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Baye Yimam

Ethiopian painter, diplomat, customs director, entrepreneur, linguist, university professor, and novelist, was born in Zage, Gojjam province of Ethiopia, on 10 July 1868. His father, Gebre Iyesus Denke, was a priest serving a local church, and his mother, Fenta Tehun Adego Ayechew, was presumably a housewife. In Zage, then a center of learning, Afewerq learned the painting, poetry, church music, and liturgical dancing of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition.

Afewerq was related to Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menilek (1844–1913 on account of which he was brought to the palace to continue what he had started in Zage He was later sent to Italy to further his studies at the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti in Turin Upon his return from Italy he began to produce mural paintings by order of the palace and decorated the churches at Entotto then the capital city However he soon ...

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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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Donovan S. Weight

entrepreneur, pioneer, and town founder, was born near the Pacolet River in Union County, South Carolina, the son of an enslaved woman named Juda. His paternity is a bit murky, but most evidence points to his owner George McWhorter. Little information exists about the West African–born Juda other than that she had been a slave to the McWhorters since 1775. Oral family tradition holds that although George McWhorter sent Juda to the woods with orders to kill the baby at birth, Juda protected Frank, preserved him, and brought him home alive the next morning. The boy who would become Free Frank spent his-formative years learning how to farm in the backwoods country of South Carolina. At eighteen Frank moved with his owner to a temporary homestead in-Lincoln County, Kentucky. In 1798 George McWhorter bought some farmland in newly formed Pulaski County Kentucky In ...

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Donna M. Wells

artist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, to Thomas Freeman and Sarah Freeman. Following his father's death, in 1877 he and his sister Delilah moved with their mother to Washington, where Freeman attended Washington, D.C., public schools and excelled in drawing and painting. It is not known if he finished high school. He held a variety of jobs, including laborer and waiter, to help support the family.

In 1885, at the age of seventeen, Freeman started to advertise his services as a painter in addition to art framer and bicycle repairman. Gradually he began to pursue a career as an artist and photographer. His early work consisted of pastel drawings of Washington's elite African American community. His most famous portraits were of the Washington lawyer John Mercer Langston, completed in 1893, and of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1895 That ...

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David Bjelajac

American painter, perhaps of West Indian heritage. Johnson was the first significant, identifiable African American professional painter. He worked primarily in Baltimore, painting portraits from 1796 to 1824. His career and his identity as a ‘Free Householder of Colour’ are sketchily documented in city records. He had once been a slave and apprenticed to a blacksmith, but was freed by the 1780s. More than 80 portraits have been attributed to him (see fig.). Sarah Ogden Gustin (c.1798–1802; Washington, DC, N.G.A.) is the only signed work and typifies his early style. Although the figure is woodenly rendered and awkwardly seated within a flattened space, the view through a window reveals a painterly landscape and an attempt at atmospheric perspective. Johnson’s early portraits closely resemble compositions by members of Charles Willson Peale’s family, particularly Peale’s nephew Charles Peale Polk suggesting that he may have studied under them ...

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J. Susan Isaacs

painter, was probably born in the West Indies. It is now generally believed by scholars of American art and history that Johnson was black and may have come to this country as a young man, probably as a slave. Johnson might be identified as the “negro boy” mentioned in the 1777 will of Captain Robert Polk of Maryland. This boy is thought to have been purchased by Polk's brother-in-law, the noted artist Charles Willson Peale. Stylistic resemblances between the work of Charles Willson Peale and Joshua Johnson are apparent. Unfortunately, very little documentation on Johnson exists, and identification of his works is accomplished through provenance (mostly oral family tradition), and connoisseurship—observation of technique, subject matter, iconography, and style.

Johnson s artistic career spanned nearly thirty years during which he worked only in Baltimore painting portraits of many of its citizens Like many artists of the period he more ...

Article

David C. Driskell

Born probably in the latter part of the eighteenth century, Johnston lived as a slave in the vicinity of Baltimore, Maryland, until the 1830s. He had three masters, all of Baltimore. The first, General Samuel Smith, was a hero of the American Revolution (1775–1783). Smith served in U.S. president Thomas Jefferson's cabinet as secretary of the navy and later as United States senator from Maryland. The second, General John Stricker, was a hero of the War of 1812. The third, Colonel John Moale, was one of the leading military figures in the regiment that defended Baltimore against the British during the American Revolution. Moale later became a wealthy landlord, judge, and prosperous merchant. One of the three owners encouraged young Johnston to master “doing likenesses,” or portrait painting. Johnston painted a portrait of Colonel Moale's wife, Ellin Moale sitting in the company ...

Article

Makeba G. Dixon-Hill

painter and poet, was an enslaved servant for the Reverend John Moorhead, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Sarah Moorhead, in Boston, Massachusetts. Limited information is available about Scipio Moorhead's place of birth or parents, but historically a large majority of the slaves in Massachusetts came from the West Indies or the Western coast of Africa.

As slavery in the United States became inextricably linked to the nation s economy society government and identity race assumed a larger role in becoming a determining factor regarding occupational opportunities In terms of the fine arts race determined who could be trained There were few schools in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where blacks could receive specialized training or venues that would exhibit their work The alternatives for many artists were at the hands of fellow slaves freed blacks working as artisans or through their owners families who provided knowledge ...

Article

Despite Scipio Moorhead's position as a slave in the home of John Moorhead, a Presbyterian minister in Boston, he managed to develop his artistic talent. Sarah Moorhead, a painter who was the wife of the minister, probably provided some instruction.

The painting of African-American poet Phillis Wheatley that inspired the engraved frontispiece of her book of poetry is attributed to Moorhead. The volume, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in London in 1773 and created public debate concerning the intellectual abilities of those of African descent.

Unfortunately no signed works by Moorhead are known to exist. It is believed that it is Moorhead whom Wheatley immortalized with her 1773 poem, To S. M., A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Work. The poem is thought to be inspired by Scipio Moorhead and describes two paintings presumably by Moorhead, Aurora and Damon and Pythia ...

Article

Diane Hudson

slave, artist, and public speaker, is believed to have been born on the east coast of Africa, near the River Juba in present-day Somalia. Twice a slave, Pedro's life is documented both by his own narrative paintings and a brief but detailed chronicle penned by his boyhood friend Percival J. Parris. Although Parris was only eleven when Pedro died, his vivid reminiscences allow deeply personal glimpses as well as an historic view of the young man.

Pedro remembered that he lived near the sea and that he had seen hippopotami in the water writes Parris His people lived in huts made with poles and used mats for doors and to sleep on The tribe was agricultural each took to himself such lands as he chose to cultivate by marking out as much as he needed and fowls were kept for their eggs Parris p 61 Men ...

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Jennifer Ky

painter, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Holdridge Primus, a porter at a grocery store and an active member of the Talcott Street Congregational Church, and Mehitable Jacobs, a dressmaker. The Primuses, one of the few African American families in the state to own property, consisted of the parents, Nelson, and his siblings Rebecca, Isabelle, and Henrietta, and their home was located on Wadsworth Street in Hartford. During Reconstruction, Rebecca Primus was active in efforts to educate the southern freedmen. Nelson Primus discovered his artistic talent at an early age. At the Hartford County Fair, he was recognized twice: in 1851, when he was only nine years old, he received a diploma for his sketches, and in 1859 he received a medal for his drawings.

Nelson Primus wanted to pursue that talent by painting professionally His father likely thought that this ...

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A. J. Peluso

deckhand, scowman, sailor, and marine artist, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Nelson Selby and Margaret Hicks, occupations unknown. Nothing more is known of Selby's family, and little is known about his youth. By 1905, as a child of twelve, he was employed as a deckhand working the ships in Mobile Bay—schooners from ports around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. One day his leg was mangled in a snapped towline and had to be amputated. In spite of the loss he managed to engage successfully in various manual and unskilled jobs and earn a precarious living.

Selby spent some of his early working years in Baltimore Maryland as a scowman for the Atlantic Transport Line Even with a peg leg he could climb a rope ladder as deftly as anyone without his disability Nor did the work of scowman suppress ...

Article

Paulette Coleman

painter and mixed-media artist, was born William Mack Tolliver in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was the second oldest of fourteen children in an impoverished family of cotton pickers. Tolliver demonstrated an early interest in art. In first grade, he copied pictures from the newspaper comic strips. By the time he reached the third grade, he was copying elaborate illustrations of Old Testament narratives found in a family Bible. Tolliver's father bragged about his son's drawing ability, but never actively encouraged it. In contrast, Tolliver's mother enjoyed drawing; and even after a tiring workday, she encouraged her children's creativity and curiosity. She held drawing contests with William and his older brother, and she introduced William to art books available at the public library. It is estimated that Tolliver read more than four thousand books, mostly on art, during his youth.

Tolliver never attended a formal art class but he studied Old ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

painter, was born in Mayfield, Kentucky, one of seven children of Frank Wilson, a second-generation barber, and Minnie Wilson, a founding member of the local Second Christian Church. Frank Wilson was an amateur artist, and two of his paintings proudly hung in the Wilson home. Ellis later credited his parents with encouraging his educational and artistic pursuits. The Wilsons lived in The Bottom, the largest of several African American sections of Mayfield, a small town in the heart of western Kentucky's tobacco-growing region. After graduation from the Mayfield Colored Grade School, Ellis studied for two years at the Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute (later Kentucky State University), an all-black school in Frankfort. In 1919 he transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he won several student prizes and studied with the school's first African American instructor, William McKnight Farrow among others Following ...