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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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Amalia K. Amaki

graphic artist, painter, printmaker, and political activist, was born in Chicago in 1931. An only child, he attended Chicago public schools, moving briefly to Washington, D.C., to study at Howard University with Alain Leroy Locke, Sterling Allen Brown, and James Amos Porter. After one year he then enrolled at Alabama State College (later Alabama State University) to study under the sculptor, painter, and printmaker Hayward Louis Oubre, and he received a bachelor of arts degree. Bailey continued study at the University of Southern California (USC) as a student of Charles White and the Hungarian-born Francis de Erdely. He earned the bachelor of fine arts degree in 1958 and the master of fine arts degree in 1960. At USC he worked as a graduate assistant for two years, introducing the students Mel Edwards and Calvin Burnett to the work ...

Article

master printer, artist, educator, and founder of the Printmaking Workshop, was born in Summit, New Jersey, the son of Jeannette Chambers Blackburn and Archibald Blackburn of Jamaica, West Indies. Robert, also known as Bob, had a younger sister, Gertrude, and a half brother. His father, although trained as a minister, found employment with the Lackawanna Railroad in Summit. When Blackburn was two, the family moved to rural Elmira, New York. Blackburn fondly recalled his early childhood in the rural town, where he listened to the train whistle from his bedroom window, attended church every Sunday, and won a toy car as a prize for a drawing he had done. During the Depression, when Blackburn was seven, his family moved to Harlem, where he attended public schools from 1932 to 1936.

At Frederick Douglass Junior High School, Blackburn was influenced by his teacher, the poet Countée Cullen who sparked ...

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Lisa E. Rivo

draftsman, lithographer, painter, and entrepreneur, was born free in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Brown and Wilhelmina (maiden name unknown). Nothing is known about Brown's family or childhood. It appears that in the mid-1850s, Brown moved to San Francisco on the heels of the gold rush. While black fur traders, including Edward Rose and Jim Beckwourth, had already explored the West by the mid-1850s, few African Americans were living in California before this time. By 1860, though, close to five thousand blacks had moved to California, including Mary Ellen Pleasant and Edmond Wysinger. Just what precipitated Brown's decision to move to San Francisco is unknown, but records show that by 1861 he was employed as a draftsman for the commercial lithography firm of Kuchel and Dressel While his skill is evidenced by the quality work he produced for the firm Brown must also have been considered a ...

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Amalia K. Amaki

painter and printmaker, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Nathan Burnett Sr., a physician and surgeon, and Adelaide Waller, a homemaker. Though his parents, especially his father, hoped he would pursue a medical or legal career, Burnett instead evinced an interest in art, one perhaps originating with his parents’ own. Calvin appreciated his father's drawings and a painting of an apple done by his mother that was displayed at their home.

As a young boy Burnett routinely copied Mickey Mouse and other characters from the comics in the Sunday paper with such skill that his parents reserved a small section of the kitchen counter for his use They also took him to area museums where he was particularly impressed with Greek sculpture and engaged in prolonged discussions with both parents about the objects on view He was further encouraged by visits to his grandparents home where some ...

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Joye Vailes Shepperd

artist, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to John and Ophelia Cortor. The following year the Cortors moved to Chicago, Illinois, as part of the Great Migration. In 1910 fewer than fifty thousand blacks lived in Chicago; by 1920 the number had tripled In search of a better education and environment for their son the Cortors first moved to the South Side home to a thriving African American community John Cortor operated a modest business installing electricity into homes and repairing small electrical appliances he eventually saved enough to open a grocery store and earned the luxury of indulging in his favorite pastimes A motorcycle enthusiast and a sportsman he also learned to pilot a small airplane He belonged to a group of pioneering African American pilots and prided himself on the fruits of his practical brand of hard work ingenuity and self determination Though John Cortor was not ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

a painter of African, Native American, and European ancestry who recorded the people, architecture, and daily life of African Americans in Boston's Roxbury and South End districts, was born in 1910 in North Plainfield, New Jersey, to Oscar William Crite and Annamae Palmer Crite. He was the only one of four children to survive infancy. While he was still a baby, his family moved to Boston so that his father could pursue a degree in engineering. Crite graduated from Boston Latin High School in 1920. Although offered a scholarship by the Yale University School of Art, Crite elected to remain in Boston to help his mother attend to his father, who had suffered a stroke. He attended the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts on scholarship, studying industrial design as well as drawing and painting before graduating in 1936 The school encouraged precision a ...

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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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Pamela Lee Gray

painter, graphic artist, printmaker, curator, and educator, was born in Dayton, Ohio. His family later moved to Indianapolis, where he attended high school in 1903 and 1904. While Farrow was in high school, the noted muralist William Edouard Scott recognized his artistic potential and encouraged him to enroll at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1908 Farrow moved to Chicago to begin classes at the Institute, Scott's alma mater and one of the first U.S. art schools to admit black students.

Farrow studied intermittently at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1908 to 1918, while working for the U.S. Postal Service. When Farrow arrived at the institute, founded as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879 it was not yet a world class art institution In the early twentieth century the institute was actively building ...

Article

Janet Yagoda Shagam

painter, printmaker, and educator, was born Reginald Adolphus Gammon Jr. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Reginald Gammon Sr. and Martha Brown, Jamaican émigrés. An academic-track student, Gammon graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1941. The caption under his yearbook portrait states that he is “one of the best artists.”

In 1941 Gammon received a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts (later the Philadelphia Museum College of Art). During the summer of 1942, he worked at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard refurbishing battleships for the war effort. He lost his scholarship when his job caused him to miss the September registration date, and for the next eighteen months, he worked at the shipyards during the day and went to art school at night. With the arrival of his draft notice, Gammon joined the navy and served from 1944 to 1946 ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

painter, printmaker, and educator, was born in Penllyn, Pennsylvania. He began drawing at age five and maintained an interest in art as he grew up as a means of overcoming severe shyness related to a speech impediment. His mother died when he was fifteen and he left Philadelphia the following year and relocated to Washington, D.C., where he attended Dunbar High School from 1918 until 1920 and briefly took classes at Howard University. By 1922 Goreleigh was living in Harlem and working as a waiter. He saw the first Harmon Foundation exhibition of African American art at the International House in 1926 and was inspired to take drawing lessons at the Art Students League. In Harlem during the culturally rich New Negro era, he met a number of talented people, including the poet Claude McKay, the painters Aaron Douglas and Norman Lewis and the musician ...

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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

Robert Fikes

painter, printmaker, and educator, was born Hughie Lee Smith in Eustis, Florida, the son of Luther Smith and Alice Williams, a singer. His parents separated soon after his birth, and his mother moved her son to Atlanta, where he was raised by his paternal grandmother, Queenie Victoria Williams, until the age of nine. Hughie's relatives encouraged his early interest in drawing, and when his mother remarried and brought him to Cleveland, Ohio, she enrolled him in a Saturday children's art class at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where he was the only African American student. In junior high and high school he joined art and drama clubs, the debate team, and the track team, a fellow member of which was the future Olympian Jesse Owens While at East Technical High School a classmate suggested that he hyphenate his name to make it seem less ...

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Cynthia Hawkins

painter and printmaker, was born Norma Gloria Morgan in New Haven, Connecticut, the only child of Ethel Morgan, a seamstress, fashion designer, singer, and poet. Norma began painting at age nine and completed a mural for her classroom at age thirteen. Morgan said that while she painted the mural, she listened to her teacher speak of history and mathematics; it was then she decided that art would be her career. The first African American artist Morgan came into contact with the artist and writer Elton Fax while she was still a high school student in New Haven. After graduating from high school in New Haven, Morgan studied for a year at the Whitney School of Art in New Haven. In 1949 Morgan moved with her mother to New York City where Fax assisted the two in finding living accommodations and where Ethel started a new business as ...

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Paul Von Blum

artist and curator, was born in New Orleans, the son of William Etienne Pajaud Sr., a trumpet player and bandleader, and Audrey Du Conge, a college professor of social work. For well over half a century, his prolific body of paintings, drawings, and prints established him as a renowned figure in modern African American art. His watercolors, oils, acrylics, and prints celebrate the triumphs and beauty of his people, focusing on the New Orleans jazz, Christian and Jewish religious figures, landscapes, women, and many other themes. In addition, Pajaud worked for thirty years as art and public relations director at black-owned Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company in Los Angeles. There he developed one of the most outstanding private collections of African American art in the United States.

As a child in New Orleans he experienced the vitality of African American life and culture especially its vibrant ...

Article

Dorothy B. Porter

Patrick Henry Reason was born in New York City, one of four children of Michel and Elizabeth Melville Reason. He was baptized on April 17, 1816, as Patrice Rison. His father, Michel Rison, was from Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe, and his mother, Elizabeth Melville, was from Santo Domingo (in what is now the Dominican Republic). Patrick's young sister, Policarpe, died in 1818 at age four. His brother Elver (or Elwer) did not attain the prominence that Patrick or his brother Charles Lewis did. All three brothers received their early education at the New York African Free School, established on Mulberry Street by the New York Manumission Society. Patrick Reason's skill as an engraver was recognized at age thirteen when he made an engraving of the African Free School that was printed as a frontispiece of Charles C. Andrews's History of the New York African ...

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Krystofer A. Meadows

abstract artist, printmaker, and sculptor, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the youngest of eight children of Ruth Voight, a schoolteacher, and Erlan Thompson, a pharmacist. As a little girl, she knew that she wanted to be an artist. Her earliest efforts were in photography, processing and developing prints in the darkroom that her father built for-her. Thompson graduated from Old Stanton High School in 1953. Her father wanted her to attend Florida A&M, but she insisted on going to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Although she had spent many years painting, Thompson entered Howard without any formal training in art. At Howard she studied with James A. Porter, an artist and the author of the 1942 book Modern Negro Art the definitive study of African American art in its time Porter was influential in Thompson s development as an artist and was ...

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C. M. Winston

printmaker and codeveloper of the carborundum mezzotint process, was born in Griffin, Georgia, the second of four children of Gus Thrash and Ophelia Thrash. Little is known about Thrash's father, and it is believed that his mother was a housekeeper and cook for a local family. Thrash left school after the fourth grade, seeking work to help support his family. In a letter to artist Jacob Kainen, dated 7 October 1948, Thrash stated, “After fifteen [I] began to travel through out [sic] the country doing odd jobs. My ambition to be an artist caused me to settle in Chicago.” In 1911, at the age of eighteen, Thrash arrived in Chicago, Illinois. He obtained a job as an elevator operator for the American Bank Note Engraving Company and by 1914 had enrolled in night school at the Art Institute of Chicago He attended classes part ...

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David Michel

artist, was born Charles Wilbert White in Chicago, to Charles White Sr., a Creek Indian and construction worker, and Ethelene Gary, a domestic worker originally from Mississippi, who had been working since the age of eight. White's parents never married, and after his father died, when Charles was eight, Ethel married Clifton Marsh, a factory worker and alcoholic. The couple divorced when Charles was in his early teens. White's mother encouraged her son's budding artistic voice, and their close relationship underlies his later works, especially images that put the African American woman at the center of black life. The chaos and poverty of his childhood was stabilized by Charles's interest and skill at drawing. He earned good grades until shortly after entering Englewood High School when, having discovered Alain Leroy Locke's The New Negro and other books by and about African Americans at the local ...

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Melissa A. Kerr

artist and educator, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, one of four children of Reginald and Violet Wilson, immigrants from British Guiana. Wilson's parents held working-class positions in the Boston area but were forced onto public relief at the onset of the Great Depression. In 1938 Wilson attended the Roxbury Boys Club, where he took art classes taught by graduate students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. These students passed on the techniques of their teacher, the Russian émigré painter Alexandre Iacovleff, whose lessons stressed the meticulous rendering of the human form. Wilson's student drawings, often emulative of Iacovleff's conté crayon technique, were so impressive that his instructors brought a portfolio of his work to the attention of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, which led to a full scholarship in 1939.

At the School of the Museum of Fine Arts ...