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Aaron Myers

While a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in the 1930s, Elizabeth Catlett first encountered African sculptural art and the contemporary work of Mexican muralists. These two art traditions inform most of Catlett's oeuvre. Her sculpted figures have the same voluminous, rounded forms of the people portrayed in the murals of Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera. At the same time, the faces of Catlett's sculpted figures have an owl-like, lunar quality that seems to be derived from African mask design. This stylized facial quality can also be observed in some of Catlett's graphic work, especially in her lithographs. In her linocuts, on the other hand, the faces and bodies of figures are rendered in a more realistic manner; these linocuts are stylistically related to the work of printmakers at the Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico City, where Catlett studied from 1946 to 1947 She combined ...

Article

Freida High (Wasikhongo Tesfagiorgis)

I don’t have anything against men but, since I am a woman, I know more about women and I know how they feel. Many artists are always doing men. I think that somebody ought to do women. Artists do work with women, with the beauty of their bodies and the refinement of middle-class women, but I think there is a need to express something about the working-class Black woman and that’s what I do.

(Gladstone, p. 33)

As a reputed sculptor and printmaker whose career began in the 1940s, Elizabeth Catlett is a major figure in modern American and Mexican art. Catlett’s work embraces the human condition, revealing a deep passion for dignifying humanity, especially working-class women and, in particular, African American and Mexican women. Titles of her sculpture suggest this interest: Black Woman Speaks (1970), Mother and Child (1940, 1993), Mujer (1964 ...

Article

Kyra E. Hicks

quilter and textile artist, was born Michael Arthur Cummings in Los Angeles, California, to Arthur Cummings, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and Dorothy Dent Cummings Goodson. He was the oldest of three children, including sisters Phyllis and Monica. Cummings attended Fremont High School and Los Angeles City College.

In 1970 Cummings moved to New York, where he attended the Art Students League and later earned a BA in American Art History at Empire College of the State University of New York. His early art mediums were painting, shadow boxes, and collage. The collage and mixed media work of Romare Bearden and appliquéd banners such as those created by the Fon of the Republic of Benin were early artistic influences on Cummings who once made a fabric banner He saw the potential to explore art through fabric and quilts also appreciating that fabrics could be folded shipped and ...

Article

Nicholas J. Bridger

Yoruba wood sculptor, was born in 1924 in Ila-Orangun, now in Osun State, Nigeria. He was the fifth-generation son of a noted traditional wood carver, Akobi Ogun Fakeye. The elder Fakeye had also worked as a babalawo, a traditional Ifa diviner-priest. He acquired the name Lamidi, an abbreviated form of Abdul Hameed, when he converted to Islam as a teenager. Tellingly, his given name, Olonade, translates as “the carver has arrived.” His specific birth year is given by Father Kevin Carroll as “about 1925,” although his immediate family preferred the year 1924.

By 1945 both his parents had died leaving him without direct parental support although they had secured his early education in the local colonial schools he later completed high school on his own Not having had a carving apprenticeship as a youth Lamidi was later forced to teach himself the rudiments of wood sculpture ...

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

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

Alonford James Robinson

Known to friends as Ollie, Oliver Wendell Harrington was born in Valhalla, New York, the eldest of Herbert Harrington and Eugenia Tarat's five children. He graduated from high school in 1929 and moved to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance.

Harrington attended the National Academy of Design, where he studied painting and drawing. By 1932 his comic strips were being featured in black newspapers, including the Pittsburgh Courier, New York Amsterdam News, and Baltimore Afro-American. Bootsie, a cartoon character who mimicked the styles and trends in the urban black community and who would become Harrington's most famous creation, first appeared in a comic strip called “Dark Laughter.” In 1958 a collection of Bootsie comic strips was published as Bootsie and Others.

In 1940 Harrington received his bachelor s in fine arts degree from the Yale University School of Fine Arts Two ...

Article

Shirley M. Carr Clowney

self-taught folk artist, was born Bessie Ruth White in Dallas, Georgia, the seventh of thirteen children of Homer White, a chef and a barber, and Rosa White, a seamstress. Harvey's father died when she was young, and her mother became an alcoholic. She quit school after the fourth grade to help care for her siblings. As a young child she learned how to make “something out of nothing” (Harvey). For example, she would make a car out of a box and tin cans and then pretend to go places in it. Harvey married at age fourteen, but after experiencing marital difficulties, she left her husband and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. Later, the family moved to Alcoa, Tennessee.

The self-taught, visionary Christian artist began sculpting in 1974 at the age of forty five Harvey had no formal training as an artist but she intuitively created spirit figures ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

musician, activist, author, painter, and sculptor, was born Richard Pierce Havens in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of nine children. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. His father, Richard Havens, worked as a metal plater and dreamed of becoming a professional pianist, eventually learning to play a number of instruments. Richie's mother Mildred a bookbinder and casual singer at home encouraged her young son when he started singing background vocals at the age of twelve for local groups All kinds of music were played in the Havens home Richie s grandmother listened to Yiddish gospel and big band music his mother enjoyed country music and his father loved jazz He joined the doo wop singing group the Five Chances at age fifteen and performed the next year with the Brooklyn McCrea Gospel Singers a group that sang hymns for neighborhood churches Havens ...

Article

Anne Hudson Jones

“If Jimmy Carter wants to see me, he knows where I am. He can come here.” This reply to President Carter’s invitation that she come to Washington for the opening of an exhibition of her work is vintage Clementine Hunter. Her disregard for fame and the famous was part of her special charm and did not change, even after she became known worldwide for her colorful folk paintings of black life in the Cane River region of northern Louisiana.

Hunter was born on Hidden Hill Plantation, near Cloutierville, Louisiana. Her mother, Mary Antoinette Adams, was the daughter of a slave who was brought to Louisiana from Virginia. Her father, John Reuben had an Irish father and a Native American mother Hunter considered herself a Creole When she was a teenager she moved with her family from Hidden Hill to Yucca Plantation which was renamed Melrose seventeen miles ...

Article

Clementine Clemence Rubin Hunter was born on a cotton plantation in Clourtierville, Louisiana, to Mary Antoinette Adams, a woman of Virginia slave ancestry, and Janvier (John) Reuben, a man of Native American and Irish descent. She moved with her family from Hidden Hill to Melrose Plantation (formerly Yucca), near Natchitoches, Louisiana, while she was in her early teens. She remained at Melrose, first as a cotton picker, then as the plantation cook until 1970.

Hunter had two children with Charles Dupree, Joseph and Cora. Dupree died in 1914, and Hunter married Emanuel Hunter in 1924. She bore five more children: Mary, Agnes, King, and two who died at birth. A widow by 1944, Clementine Hunter died at the age of 101 a few miles from Melrose, having outlived all of her children.

Hunter became a celebrated folk artist for her paintings of ...

Article

Jacob Armstead Lawrence painted figurative and narrative pictures of the black community and black history for more than sixty years in a consistent modernist style, using expressive, strong design and flat areas of color. His parents, Jacob Armstead Lawrence of South Carolina and Rose Lee of Virginia, were part of the Great Migration, the movement of African Americans from the South to the promise of jobs in Northern industry during the two decades following the onset of World War I.

Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When he was two years old, his family moved to Easton, Pennsylvania, and, a few years later, to Philadelphia, where his father became a part-time dining-car cook on the railroads. After his parents separated in 1924, Lawrence, his mother, and his younger brother and sister moved to Harlem where they joined relatives who had also relocated in ...

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

Nicola Cooney

Jorge de Lima was the son of José Mateus de Lima, a wealthy businessman, and Delmira Simões Lima. He studied humanities at Maceió, the seaport capital city of Alagoas State, Brazil, and earned a degree in medicine, which he practiced in Maceió and Rio de Janeiro. He went on to become a university professor and local politician in Rio de Janeiro.

Lima's talent for writing emerged at an early age. He published his first poems, including “O Acendedor dos Lampiões” (The Street Lamp Lighters, 1907 in a small literary paper he produced while still in secondary school He spent his childhood living either at the stately house of a sugar plantation or the family s second home in the city These experiences inspired much of his literary work Both his father and his maternal grandfather were white abolitionists who refused to accept slave labor on ...

Article

Kyra E. Hicks

one of America's most prominent quilters and African American quilt history advocates, was born Carolyn Stewart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Edward Stewart, a chemical engineer, and Thelma Stewart, a librarian. The eldest of four children, she earned her undergraduate degree in 1977 at Northrop University in Inglewood, California. In 1984 she received her PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. As a child, her favorite aunt encouraged Mazloomi's fascination with airplanes and flying. She became a licensed pilot in 1974 and retired from a career as an aerospace engineer and Federal Aviation Administration crash site investigator. Mazloomi and her husband, Rezvan, married in 1975 and resided in West Chester, Ohio. They had three children, Damian Patrick, Farzad, and Farhad.

Mazloomi taught herself to quilt after seeing a traditional patchwork quilt with American eagles in each corner at ...

Article

Manuel Mendive was born in Havana, Cuba. At an early age his family introduced him to the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, and to this day he is a practitioner of this and other African-derived traditions. Mendive graduated in 1963 from the San Alejandro National School of Fine Arts in Havana as a painter. From the beginning of his artistic career, Mendive intentionally employed a “primitive” artistic style to express the myths and cosmology of Yoruba-derived traditions in Cuba.

The period from 1963 to 1968 is known as Mendive s dark period possibly the most important of his career During this time he focused on the representation of Afro Cuban myths with predominantly ochre tones and a blending of painting with sculpture and assemblage mixed media often using materials with ritual connotations In their appearance and conceptualization the works approximated certain Afro Cuban ritual objects without explicitly reflecting ...

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

Born in Lafayette, Alabama, Sister Gertrude Morgan became an evangelist and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1939. She took the title “Sister” in the 1950s when, with two other street missionaries, she founded a church and an orphanage.

Morgan began painting in 1956, concentrating primarily on religious visions and biblical scenes. She believed that she was mystically married to Jesus Christ which she symbolized by dressing entirely in white Her paintings frequently depicted her with Jesus as bride and groom often with herself in black before and in white after the marriage As a street preacher Morgan eschewed the formal art world preferring to make folk art with any material at hand including Styrofoam cardboard lamp shades and jelly jars Her work frequently includes calligraphy which communicates a spiritual message or a biblical verse All her inspiration she felt came from God saying He moves ...

Article

Nancy Goldstein

cartoonist, was born Zelda Mavin Jackson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the younger daughter of Mary Brown Jackson, homemaker, and William Winfield Jackson, printer and printing business owner. “Jackie,” the name she would be known for, came from Jackson, her maiden name. Jackie Ormes was the first African American woman cartoonist. She created four different cartoon series, all in African American weekly newspapers, mostly in the late 1940s and early 1950s: Torchy Brown in “Dixie to Harlem” from 1 May 1937 to 30 April 1938 in the Pittsburgh Courier; Candy from 24 March 1945 to 21 July 1945 in the Chicago Defender; Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger from 1 September 1945 to 22 September 1956 in the Pittsburgh Courier; Torchy in Heartbeats from 19 August 1950 to 18 September 1954 in the Pittsburgh Courier Ormes grew up in a middle class mixed race neighborhood in Monongahela Pennsylvania where she once ...

Article

Caryn E. Neumann

a self-taught folk artist, was born with a veil as the second youngest of nine children in Baldwyn, Mississippi, to the farmers Richard Pierce, a former slave, and Nellie Wallace Pierce. Among African Americans, a baby born with a veil, a thin membrane covering the child's head, is blessed with the ability to prophesy and is viewed as being chosen by God to be religious.

By the age of eight, Pierce was already carving. Having a favorite uncle who carved and getting some rudimentary knowledge of carpentry from growing up on a farm undoubtedly had a great deal to do with Pierce's avocation. By his teenage years, Pierce had already decided that he would not be a farmer. He laid track for the railroad but sought a trade that would give him independence. Accordingly, he apprenticed with a local barber. On 26 September 1920 Pierce became ...