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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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Amalia K. Amaki

sculptor, ceramicist, and educator, was one of America's most prolific and respected three‐dimensional artists in the mid‐twentieth century. Born in Washington, North Carolina, to Elizabeth Davis and Thomas Miggett, he lived primarily with his father until the fall of 1926 when he relocated to Harlem and began living with his mother and her husband, George Artis. In New York he assumed the surname of his stepfather. He attended Haaren High School and went on to study sculpture and pottery at the Augusta Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in the early 1930s, joining the ranks of Jacob Armstead Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and other notable artists whose initial studies included instruction under Savage. Artis was also a contemporary of his fellow sculptors Selma Hortense Burke and Richmond Barthé the latter the most exhibited and honored three dimensional artist associated with ...

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Robin Jones

sculptor, art educator, and mentor, was born in Mooreseville, North Carolina, one of eight children of Mary L. Elizabeth Jackson Cofield Burke a homemaker and a teacher and Neal Burke a Methodist minister Burke s artistic experiences began in childhood when she played in the pliable soil around her North Carolina home I shaped my destiny early with the clay of North Carolina rivers I loved to make the whitewash for my mother and was excited at the imprints of the clay and the malleability of the material Krantz and Koslow She was further inspired by the art objects that her father and uncles brought back with them from their travels in Africa the Caribbean and Europe As a chef aboard ships her father had the chance to both preach and explore in other countries bringing back artwork Her uncles were missionaries who traveled extensively returning with mementos that ...

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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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Todd Palmer

sculptor, was born in Davidson County, Tennessee, the eldest of Orange and Jane Brown Edmondson's five children. His parents were freed slaves working as field laborers. Edmondson worked for a living from an early age: he recounted boyhood memories of laboring in the corn fields of the former Compton plantation. As he got older, urban railways and housing encroached on this rural landscape three miles from Nashville, signaling economic changes and prompting many black families to resettle in the city. Edmondson's family joined this migration in 1890, a year after his father died.

His first Nashville job was for a sewer works. Later he worked for the railroads, until a leg injury in 1907 led Edmondson to take less strenuous janitorial work at the all-white Woman's Hospital. He worked in various jobs there until the hospital ceased operations. It was 1931 and Edmondson was in his mid ...

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Patricia Brady

sculptor and proprietor of a large marble yard and monument business, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the eldest son and third child of [René] Prosper Foy (b. 1787–d. 1854), a Napoleonic veteran, marble cutter, businessman, and writer, who had immigrated to the city from France in 1807, and Azelie Aubry (b. c. 1795–d. 1870), a free woman of color, native to New Orleans. Because interracial marriage was illegal, Foy's parents never married, but their sometimes stormy union lasted from 1810 until Prosper Foy's death; Aubry subsequently referred to herself in all public documents as his widow. The elder Prosper Foy prospered in business and fought with distinction at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Of Foy and Aubry's children, four daughters and Florville lived to adulthood.

Florville studied with a private tutor, and all the children were well educated, judging by their copybooks and letters. In 1836 ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, was born Meta Vaux Warrick in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William H. Warrick and Emma Jones. Meta's great grandmother, according to family lore, was an Ethiopian princess brought to the American colonies as a slave. Emma owned and operated several hairdressing parlors that catered to a white clientele. William owned a chain of barbershops and dabbled in real estate. Meta was ten years younger than her two siblings, William and Blanche. Through lessons and field trips to museums and concerts, the Warricks introduced their children to art and encouraged their creative endeavors. Meta, who played the guitar, took dancing lessons, and sang in the church choir, exhibited an early talent for drawing.

After graduation from public high school in 1894, Warrick won a three-year scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum and School for Industrial Arts (now the Philadelphia College of Art). In 1897 her ...

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

Renée R. Hanson

sculptor, illustrator, ceramicist, and entrepreneur, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the first of three children born to the Reverend Hathaway and Mrs. Hathaway. Hathaway's mother died when he was only two years old, and his father and grandmother raised him and his two sisters, Fannie and Eva.

A trip with his father to a local museum inspired Hathaway to become an artist. Walking through the museum's galleries, which were filled with busts of famous white American heroes, Isaac noticed the absence of-many African Americans, such as Frederick Douglass. He asked his father why they were absent, and the elder Hathaway simply stated that there were no trained African American sculptors to sculpt prominent African American people. The young Hathaway determined to change this by becoming a trained artist.

Hathaway began his career as an artist at Chandler College in Lexington and continued it ...

Article

Michelle K. Massie

teacher and legislator, was born Kirkland Leroy Irvis in Saugerties, New York, the older of Francis H. and Harriet Ten Broeck Cantine Irvis's two children. Francis was self-employed, and Harriet was a homemaker. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Albany, New York. While Irvis's father instilled in his children the value of education, his mother taught them the importance of art and human emotion. Her lessons would inspire Irvis to become a renowned wood sculptor and published poet. He graduated from Albany High School with honors in 1934 and went on to attend New York State College for Teachers (later SUNY), where he graduated summa cum laude in 1938 with an AB in History.

The harsh realities of racism that his parents tried to shield from him as a child would meet him head on as an adult Denied teaching positions upon graduation Irvis went back to ...

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Theresa Leininger-Miller

artist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Anderson Johnson and Lizzie Jackson. When Johnson was ten years old, his father died of an unknown cause. Because his mother suffered from tuberculosis, the children were sent to relatives. Johnson lived with his maternal uncle, Sherman William Jackson, and his wife, the sculptor May Howard Jackson, for several years in Washington, D.C. Then he and his siblings stayed briefly with their maternal grandparents in Alexandria, Virginia. When their mother died in 1902 the girls went to a Catholic school in Pennsylvania and the boys went to a Sisters of Charity orphanage in Worcester Massachusetts Johnson attended public school and worked in the Sisters of Charity Hospital He began painting as an adolescent while recovering from a long illness After Johnson studied singing briefly at a music school in Boston he lived with relatives in Chicago ...

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Amalia K. Amaki

sculptor, painter, and printmaker, was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies, the only child of Malcolm, a pharmacist, and Miriam Knight, a homemaker. Knight lost her father when she was two, and her mother suffered a severe leg injury that permanently limited her mobility when a hurricane struck the island while she was still very young. As a result Gwen grew up with foster parents and moved with this family to the United States in 1920, settling in St. Louis, Missouri. Always writing, drawing, and dancing she completed her first paintings between the ages of eight and nine years of age. At thirteen she moved with her family to New York, where she attended Wadleigh Annex and Wadleigh Street School for Girls. She was an avid reader of newspapers and modern literature, especially the work of Countée Cullen, Virginia Woolf, and Zora Neale Hurston ...

Article

Gregory Eiselein

In his third-person autobiography, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol (1894), John Mercer Langston recounts his career as one of the most influential African American leaders of the nineteenth century. Born in Virginia and educated at Oberlin, Langston became in 1854 the first African American admitted to the Ohio bar and in 1855 the first elected to public office in the United States (town clerk of Brownhelm, Ohio). Throughout the 1850s he worked within antislavery and civil rights movements, advocating a nationalist, pro-emigration position before becoming a Republican party activist. Heading recruitment of African American soldiers in the West during the Civil War, he rose to national prominence after the war as the president of the National Equal Rights League (a forerunner of the NAACP), an educational inspector for the Freedmen's Bureau, and a Republican party organizer. In 1868 he accepted a professorship at Howard ...

Article

Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

John Mercer Langston was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part–Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles's will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839, however, when a court hearing, concluding that his guardian's impending move to Missouri (a slave state) would imperil the boy's freedom and inheritance, forced him to leave the family. Subsequently, he boarded in four different homes, white and black, in Chillicothe and Cincinnati worked ...

Article

Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part-Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles's will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839 when a court hearing concluding that his guardian s impending move to slave state Missouri would imperil the boy s freedom and inheritance forced him to leave the family Subsequently he boarded in four different homes white and black in Chillicothe and Cincinnati worked ...

Article

Thomas Adams Upchurch

Born in Virginia to a wealthy white planter and a slave mother, John Mercer Langston was one of the most influential African Americans of the nineteenth century. Widely regarded by contemporaries and historians alike as second in importance only to Frederick Douglass, Langston actually superseded the venerable Douglass in certain ways. Although Douglass enjoyed more widespread renown, Langston held more government positions and had a more varied career. The two men first met in 1848 and maintained a friendship for many years thereafter. They disagreed on some important racial issues, however, which sometimes led to hard feelings and, near the end of their lives, an intense rivalry that most observers would say made them bitter enemies.

Langston was about ten years younger than Douglass and while they were both mulattoes born to slave mothers their upbringings could hardly have been more different Whereas Douglass endured the most abhorrent circumstances ...

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American sculptor. Born to an African American father and a Native American mother, she was the first black American sculptor to achieve national prominence. During her early childhood she travelled with her family in the Chippewa tribe, by whom she was known as Wildfire. At 12 she attended school at Albany, NY (1857–9), then a liberal arts course at Oberlin College, OH (1860–63). Lewis then went to Boston (1863) to study with Edward Brackett (1818–1908) and Anne Whitney. Her medallion of the abolitionist John Browne and a bust of the Civil War hero Col. Robert Shaw were exhibited at the Soldiers’ Relief Fair (1864), Boston; the latter sold over 100 plaster copies, enabling Lewis to travel to Rome (1865). There she was introduced to the White Marmorean Flock, a group of women sculptors, including Harriet Hosmer and ...

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Edmonia Lewis often drew upon her dual ancestry for inspiration. Her best-known work, Forever Free (1867, Howard University Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), was inspired by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, the document issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 calling for the freeing of slaves in the United States. Created in marble, Forever Free depicts a man and a woman who have learned of their freedom. In an expression of gratitude, the woman kneels with her hands clasped; the man rests his foot on the ball that held them in bondage, raising his arm to display the broken shackle and chain on his wrist.

Little is known about Lewis's early life. Sources give differing birth dates (1843, 1844, and 1845 and birthplaces Ohio New York and New Jersey Her father was an African American and her mother was a member ...

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Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, was born to an African American father and a mother of African American and Mississauga descent, whose names are not known. The Mississauga, a Chippewa (Ojibway in Canada) band, lived in southern Ontario. Information about Lewis's early life remains inconsistent and unverified. She was probably born in 1844 or 1845, most likely near Albany, New York. Orphaned by age nine, Lewis and her older brother, Samuel were taken in by their maternal aunts Mississaugas living near Niagara Falls Lewis joined the tribe in hunting and fishing along Lake Ontario and the Niagara River and in making and selling moccasins baskets and other souvenirs Although she later gave her Mississauga name as Wildfire Lewis s translation from the Chippewa may have been intended to authenticate her Indian background and appeal to whites She remained with the Mississauga until age twelve when Samuel using earnings amassed during the ...