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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

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

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

Lisa E. Rivo

artist and writer, was born Faith Willie Jones at Harlem Hospital in New York City, the youngest of three children of Willi(e) Edell (Posey) and Andrew Louis Jones Sr., a truck driver for the city sanitation department. The Joneses separated in the early 1930s and divorced in 1942, by which time Willi Jones had begun work as a seamstress in the garment district. By the 1950s, using the name Madame Willi Posey, she had established a small dressmaking and design business in Harlem. Faith, who suffered from severe asthma and missed kindergarten and much of first grade because of her illness, enjoyed an especially close relationship with her mother, who organized creative projects to occupy her curious daughter. After graduating from Morris High School (she spent the first three years at George Washington High School) in 1948 Faith Jones began studying art at the City ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, educator, and advocate for black artists, was born Augusta Christine Fells in Green Cove Springs, Florida, the seventh of fourteen children of Edward Fells, a laborer and Methodist minister, and Cornelia Murphy. As a child, Savage routinely skipped school, preferring to model small figurines at local clay pits, much to the consternation of her religious father, who, as she recalled in a 1935 interview, “almost whipped the art out of me” (Bearden, 168). At age fifteen, Augusta married John T. Moore, and a year later a daughter, Irene Connie Moore, was born; John Moore died several years later. In 1915 the Fells family moved to West Palm Beach, where Savage taught clay modeling at her high school. She later spent a year at Tallahassee Normal School (now Florida A&M). At some point after 1915 she married a carpenter named James ...

Article

Deirdre Bibby

Augusta Savage was one of the most enigmatic figures in American art. Although she was one of the most influential individuals in Harlem during the later part of the Harlem Renaissance, her life and career remain something of a mystery. She championed social and political causes and promoted cultural and economic opportunities, particularly for African American artists and the Harlem community in the 1930s, but chose to leave that community later in life. Her efforts to establish the Harlem Community Art Center, where black people had the unprecedented and rare opportunity to study fine arts, were heralded throughout the United States. One of the most exciting programs of its kind in America, the center became a model for other urban centers and a symbol of race pride, as did Savage’s best known work, The Harp, which she produced for the 1939 World’s Fair.

Cast in plaster and painted this ...

Article

Anne Kingery

an artist active in a variety of mediums, was born to Charles and Elizabeth Talford Scott (a steel worker and a fiber artist/domestic care provider). Joyce Scott is descended from three generations of artists. Elizabeth Talford Scott is renowned for her quilts, which she extensively exhibited during the late twentieth century. From an early age, Scott was encouraged by her parents to make and study art. In 1970 she graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in Art Education. In 1971 she gained her master of fine arts degree from the Instituto Allende, San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

From 1974 to 1976 Scott continued her education with a residence at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, where she studied Yoruba weaving techniques with the Nigerian artists Twins Seven Seven and his wife, Nike Seven Seven ...

Article

Nico Slate

artist, teacher, and activist, was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi, the son of Cleveland Sykes, a handyman, and Anna Bell Clay. Growing up in Mississippi and in St. Louis, Missouri, Sykes and his eight siblings faced segregation and poverty. In the face of racism and hardship, his parents taught him to treat his home and his neighborhood with care and respect. In 1958 Sykes moved to San Diego, California, where he began painting in his spare time and where he met Erma Thornton. In 1961 he moved again, this time to Los Angeles, where two years later he and Erma were married.

Rozzell and Erma Sykes rented a small bungalow on the 4800 block of St Elmo Drive in Mid City Los Angeles The building was old and dilapidated but the Sykeses improved it practicing one of Rozzell s favorite sayings If you are ...