Eakins ...
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 ...
By the mid‐18th century Britain was at the height of its power and wealth, profiting from its leading role in the lucrative slave trade. Some of the great patrons of the age, like William Beckford and his son, were heavily involved in slavery, owning plantations in the West Indies. During this time black people found themselves represented mostly as servants in the households of the wealthy. Not only were they anonymous figures, but they had no control over how they were portrayed. There were of course notable exceptions, paintings in which the black sitter is afforded a measure of dignity that suggests a degree of respect and recognition as a fellow human being. The painting attributed to Joshua Reynolds (1723–92) titled Study of a Black Man (c.1770 is one such example The picture may be a portrait of one of Reynolds s own black servants ...