Editor's note: The Swope Art Museum provided source
material to Resource Library for the following article. If you have
questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the
Swope Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
African American Images
and Artists from the Swope Collection
January 13 - March 21, 2009
How artistic perspective
and audience reception change with the times is illustrated in African
American Images and Artists from the Swope Collection, January 13 -
March 21, 2009. In striking contrast are a painting by John McCrady
(Canton, Mississippi 1911-1968), a regionalist from the agricultural south
of the 1940s, and a sculpture by Richard Hunt (born Chicago, Illinois 1935-),
an abstract expressionist from the industrial north of the 1960s.
McCrady, a Caucasian from Mississippi and son of an Episcopal
clergyman, received critical acclaim in the late 1930s and 1940s. The acclaimed
work was dramatic and based on the morality plays and spirituals he witnessed
in Southern Black churches. McCrady was known for a multi-stage process.
He spent considerable time composing the painting and would then methodically
build up the image with layers of translucent paint, which created a luminescent
quality. He was praised, in Time magazine, as the new-bright-star
rising from the American South. However, In 1946 The Daily Worker,
the newspaper of the American Communist Party, published a scathing review
of his show at the Associated American Artists Gallery in New York, criticizing
the paintings as racially chauvinistic and paternalistic. The criticism
profoundly affected McCrady, who stopped painting for several years after.
Earlier, while studying in New York at the Art Students
League, McCrady met Thomas Heart Benton, whose regionalist philosophy most
likely influenced his choice to paint what he knew -- Southern life. Though
considered a Southern regionalist, McCrady was not a social realist with
a political agenda. He was a romantic and mystic and his work can be seen
as a white man's romantic look at African American life in the South of
the 1930s and 40's.
Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name is
one of his dramatic paintings based on "Negro spiritual" music.
The image of a tiny man in the vast wilderness overwhelmed by ominous hovering
clouds shows a kinship to two other Swope paintings; the regionalist painting
Threshing Wheat by Thomas Heart Benton and the magic realist painting
White Cloud by John Rogers Cox.In all three paintings the
human presence is dominated by a vast landscape with hovering stylized clouds.
In contrast, the sculpture Poised and Extended Forms
by African American artist Richard Hunt, has no reference to race or place.
Instead, this early work reflects an affinity with and integration into
the international art-scene of second generation Abstract Expressionists.
The abstract sculpture, made from discarded steel yet organic and fluid,
is an example of Abstract Expressionists focus on subconscious expression.
Hunt uses a direct process of composing while cutting and welding, rather
than a removed process of pre-planned design prior to fabrication.
Poised and Extended Forms is
one from a series Hunt called "hybrid figures," in which the abstracted
and surreal imagery reference the original utility of the steel part but
also human and plant-life forms. It relates to other Swope works such as
the assemblage sculpture, No Title for Sure II by Mark DiSuvero and
the second generation Abstract Expressionist painting Phenomena Near
Baber Woods by Paul Jenkins.
In part Abstract Expressionism was a reaction against the
regionalism and social realism so prevalent during the depression and before
World War II. Along with other modernist genres it was a movement forward
in philosophy, technique and subject, and in the case of sculpture in materials
as well. Abstract Expressionist sculpture utilized new materials and techniques
that had developed for industry. Regionalists like McCrady, in opposition,
often looked backwards with nostalgia and utilized traditional techniques
and materials. Ironically the rise in confidence of American artists provoked
by the provincialism of the regionalists helped set the stage for the meteoric
rise of the American Abstract Expressionists and the shifting of the art
world center from Europe to America. Within this context, Hunt, and other
artists, moved forward from racial categorizations and segregation to inclusion
in the larger art world. With no mention of his race, Hunt was called "one
of America's foremost living sculptors" in a catalogue forward to his
1971 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Though Hunt was
rising in the art world, when he made Poised and Extended Forms in
1965, violence and turmoil accompanied an accelerated push for civil rights
Selected wall texts from the exhibition
- Groups of artists once exhibited primarily in segregated shows are
now widely integrated into the larger American art scene. That being said
it is worth re-focusing on one group to take a fresh look at their contributions
and tribulations. In 2004 African American artist Thomas Shaw, when interview
by Jessica Turner for Cincinnati's periodical City Beat, questioned
this type of exhibition but concluded it was necessary saying, "how
are kids going to know their heroes?"
- This exhibition is rich in a diversity of artistic approaches and historical
perspectives. Prints by Jacob Lawrence (1917- 2000) and Thomas Shaw (b.
1947) directly address racial and social issues. But other works, such
as the painting by William Edouard Scott (1884- 1964) and the sculpture
by Richard Hunt (b. 1935), refuse racial categorization. Works by Billy
Morrow Jackson (1926 - 2006) and John Dowell Jr. (b. 1941) reside somewhere
in between, where a superficial look offers a standard nude and abstract
but a more thorough viewing reveals a subtle commentary.
- Spanning nearly a century, this exhibition contains work as early as
the 1911 impressionistic seascape by Indiana's own William Edouard Scott
and as contemporary as the 2003 German Expressionist- inspired social commentary
by Cincinnati's Thomas Shaw. African American subject matter, by Caucasian
artists, includes a painting based on a "Negro Spiritual" by
Southern Regionalist John McCrady (1911-1968) and a nude, portrait of his
wife, by Champaign-Urbana's Billy Morrow Jackson. All of the works in this
exhibition reveal perspectives on race and civil rights that reflect the
eras in which they were made and are presented in conjunction with the
national celebration of Black History Month.
* * *
- Gilbert Brown Wilson
- (Terre Haute, Indiana 1907- Frankfort, Kentucky 1991)
- John Henry, c.1960s
- Oil, gift of Allen and William Morrison in memory of the families of
Gilbert Wilson and Benjamin Blumberg 2004.04
- Gilbert Wilson championed social equality and racial harmony through
his artwork. In 1960, Wilson, a Caucasian, was artist in residence at Kentucky
State College in its last year as a segregated Black college. For the gymnasium,
he proposed a set of murals depicting black history, but the gymnasium
burnt and Wilson was fired for his communist beliefs. Painted in a knife
technique Wilson used in the 1960s, this portrait of the legendary "Steel
driving man," made famous in work song, was likely among his proposed
subjects for the space.
- Born a slave in the 1840s and freed by the civil war, John Henry worked
laying railway track in the South's reconstruction. The story matches him
against a new steam -powered drill over which he triumphs but then dies
from exhaustion. His legend of virility, and strength grew among men working
in deplorable conditions for poor wages.
- Noel Rockmore (New York, New York 1928- New Orleans, Louisiana 1995)
- Basin Street Swing or the Back Porch, 1959,
- egg tempera , museum purchase 1962.11
- Swope's one artist in residence Noel Rockwell (April 1964, sponsored
by the Ford Foundation and the American Federation of Artists) is best
known for his portraits of Jazz musicians in New Orleans' Preservation
Hall. Rockwell, a Caucasian, was born in New York City to artist parents.
When the New York art scene became dominated by abstract expressionism
he found haven in New Orleans.
- Basin Street Swing was painted around the same time Rockwell
began the Jazz portraits. The disrepair of the house reflects the artists
preoccupation with the subject of decline and decay; a preoccupation befitting
his pessimistic, self-conscious and tormented personality. Details such
as the down-turned horseshoe and the empty melon rind symbolize a loss
where there was once prosperity. This painting also has a surreal feel
to it, a style Rockwell utilized more directly in later works.
- Billy Morrow Jackson (Kansas City, Missouri 1926- Urbana, Illinois
- Daily News, 1968
- Oil, Museum Purchase 1970.20
- Jackson, a Caucasian, often used family members as models; this is
reputed to be Blanch Mary Jackson, the artist's first wife. The couple
was married in 1949, a time when interracial marriage was a courageous
undertaking. According to a 1965 article about the artist in the RIT Reporter
(Rochester, NY) two years earlier the Jackson home, in Urbana Illinois,
had been surrounded with effigies and painted with the words "Nigger
- Daily News is from a series of interiors with figures devised,
in part, as frameworks for panting abstract patterns of light. But also
common to these paintings were figures in thoughtful repose. The key to
the mood in this painting is the headline in The Daily News, which
has fallen to the floor; it reads, "Questions Still Unanswered."
Beside the headline is an image of the slain Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr., who was assassinated the year Daily News was painted.
- Angie Bellinger (b. 1961)
- Nubian Princess, 1995
- Black and white, pin hole, photograph, gift of Dr. Barbara Weinbaum
in Memory of Beatrice S. Hyman. 1996.02
- Bellinger, an African American, moved from Atlanta to Terre Haute to
study photography at Indiana State University. This photograph is from
her Master's thesis.
- Bellinger's first portraits were family and friends, she explains:
- My aim was to photograph them the way in which I saw them. No pretense,
just straight forward... I began to bring out on film what I saw in each
person ...To be able to do this I had chosen to photograph them in tight
surroundings and up close.
- Produced with a homemade pinhole camera, this photograph required the
subject to hold a pose for several minutes just as sitters for the earliest
photographs did. The sitter is Bellinger's friend Gwen Lee Thomas. Though
she moved during the exposure, Bellinger liked the effect of the slightly
blurred image. Bellinger titled it Nubian Princess because of Thomas'
love of her African heritage, and her regal and dignified bearing.
- Raphael Soyer (Borisoglebsk, Russia 1899 - New York, New York 1987)
- Mother & Child from Memories Suite, 1969
- Lithograph, gift of LaVelda Goble 2008.04
- Raphael Soyer, and his brothers, were taught the principles of drawing
by their father, a Hebrew teacher and writer. In 1912, the Soyer family
were forced to leave Czarist Russia and immigrated to New York's Lower
East Side. Sensitized by the immigrant experience, Soyer, a Caucasian,
used art to chronicle life of the common man. Though categorized as a Social
Realist his Humanist portrayals lack political agenda or social criticism.
Mother & Child illustrates Soyer's special affinity for new
and expecting mothers. This print isolates two figures from a crowd in
his 1965-66 oil painting Village East Street Scene (private collection).
- Village East is the result of my seven years' living on the Lower East
Side. I tried to get the feeling of the area.... bearded, long-haired young
men.... white mothers with their Negro babies against the background of
drab walls bearing Fall-Out shelter signs.- Soyer from the print portfolio
- Richard Hunt (born Chicago, Illinois 1935)
- Untitled from the portfolio Details, 1965
- Lithograph, Museum purchase 1967.008
- The African American sculptor Richard Hunt received a fellowship to
work at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles, funded by the Program
in Humanities and the Arts of the Ford Foundation. He was in Los Angeles
in February and March of 1965. The portfolio Details was produced
at this time. Untitled has the same sense of space and the same
organic and Abstract Expressionist feel as Hunt's early three dimensional
- Richard Hunt (born Chicago, Illinois 1935)
- Poised And Extended Forms, 1965
- Steel, Museum purchase with funds provided by the Museum Purchase Plan
Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts 1973.054
- Poised and Extended Forms is from a series Hunt called "hybrid
figures," in which the abstracted and surreal imagery reference the
original utility of the discarded steel but also human and plant-life forms.
Hunt was using a direct process which reflected an Abstract Expressionist
focus on subconscious expression. Catalogues and other texts from the time
rarely mention Hunt's African American heritage, nor was it a subject of
his artwork. Working in Chicago and exhibiting in such prestigious institutions
as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Hunt was rising in the international
art-scene of second generation Abstract Expressionists. Though Hunt and
other African Americans were bridging the race chasm and forging successful
careers, in 1965 when he made Poised and Extended Forms, the majority
of Blacks faced the violence and turmoil which accompanied an accelerated
push for civil rights across America.
- William Edouard Scott (Indianapolis, Indiana 1884-Chicago, Illinois
- Etaples, France, 1911
- Oil, museum purchase 1999.41
- William Edouard Scott was a leading artist in Chicago's version of
the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Indianapolis to a railway worker, Scott
attended art classes taught by Hoosier artist Otto Stark at the Manual
Training High School in Indianapolis. He became the first African American
to teach in the Indianapolis public schools while raising funds to further
his education in Chicago and France. While studying in France Scott befriended
the renowned African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner. Scott is known
for his portraits of prominent African Americans, genre scenes of the black
experience and for helping to stimulate an interest in Haitian art.
- Etaples, France was painted while Scott was studying in France
where he depicted scenes of French peasant life. The loose brushwork and
subdued palette of this work reflect the modified Impressionist style used
by Tanner who mentored the young artist.
- Georges Schreiber (Brussels, Belgium, 1904-New York, New York, 1977)
- Cotton Pickers, c. 1949
- Lithograph, museum purchase 2000.06
- When Schrieber immigrated to the United States from Belgium in 1928
he worked, as he had in Europe, for newspapers as a free lance graphic
artist. Schrieber, a Caucasian, built a reputation as an American Regionalist
and a fine lithographer. In the late 1930s he traveled to and painted impressions
of all 48 states. This trip culminated in a popular exhibition at the Associated
American Artists Gallery and work exhibited at the Whitney Museum in 1939.
Schrieber went on to make five more transcontinental painting trips. In
a 1943 Art Digest article about an exhibit of his Southern works
Schrieber was quoted as saying:
- The paintings of this part of America I dedicate to the people I've
seen there and who made the villages and fields breathe with life. They
have felt the dangers to a threatened democracy, a democracy which has
neglected them, but which still is their only hope for a better life of
liberty and peace. - V. 17, no.13
- John McCrady (Canton, Mississippi 1911-1968)
- Hush, Somebody's Calling My Name, 1939
- oil and tempera, Museum purchase 1941.21
- McCrady, a Caucasian, grew up in Mississippi the son of an Episcopal
clergyman. Called a luminary of American Southern Regionalism, McCrady
felt alienated while studying in New York City, but there he met Thomas
Heart Benton whose Regionalist philosophy may have helped McCrady find
his subject. Upon returning home he painted nostalgic Southern scenes,
many based on the morality plays and spirituals he witnessed in Black churches.
- This painting was inspired by the "Negro Spiritual" of the
same title, popularized in the South in the late 1800s. In the following
variation each line repeats twice:
- Hush, hush, somebody's calling my name.
- Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord what shall I do? I'm so glad that trouble doesn't
- Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord what shall I do? I'm so glad the devil can't
do me no harm.
- Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord what shall I do? Early one mornin, Death came
knockin at my door.
- Oh my Lord, Oh my Lord What shall I do? Oh, Hush-- Hush-- Somebody
callin my name." -from Rollin Along in Song edited by J. Rosamond
- Billy Morrow Jackson (Kansas City, Missouri 1926 Urbana, Illinois 2006)
- Symmetrical Man: Portrait Of Dr. Martin Luther King, 1968
- offset lithograph, gift of Mr. Howard E. Wooden 1990.13
- This portrait memorial of Martin Luther King Jr. was drawn and reproduced
as a poster the same year that Daily News was painted; both in response
to the assassination of this civil rights leader. A few years before Jackson
had begun a series of blatant political and satirical drawings called the
Civil Rights Series. These allegorical images were printed as posters which
were sold to raise funds for various Civil Rights organizations.
- Jacob Lawrence (Atlantic City, New Jersey 1917- Seattle, Washington
- The 1920's...The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots from
the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio: Spirit of Independence, 1974
- screen-print (7 colors, hand cut film stencils), Gift of Lorillard,
A Division of Loews Theatres, Inc., New York, NY 1976.16.08
- During the post World War I period millions of Black people left Southern
communities in the United States and migrated to Northern cities. This
migration reached its peak during the 1920s. Among the many advantages
the migrants found in the North was the freedom to vote. In my print, migrants
are represented exercising that freedom. -J.L. 1974 from the portfolio
- The parents of Jacob Lawrence took part in that great migration and
as a child he cherished learning about African American history and culture.
His modernist style was married with a social consciousness that developed
into narrative depictions of Black history and everyday life. This print
is related to a series of 60 panel paintings Lawrence did in 1940-41 called
The Migration of the Negro now in the collections of the Museum
of Modern Art, New York and the Phillips Collection, Washington DC.
- Thom E. Shaw (b. 1947 Cincinnati, Ohio)
- Untitled from the Malcolm X Paradox series, 2003 print
: 1998 block
- Wood cut (tempered masonite), gift of the artist 2003.11
- Thom Shaw began as a commercial artist. His dramatic and provocative
work show influences as diverse as German Expressionist prints and comics.
Shaw, an African American, began The Malcolm X Paradox series after
witnessing a gang fight.
- ...I asked those gang members wearing big Xs if they really knew who
Malcolm X was and they said sure, so then I asked them why they were beating
the hell out of each other? ...We've Been dealt these cards here-poverty,
discrimination, the inner city -- and we'll use "any means necessary"
to take over. But that's what Malcolm X referred to... before he went with
the Nation of Islam. When he came back from Mecca he was preaching global
unity and reconciliation of the races -from an interview with Ruth K. Meyer,
in IRhine.com, 2003.
- Thom E. Shaw (b. 1947 Cincinnati, Ohio)
- The Glorious Return, 2000
- ink pen, gift of the artist 2003.12
- The Glorious Return is drawn with a rapidograph pen, a tricky medium
he mastered as a commercial artist. The title likely refers to a homecoming
he made to the Art Academy of Cincinnati where he is an alumnus.
- John E. Dowell, Jr. (b. 1941 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- Incidents, 1980
- Together And Alone, 1980
- Lithograph, gifts of Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Dorsky 1991.105, 1991.106
- John Dowell's expressive prints are largely inspired by his African
American heritage and love of jazz music. In Together and Alone
and Incidents, Dowell presents on paper the genesis of sound. Calligraphic
strokes of color and line vivify the white paper much like an instrument
piercing the silence of a performance hall. The spontaneous arcs, lines,
and curves move and flow like the swells of a song. In the 1970s Dowell
reinterpreted the visual works into musical performances with fellow musicians.
- John E. Dowell, Jr. (b. 1941 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- White Wheel of WTH, c.1967
- Etching, museum purchase 1968.008
- John E. Dowell is the Head of Printmaking at the Tyler School of Art,
Temple University in Philadelphia. Briefly, from 1966-68, Dowell taught
printmaking at Indiana State University. At that time his abstract work
was inspired by jazz, life experiences and his African American heritage.
By 1967 he had befriended a group of ISU student musicians and one night
went to hear them. Their gig was in West Terre Haute at a bar called Walt's
Wheel of Fortune. Dowell, not familiar with the racial attitudes of the
area, went right on in and waited for his friends. When he tried to order
a drink, however, he was confronted by an unwelcoming bartender and threatening
patrons. For self-preservation, he left before the band took the floor.
The White Wheel of WTH refers to this incident.
- Lee Koch (n.d.)
- The official Chuck Berry souvenirs and Decal sheet, from the
portfolio FWA-4, 1971
- collage; halftone photo; screen-print, gift of Dr. Barbara Weinbaum
in Memory of Beatrice S. Hyman. 1972.15.10
- This Pop inspired print explores popular culture, mass media and celebrity
and was created at Purdue University. Little is known about the artist.
- Chuck Berry (b. 1926), the "Father of Rock & Roll," came
to prominence as a black songwriter and entertainer in the predominantly
white musical world of the late 1950s. Typically popular songs by black
artists were re-recorded by whites for white audiences, however a few renegade
radio Djs played the originals reaching the white teenage population. Berry
furthered his career but alienated Blacks by playing segregated venues.
In 1986 Berry became the first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of
- Ranier Fetting (b. Germany 1949)
- Bust of Desmond, 1986
- glazed terre cotta, gift of Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Dorsky 1991.119
- Rainer Fetting quickly rose and fell in the international art scene
of the late 1970s and '80s but is now being rediscovered. In 1983 Fetting,
a Caucasian, moved to New York from Berlin, a move he repeats regularly.
In New York, at a photo shoot for a German art magazine that was featuring
the artist, Fetting met Desmond Cadogan who had been hired to pose as artist's
model. Fetting's work at the time was populated by sensual male nudes.
The two fell in love and 25 years later Codogan still models for Fetting.
While German Expressionism has influenced much of Fetting's work, it is
not reflected in this clay portrait. Bust of Desmond was cast from
a mold and some works from the un-numbered edition were glazed in a manner
different from this one.
Resource Library readers may
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional
source by visiting the sub-index page for the Swope
Art Museum in Resource Library.
Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2009 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights