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Article

Joseph S. Mella

painter, graphic artist, printmaker, and publisher, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Ned Adams, an electrician and occasional sign painter, and Laura. Adams first explored art making by mimicking his father, who, according to Adams, enjoyed drawing. After the divorce of his parents around 1944, Adams lived with his aunt and uncle, Claudia and Caleb Spivey. Although he sought to attend a program for gifted children at the Detroit Institute of Arts, his uncle vehemently prohibited it, preferring that Adams spend his free time working jobs such as delivering newspapers. Adams attended Northwestern High School in Detroit while continuing to live with the Spiveys until age fifteen, when he moved to his father's home.

After graduating from high school in 1951 Adams moved to Romeo Michigan a then rural town forty one miles north of Detroit There Adams worked at ...

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Robert Fay

Alston was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a teenager, he served as the art editor for his high school's annual magazine. Alston earned both his undergraduate and M.A. degrees from Columbia University in New York City. He gained popular recognition for his cover illustrations for the periodicals The New Yorker and Collier's. In the 1930s Alston taught at the Harlem Art Workshop, where he was a proponent of muralism as a black art form, and from 1935 to 1936 Alston directed the Harlem Hospital murals for the Federal Arts Project. In 1950 he became the first African American teacher at the Art Students League in New York. His best-known works are the paintings Family and Walking, which are noted for their figurative content, sculptural form, and brilliant color, and which portray the experiences of African American families in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Mary Anne Boelcskevy

artist and teacher, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the youngest of five children of the prominent Episcopalian minister Primus Priss Alston and his second wife, Anna (Miller) Alston. Nicknamed “Spinky” by his father, Charles showed his artistic bent as a child by sculpting animals out of the red clay around his home. His father died suddenly when Charles was just three. In 1913 his mother married a former classmate, Harry Pierce Bearden (uncle of Romare Bearden), and the family moved to New York City. Charles's stepfather worked at the Bretton Hotel as the supervisor of elevator operators and newsstand personnel, and over the years the family lived in comfortable brownstones in better neighborhoods.

Alston attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he was art editor of the student newspaper the Magpie during the week and he studied at the National Academy of Art on Saturdays He turned ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

artist and political activist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1937 Bolden received a four‐year scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, where he majored in illustration and advertising design. Upon his graduation he became an artist and layout designer for a top advertising agency in Philadelphia. His duties included prep work for original work by Norman Rockwell. In fact Bolden and Rockwell became close friends, and it was Rockwell who “encouraged Bolden to use neighbors and local townspeople as models for his art,” according to a New Hampshire Circle of Friends flyer.

After World War II Mel Bolden moved to New York and became a full‐time illustrator, working first for black newspapers, then for such general magazines as Fortune, Saturday Review, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, Boy's Life, as well as for major newspapers like the New York Times and the New York ...

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Joshunda Sanders

photographer, artist, and educator, was born in Harlem, New York City, the only child of Andrew DeCarava and Elfreda Ferguson. DeCarava never knew his father; his mother worked as a clerical worker for the Work Projects Administration.

Elfreda DeCarava arrived in New York from Jamaica as the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North was transforming Harlem into a predominantly African American community. She tried to foster her son's creativity as a single mother when he was a boy by getting him a violin and an expensive velvet short suit, in which he said he used to run through Harlem to get to practice. While DeCarava never became a violinist, he became actively interested in and a part of a wide range of artistic endeavors from sketching to movies.

As an eight year old boy he used chalk or pieces of Plaster ...

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Makeda Best

photographer. Born in Harlem, New York, in 1919, Roy DeCarava knew by the age of nine that he wanted to be an artist. His creative talent led him to the arts-oriented Textile High School. Initially enrolled at the Harlem annex, DeCarava transferred to the better-equipped main campus located in downtown Manhattan. DeCarava went on to attend college at the Cooper Union School of Art. Though inspired by the opportunities the Cooper Union offered, DeCarava left in 1940 and began attending the Works Progress Administration–sponsored Harlem Community Art Center. DeCarava thrived in Harlem's lively visual arts community, where organizations such as the Harlem Artists Guild, founded by the painter Aaron Douglas in 1935 supported classes and forums He met other African American artists and found himself at the center of discussions about African American creative expression In addition to his studies at the Harlem Art Center DeCarava worked ...

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Aaron Myers

Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, he taught art at Lincoln High School in Topeka from 1923 to 1925. He moved to Harlem, New York in 1925, the year cultural critic and philosopher Alain Leroy Locke launched the New Negro movement. This movement expressed African Americans' new pride in their African heritage, which manifested itself in literature, song, dance, and most significantly for Douglas, art.

Douglas soon made the acquaintance of German American portrait artist Winold Reiss, who illustrated the March 1925 issue of Survey Graphic an issue devoted to the New Negro movement and edited by Locke Both Reiss and Locke encouraged Douglas to develop his own aesthetic from design motifs in African art Douglas followed their suggestions and sought examples of African art which in the 1920s were beginning to be purchased by American museums ...

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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 ...

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A. B. Christa Schwarz

artist. Known as the “father of Black American art,” Aaron Douglas significantly influenced the field of black visual arts and dominated the visual sphere of the Harlem Renaissance, the first African American cultural movement. Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, one of several children of the baker Aaron Douglas Sr. from Tennessee and his wife, Elizabeth, a homemaker from Alabama. Douglas developed an interest in art at an early age, graduated from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1922, and took a teaching position at Lincoln High School in Kansas City in 1923, staying until 1925. Desiring to further develop his own craft and inspired by the 1925 Harlem issue of the sociology journal Survey Graphic, Douglas moved to Harlem in 1925.

Interpreting the Harlem Renaissance as an opportunity to replace old stereotypical images of African Americans ...

Article

Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

visual artist, was born in Long Creek, North Carolina, the only child of Joseph Kelley and Ella Kelley, farmers. Evans was raised primarily by her maternal grandmother, a domestic worker in the Wrightsville Beach resort community. Evans also believed she had roots in the Caribbean, and specifically, Trinidad, which was reported to be the ancestral home of a female slave ancestor who came to the United States via the Charleston seaport. While Evans was in the sixth grade, financial necessity forced her to abandon her studies. She became a sounder, a type of traveling vendor who sold shellfish from the Atlantic Ocean.

As a young girl, Evans had persistent, color-drenched dreams that informed her nascent, creative vision. The spectral revelations continued well into her adulthood, well after her marriage to Julius Caesar Evans at age sixteen. The Evanses had three sons, Elisha, David, and George ...

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Minnie Jones Evans was raised by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother in Wilmington, North Carolina. She left school after the fifth grade and began working. She was perpetually employed in low-paying jobs. At age sixteen, in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, she married Julius Caesar Evans, with whom she had three sons. Her artistic career began on Good Friday in 1935, when she began drawing in response to visions, voices, and dreams she claimed to have since childhood, whose message, she said, was “Draw or die!”

Working with simple materials crayon graphite ink and oils on paper or board Evans created thousands of mixed media drawings and collages inspired by her visions in which stylized flowers and foliage exotic birds strange creatures angels and royal or divine figures are major motifs Self taught hence an outsider rather than folk artist and a devout Christian who knew the Bible by ...

Article

Frank Martin

artist, writer, illustrator and educator, was born Elton Clay Fax, the son of Mark Oakland and Willie Estele Fax in Baltimore, Maryland. Fax initially matriculated at the historically black institution Claflin University, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, but completed his studies and received a BFA at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, in 1931. On 12 March 1929, Fax married the former Grace Elizabeth Turner, and their union produced three children.

In 1934 Fax painted a well-received mural, commissioned by the Public Works of Art Projects (PWAP) at Baltimore's Dunbar High School, depicting the incorporation of southern, black agrarians into the urban, industrial north. Fax's representation of the Great Migration and a pluralistic American workforce was an ideal example of the American Social-Realist art that was supported by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal projects Social Realism was a popular style in the 1930s ...

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Anne K. Driscoll

painter, printmaker, and illustrator, was born in Gardens Corner, South Carolina, the second of seven children of Ruth J. Green (a home manager) and Melvin Green (occupation unknown). Green is possibly the first person of Gullah descent to train at a professional art school. The Gullah are the descendants of West African slaves who lived on and near the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina.

Great things were expected of Green from the time of his birth. He was born with an inner fetal membrane covering his head and for this reason was considered a “child of the Veil” (Green). In Gullah culture the Veil marks children “touched by uncommonness and magic that will bring inordinate grace to the community.” Traveling to New York seeking employment, Green's mother left Green in the care of his maternal grandmother, Eloise Stewart Johnson Green was interested in art ...

Article

Timothy L. Jackson

cartoonist and illustrator, was born Jay Paul Jackson in Oberlin, Ohio. He was the fourth child and only son of Nellie Curry and Franklin R. Jackson. Jay Jackson tried his hand at a variety of trades before discovering his aptitude for cartooning. At the age of thirteen he joined the workforce, pounding railway spikes for a railroad company located just outside of Columbus, Ohio. He then worked as a steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and had a brief career as a boxer while Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, from 1925 to 1926. During his time at Wesleyan, an instructor redirected his interests toward the field of advertising.

At the age of nineteen, Jackson wed his first wife, Adeline C. Smith (?–1924 and started a successful sign painting business However this success cost him his health Jackson suffered a severe case of lead poisoning caused by ...

Article

J. Vern Cromartie

visual artist, musician, author, and political activist, was born Joan Angela Lewis in Oakland, California, to John Henry Lewis and Florence (Reid) Lewis. She is also known as J. Tarika Lewis, Tarika Lewis, Joan Lewis, and Matilaba. At the time of her birth, her father was a salesman for G&W Refrigeration. He was the first black man to become the light heavyweight champion of the world, a title he held from 1935 to 1939. After retiring as a prize fighter, John Henry Lewis and his father Edward Lewis operated a boxing gym in Oakland.

While attending Oakland Technical High School Lewis was active in the journalism music and athletic programs She wrote for the school newspaper and played violin in the school orchestra Lewis was also a member of the swim team and a sprinter on the track team From the 10th to ...

Article

Timothy L. Jackson

editorial cartoonist and illustrator, was born Ahmed Samuel Milai in Washington, D.C.

During the 1930s Milai served as illustrator of Joel Augustus Rogers's black history comic titled Your History. Rogers's comic brouge4820ht readers of the black press information about the remarkable achievements of individuals throughout the African diaspora, which was conspicuously absent from elementary school history books across America. The fully illustrated Your History comic was presented in a style similar to that of the popular Ripley's Believe it or Not! feature. Although Milai worked in association with the Pittsburgh Courier, Your History also appeared in a number of other black press publications nationally.

On 31 July 1937 the Pittsburgh Courier debuted Milai's comic domestic family strip titled Bucky This weekly comic strip centered on an adolescent boy and his interaction with his parents schoolmates and the obligatory assortment of tough guys and bullies Over the ...

Article

The son of Richard Henry and Pauline Minerva Nugent, Richard Bruce Nugent left Washington, D.C. with his recently widowed mother at the age of thirteen and moved to New York City, where he attended Dunbar High School. To support himself Nugent worked as an errand boy, bellhop, designer, and elevator operator, as well as a “secretary and a confidance man for a modiste.”

Openly gay at the age of nineteen, Nugent went by the name Richard Bruce to protect his mother from public embarrassment about his homosexuality. Although his gay identity cost him some friendships, Nugent associated with gay and bisexual contemporaries Langston Hughes, Carl Van Vechten, E. M. Forster, and Alain Locke. His dramatic “ultimate bohemian” style was the basis for Wallace Thurmanapos;s character Paul Arbian in Infants of the Spring (1932 the roman a clef that satirized figures of ...

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Nathan L. Grant

also known as Bruce Nugent and Richard Bruce. “Shadows,” Richard Bruce Nugent's first published poem, on the subject of race, appeared in Opportunity and was reprinted in 1927 in Countee Cullen's Caroling Dusk. “”Sahdji,” published in Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925), is a pseudo-African story characterized by the use of ellipses and contains the twin themes of homosexuality and biblical imagery that would often determine his later work. In collaboration with Locke this later became Sahdji—An African Ballet and appeared in Locke's anthology Plays of Negro Life (1927). Scored by William Grant Still, it was performed at the Eastman School of Music in 1932.

In 1926, with Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, Zora NealeHurston, and Aaron Douglas, Nugent's founded the controversial magazine Fire!! Nugent's “Smoke, Lilies and Jade,” apparently the first tale of ...

Article

Nicole McFarlane

portrait artist and illustrator, was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in the predominantly black west side of the city. He was the second of three children born to Carl Frank Owens, a bus driver, and Ada Mae Lightfoot Owens. As early as when he was four years old, Owens became well known in his neighborhood for his ubiquitous sketchpad and his ability to make likenesses of his family and playmates. His early formal education included attendance at Sampson Elementary, McMichael Middle School, and Northwestern High School, from which he graduated in 1949.

Although Owens's parents were supportive of his choice to make a career as an artist, they also encouraged him to pursue teaching. In 1952 he earned a bachelor of science degree in art education from Wayne State University That same year Owens landed his first professional job teaching art in the ...

Article

Sarah Powers

artist, illustrator, and textile designer, was born in the Bronx, New York. Her father was a public school teacher of Latin and Greek from Augusta, Georgia, while her mother was from Roanoke, Virginia. Piper was raised and spent most of her life in New York City. Her interest in painting began when she was in high school. Although she was offered a four-year scholarship to the Pratt Institute, a New York art school, in 1936 she instead enrolled in Hunter College with the intention of becoming a teacher. In 1940 she graduated, receiving a BA in Fine Arts, with a minor in geometry. From 1943 to 1946 she continued her art education at the Art Students League in New York City, where her most influential teachers were painters Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Vaclav Vytlacil.

Piper was awarded a fellowship from the Rosenwald Foundation in 1946 allowing ...