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Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, James Amos Porter studied art as an undergraduate at Howard University, graduating in 1927. He joined the Howard faculty that same year as a drawing and painting instructor and remained a professor there until the end of his life.

The first exhibition of one of Porter's paintings was in 1928. Group and solo exhibitions followed in the United States and abroad. In 1937, already an acknowledged teacher and painter, he earned an M.A. in art history from New York University. In 1935 and 1945 he received Rockefeller Foundation grants, and traveled to Europe, Haiti, and Cuba to seek inspiration for his work.

As an artist, Porter was best known for his portraits, including the prize-winning “Woman Holding a Jug” (1933). Several of his paintings are now held by the National Archives in Washington, D.C. ...