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Pamela Lee Gray

wood carver, sculptor, and folk artist, was born Jesse James Aaron in Lake City, Florida, to descendants of slaves and Seminole Indians. Aaron attended school for less than one year before he was sent to work as a contract laborer for local farms. Trained as a baker when he was twenty-one years old, he found he enjoyed the creativity it required. He opened several bakeries, worked as a cook at Gainesville's Hotel Thomas from 1933 to 1937, and then cooked for a variety of fraternities and hospitals in Florida. Aaron also worked as a cook aboard the Seaboard Air Line Railroad during this time.

Aaron married Leeanna Jenkins, and when the family settled in northwest Gainesville in the 1930s they opened a nursery. From this point until 1968 when Aaron became a folk artist at the age of eighty one it is difficult to determine what is ...

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Carmen Oquendo-Villar

José Bedia was born in Havana, Cuba, where he pursued his formal artistic education at the Academia de Artes Plásticas San Alejandro and at the Instituto Superior de Arte. He left Cuba in 1991 and spent a brief time in Mexico before establishing himself in Miami in 1993. Bedia's work—drawings on paper; oil paintings on canvas; works in ink, acrylic, charcoal, oil crayons; and installations—derives most of its power from Cuba's African heritage, sometimes bringing to mind Kongo cosmograms (geometric designs which carry religious meanings) and Abakuá (Afro-Cuban all-male secret societies) ideographic writing. Texts in Spanish, Yoruba, or Bantu languages accompany many of his pieces. Despite the deep presence of African art Bedia's work, Cuban critic Gerardo Mosquera has labeled it postmodern Kongo art because it does not pretend to be a reenactment of original African art.

Bedia s adherence to local attitudes does not prevent him ...

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Theresa Leininger-Miller

artist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James F. Bell and Susanna County, probably laborers. Little is known about Bell's early life. She presumably attended segregated schools. It is unlikely that she ever received artistic training; she declared that she drew “without human teaching.” She probably worked as a domestic servant, laundress, or seamstress, beginning in her teenage years, and she may have traveled extensively. Bell said she “lived all around” before World War I. Since she does not appear in early-twentieth-century city directories or census records in Washington, D.C., or Boston, Massachusetts, and because she apparently never married or had children, it is likely that she resided with her various employers.

By the mid-1920s Bell was working for Edward Peter Pierce, justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1914 to 1937, and Adele Dutaud Pierce his wife as a live ...

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Katherine Smith

was born on 18 June 1968 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Jeanne Constant and Jean Alfred Sanon. Constant was raised by her mother, a seamstress who worked in a factory that made wedding dresses and beaded appliqué. From a young age, Constant helped her mother with small beaded piecework that she would bring home from work. When she was 14, she began working in the same factory with her mother. She quit this job six years later, shortly before the factory closed, over a wage dispute with management. Constant married Wilfred Charles. Together, they had five children.

After Constant left her job at the factory an artist friend encouraged her to try painting as a vocation She was inspired to try painting with bead as she describes her textile work Constant began sketching Catholic saints on canvas and then beading the images These images of saints are commonly recognized to also ...

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Candace L. LeClaire

artist, was born to Mattie Bell, an unmarried, teenage sharecropper in Emelle, Alabama. Dial was the second of Bell's twelve children and was named simply “Buck” at birth. He did not have a formal surname and grew up uncertain of the identity of his biological father. Mattie Bell married a man named Dan Pratt shortly after the birth of her third son, and the couple went on to have nine more children. His mother's new and growing family proved to be a difficult adjustment for Buck, and he was sent to live with his great-grandmother, Had Dial, on the nearby farm of Bell's older cousin, Buddy Jake Dial. The Dials, who were of African and Native American descent, raised and cared for Thornton; they put him to work on the farm, and gave him the last name of Dial.

Dial s artistic sensibilities in part developed ...

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crystal am nelson

folk artist, was born Samuel Doyle on St. Helena Island, the Gullah Islands, South Carolina, one of nine children of Thomas Sr. and Sue Ladsen Doyle farmers on the Wallace plantation of mostly freed slaves Doyle attended the Penn School which was one of the country s first vocational and agricultural schools created by the Freedmen s Associations of Philadelphia to educate freed slaves on St Helena s Island He studied literature and carpentry through the ninth grade but was recognized for his drawing skills A teacher encouraged him to travel to New York where he could better nurture his talent with the growing opportunities available to African American artists however owing to financial constraints Doyle chose to remain on the island He dropped out of the Penn School following the ninth grade and found a job as a store clerk He later took on work as a ...

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Born in Houston, Texas, Melvin Edwards studied painting at the University of Southern California (USC), and began sculpting in 1960. Five years later he received his B.F.A. degree from USC. Edwards first gained critical attention with a series of sculptures entitled Lynch Fragments, which he had begun in 1963. By 1997 the series included more than 150 individual works made from both forged and welded parts of knife sheaths, automotive gears, chains, ball bearings, horseshoes, and other metal. The works, each of which is about the size of a human head and hangs on a wall, explore themes of violence and incorporate both American and African symbolism.

In 1967 Edwards moved from California to New Jersey, and his work began to shift away from the manipulated, unpainted metal. A solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1968 included geometric shapes painted ...

Article

Natalia Majluf

better known as Pancho Fierro, one of the most influential artists of nineteenth-century Peru, was born in Lima on 5 October 1807. He was the illegitimate son of a slave, María del Carmen Fierro, and a Creole priest, Nicolás Mariano Rodríguez del Fierro y Robina, scion of a wealthy Lima family, who served as priest in the Indian parish of San Damián and taught at the University of San Marcos. Though his father does not seem to have protected him, his wider family did lend the child some level of support. The painter, in fact, had the rare privilege of being freed at birth, while his mother, a servant in the Rodríguez del Fierro household, would only gain manumission in 1826. His wife, Gervasia Rosa Cornejo Belzunce, whom he married in 1828 was also of Afro Peruvian descent At least three children are known to have been ...

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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 ...

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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

Thomas N. Whitehead

folk artist, was born Clemence Reuben at Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana, the daughter of John Reuben and Antoinette Adams, plantation workers. Her exact birth date is unknown. Most sources agree that she was born in either late December 1886 or early January 1887.

Leaving Catholic school in Cloutierville at a young age because she disliked the discipline of the nuns, Reuben, now called Clementine, became a cotton picker and field hand at several plantations in the Cloutierville area. In her adolescence her father moved the family to Melrose Plantation, about fifteen miles south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, in the central part of the state.

Melrose Plantation had been established in 1796 by Marie-Therese Coincoin a freed female slave who became one of the most successful plantation and slave owners in the United States After the Civil War ownership of the plantation was transferred to white ...

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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 ...

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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

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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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Todd Palmer

artist, was born to Joshua Ruley and Eudora Robinson in Norwich, Connecticut. Ruley's father found refuge in the North after escaping from slavery as a stowaway on a coal ship leaving Wilmington, Delaware. Ruley, the eldest of five boys, ended his schooling in the third grade and followed his father into work at coalyards and construction sites. He continued to work as a laborer into his adulthood. From a brief marriage that ended in 1925 with Ida Bee, he had one daughter, Marion.

In 1929 a lumber truck hit Ruley and a coworker as they drove from a construction site, and he suffered serious head injuries. He received $25,000 in a court-ordered insurance settlement as compensation in 1932 The unexpected change of circumstance allowed Ruley a few extravagances brass beds a new phonograph and a sporty new green Chevrolet that his family would dub the Green ...

Article

was born in Salvador, Bahia, on 2 December 1917. He was the son of Arsenio Santos, a tailor, and Maria Bibiana do Espirito Santo, an ialorixá (mother-of-saint in Candomblé) known as Mãe Senhora, and descended from the Asipa family, originally from Oyo and Ketu, in the West African Yoruba kingdom.

A respected religious leader, Master Didi achieved the following titles and positions in Salvador’s religious communities: “Kori Kowê Olukotun,” priest in Egun ancestor worship at the Ilê Olukotun Tuntun in 1925; “Oje Korikowê Olukotun,” priest in ancestor worship at the Ilê Agboulá in 1934; “Assogbá,” high priest of the cult of Obaluaê; “Baba l’Osanyin,” priest of the cult of Ossãe at the Ilê Axé Opo Afonjá in 1936; and “Alapini,” the highest level in the hierarchy of priests in Egun ancestor worship at the Ilê Axé Opo Afonjá in 1975. In 1980 in Salvador ...

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Charles Rosenberg

who attracted considerable attention from collectors starting in the 1980s, after a lifetime of agricultural and domestic labor, may have been born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, but spent most of her life in nearby Martinsville and Hazlehurst. All three communities are along Highway 51 as it runs through Lincoln and Copiah counties. As with many people who live most of their life in obscurity, her family tree has not been thoroughly documented.

Tillman is a common name in Copiah County, both among people designated by law and culture as “black” and those who choose to think of themselves as “white.” Based on interviews by art curator and collector William Arnett between 1986 and 1995 with Smith a sister and her only son she was the third of thirteen children All children contributed to the family economy by raising cabbage tomatoes and beans initially sharecropping but eventually buying their own land ...