African-American Artists 3 

Savage in studio w Harp
Savage_Portrait of a Baby_1942_crop
Bearden_QuiltingTime_1967_Installed at  DIA

From Glass' Instagram page: 


"Growing up, my mother recognized my talent and tried to put me in every art program available. I always hated that because everytime she put me in a program, they would tell her I was too advanced. So, I would end up in classes with people who were twice my age. They were learning techniques and I was just a kid who wanted to draw. 
I also didn’t have any examples of people around me who were artists. All I heard was that if I became an artist, I would be broke. So when it came time to go to college, I chose architecture. Two years in, I knew I didn’t want to be an architect but I still I did it professionally for a while until lost my position. With some encouragement from my wife, I decided to do my art while I looked for a full time job. I was off for a year and a half and made more artwork than I had in my whole life. By the time I went back to work, I was a motivated artist. I would do architecture during the day and murals at night, until I was able to become a full time artist. That makes it sound a whole lot easier than it was, but that’s what happened. I am very fortunate." - Hamilton Glass


(@hamglass), #RVA #Muralist #whosham

Glass creating a mural project for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2019.

Style Weekly 2018, 40 under 40

We Still Exist, 2015

You can contact him through his website: Who's Ham?

Hamilton Glass’s career as an artist stems from his architecture and design background. Despite working in the architecture field for 7 years, his passion for public art pushed him to start a career as an artist. Public art has always been a big influence and inspiration of his, because of its power to influence and inspire the surrounding community. With every project he is given to create, a message is built in that connects the work to the community to in which it lives. Hamilton’s work usually distinguished by his use of architectural elements with bright vivid colors and sharp lines. The colors and unpredictable lines  are used to convey a certain energy and movement in each piece.  

-his website

Fast Track Home, 1999, scorched canvas   VMFA     more info

Wille Cole, in one of his shoe chairs 

American Domestic, 2016, digital ink and serigraph 

Woman in Heels, 2019, bronze at the Alexander and Bonin Gallery, show, Bella Figura

Stowage, 1999, Woodcut and relief, Whitney Museum

Willie Cole is known for his mixed media sculptures  and printmaking images that combine cultures of West Africa with what he witnessed of his mother and grandmother earning a living as domestic workers as he grew up. Irons and ironing boards have featured prominently in his work since the beginning.

He studied the culture of the Yoruba society while studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

A remake of Grant Wood's American Gothic, Cole has used dgital art to combine and print the images of the iconic painting with dogon masks and overlaid with screen-printed iron and ironing board images.

"A steam iron is, well, a steam iron for many of us. Two decades ago, when getting your clothes ironed by the washerman was not the norm, it would be a weekend task in every family to iron and ready school uniforms and office wear for the next week. So, an iron is a utility object present in almost every home, even if it is not used that regularly.""

"For Cole it is much more than that. In the last three decades, it has registered for itself a seminal place in Cole’s art practice. It emerges as an expression of domestic labour by women of colour, slave trade and Yoruba traditions. 

"When asked about the process of discovering and rediscovering an object like steam iron, Cole says, 'This is not a discovery. This is acceptance. It is fuelled by the awareness of the history, and the physical characteristics of the object(s). I make a list of everything an object suggests. Then I make associations'.

"Cole’s mother and grandmother were housekeepers and often asked him to repair their steam irons. The artist, acutely aware of this background, often makes this context central to the narrative."

by Shailaja Tripathi,  published on : Oct 21, 2020  in Stir World    Link

Stowage is an unusual variant on the woodblock print, which Willie Cole created by embedding an ironing board and the soleplates of twelve irons into an expanse of plywood, forcing the objects down until they were flush with the surface and then applying ink to the whole. To Cole, the various images formed by the base of the irons suggest the distinctive markings associated with different African tribes, and the perforated metal ironing board evoke nineteenth-century illustrations of slave trading that show Africans stowed on ships like so much cargo. As well as the reference to a physical voyage, the print alludes to a cultural one.   Whitney Museum

Cole clearly is interested in water as a symbolic life force. However, it seemed to me that beyond repurposing plastic bottles, he could be making a stronger statement about the devastating effects of these discarded materials on the environment.

Ascension (When it Rains it Pours) was commissioned by the David C. Driskell Center

"...a colossal twenty-foot chandelier constructed of plastic water bottles. Embedded in each bottle is a small figure representing a black man killed by the police. This was created by Cole, staff and students at the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland."  more

Stothard's The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West-Indies, c. 1800,  etched by W. Grainger


Link to article about the imagery in The Sable Venus

School Crossing Guard, 1984

Hope Street: Church Mothers, 1984

“It is not my aim to paint about the Negro in America in terms of propaganda … [but] the life of my people as I know it, passionately and dispassionately as Breughel. My intention is to reveal through pictorial complexities the life I know.”

 “Romare Bearden, The Human Condition” (New York: ACA Galleries, 1991), 2

He had a degree in mathmatics, and worked as a social worker; had no intention of being an artist. At first.  Instead, he became a writer, a songwriter, a screenwriter, and one of the 20th century's most pivotal artists. Bearden studied Chinese painting techniques and co-wrote a book on Chinese Art. He co-wrote a book on "Six African-American Artists" and was in the processe of co-writing an expanded version when he died. 

His early art works were often realist, with religious themes. Between 1920-22 he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso. He took the style and passion of Picasso, Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Vermeer, and made them his own. He melded cubism, surrealism, and post-impressionism, and expressed an amalgamation in paint, collage, and glass tesserae.

"Influenced by the civil rights movement, his work became more representational and socially conscious. Although his collage work shows influence of abstract art, it also shows signs of African American enslaved crafts, such as patch-work quilts, and the necessity of using whatever materials are available. Taking images from mainstream pictorial magazines such as Life and Look and Black magazines such as Ebony and Jet, Bearden crafted the African American experience in his works."

“Art, it must be remembered, is artifice, or a creative undertaking, the primary function of which is to add to our existing conception of reality.”

There is just so much to write about him. He was a Renaissance Man. For so much more:

biography                SAAM            VMFA

"Romare Bearden noted that the work (Three Folk Musicians) pays homage to a scene he often witnessed at his grandmother’s boardinghouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “After supper the boarders would sit in front of the house and talk, or play checkers, or plunk out ‘down home music’ on their guitars.” With hand-painted papers and pieces of magazine photographs, the artist composed a group portrait of two guitarists and a banjoist, honoring the jazz and blues music that inspired African American artists—and modernists in general—beginning with the Harlem Renaissance half a century earlier."

info and video from VMFA

Three Folk Musicians, 1967, VMFA

Quilting Time, 1986, Detroit Institute of Arts

This mural was designed by Bearden, created by Crovatto Mosaics


This is another scene he would have seen as he grew up.

Family, 1986, SAAM

Golgatha, 1945, SAAM

Untitled, 1996. Ink and wash  VMFA

Kara Walker

Crest of Pine Mountain, Where General Polk Fell, 2005. Lithograph and screen print  SAAM

A Subtlety, or The Marvelous Sugar Baby, 2014. Styrofoam and sugar 

Sketch for A Subtlety

Fons Americanus, 2019, at the Tate Modern

Fons Americanus, 2019, detail, at the Tate Modern

Kara Walker is among the most complex and prolific American artists of her generation. She has gained national and international recognition for her cut-paper silhouettes depicting historical narratives haunted by sexuality, violence, and subjugation. Walker has also used drawing, painting, text, shadow puppetry, film, and sculpture to expose the ongoing psychological injury caused by the tragic legacy of slavery. Her work leads viewers to a critical understanding of the past while also proposing an examination of contemporary racial and gender stereotypes.

In 2014, Walker produced her first site-specific sculpture, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, which was installed in a warehouse in a former Domino Sugar compound in Brooklyn. The centerpiece was a monumental Sphinxlike woman with caricatured features and an Aunt Jemima kerchief, which Walker fashioned from blocks of polystyrene coated with white sugar, which was attended by thirteen molasses-colored boys made of either cast sugar or resin. Both witty and unsettling, the work reminds us that refined sugar, a luxury once used to make the table decorations known as subtleties, was harvested by slaves on Caribbean sugar cane plantations.


A looming 35 feet tall, Sugar Baby is ensconced toward the back of an enormous warehouse, built in the late 19th century, that Domino once used for storing raw sugar cane as it arrived by boat from the Caribbean for refinement and packaging. Once a luxury — subtleties were sugar sculptures made for the rich as edible table-decorations — sugar became more widely available due in large part to slave labor. No wonder its journey north may bring to mind the Middle Passage endured by Africans forced across the Atlantic.

As you approach, Sugar Baby’s extra-large hands create a foreshortening that makes her seem to loom all the more powerfully. Her left hand is clenched in the ancient “fig” fist, of thumb through first two fingers. It is variously an obscene gesture, a protection against the evil eye and, furthest back in time, a fertility symbol. Like I said, multiple meanings.

NYTimes article        Video interview      Video of production

With a provocative new acquisition of work by influential contemporary artist Kara Walker, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts isn't playing things safe.

The large 1996 ink-wash drawing, "Untitled," shows what most likely is a house servant about to smother her owner with a pillow. Another woman in the scene, the man's wife, perhaps, stands in the hallway watching with one hand to her mouth. The artist says she imagined the protagonist — a house slave, daughter, or both — as a hero and villain in a "mercy killing" met with surprise and tacit approval.

VMFA details

Botticelli’s iconic Renaissance painting The Birth of Venus (ca. 1485) became a classic art-historical example of (white) female beauty. In the age of British colonialism, English artist Thomas Stothard co-opted the image to promote human bondage and, more specifically, the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean. His print The Voyage of the Sable Venus from Angola to the West Indies (ca. 1800) depicts a group of white cherubs ushering an Angolan woman through the sea, ostensibly to her disenfranchised doom. The picture is pure propaganda, turning the white figures into saviors, and slavery into a moral obligation.


In addition to the Stothard print, Walker references the painting of 19th-century American artist Winslow Homer

At the bottom level of her tiered fountain, among sharks and billowing-sailed ships, a man reclines in a boat labeled “K. West.” The figure derives from Homer’s famous painting The Gulf Stream (1899), which features a man in a boat with “Key West” scrawled on the stern.  More

In Walker’s art, the present is defined by the past and the past exerts a savage power.

Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) is a series of fifteen prints based on the two-volume anthology published in 1866. To create her prints, Walker enlarged select illustrations and then overlaid them with large stenciled figures.

read more

A social realist, Lawrence documented the African American experience in several series devoted to Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, life in Harlem, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He was one of the first nationally recognized African American artists, the first African American artist to have a one person show in a major art gallery, displaying his Migration pieces. 

“If at times my productions do not express the conventionally beautiful, there is always an effort to express the universal beauty of man’s continuous struggle to lift his social position and to add dimension to his spiritual being.”

— Jacob Lawrence quoted in Ellen Harkins Wheat, Jacob Lawrence: The Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman Series of 1938–40 (Hampton, Va.: Hampton University Museum; Seattle: in association with University of Washington Press, 1991), n.p.

When Jacob was twelve years old. He enrolled in Public School 89 located at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, and at the Utopia Children’s Center, a settlement house that provided an after school program in arts and crafts for Harlem children. 

During the Depression he enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal jobs program. When Lawrence returned to Harlem he became associated with the Harlem Community Art Center directed by sculptor Augusta Savage, and began painting his earliest Harlem scenes.

Through the persistence of Augusta Savage, Lawrence was assigned to an easel project with the W.P.A., and still under the influence of Seifert, Lawrence became interested in the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the black revolutionary and founder of the Republic of Haiti. Lawrence felt that a single painting would not depict L’Ouverture’s numerous achievements, and decided to produce a series of paintings on the general’s life.

He continued this notion that any historical event or person he wanted to depict could not have the story told adequately in just one image. He has been called a 'pictorial griot' (storyteller).

During the late 1940s Lawrence was the most celebrated African American painter in America. Young, gifted, and personable, Lawrence presented the image of the black artist who had truly “arrived”. Lawrence was, however, somewhat overwhelmed by his own success, and deeply concerned that some of his equally talented black artist friends had not achieved a similar success. As a consequence, Lawrence became deeply depressed, and in July 1949 voluntarily entered Hillside Hospital in Queens, New York, to receive treatment. He completed the Hospital series while at Hillside.

In "The Great Migration", Lawrence focused on the exodus of African Americans from the rural South to northern and western cities beginning during World War I. The son of migrants himself, Lawrence researched extensively before starting to paint, distilling this relocation of millions into intimate vignettes. The series contains sixty panels in all, thirty of which appear here. Through an unusual decision to split the work in half, the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, acquired the odd-numbered panels and MoMA the even-numbered ones. Using vibrant patterns, blocks of color, and pared-down, angular figures and forms, Lawrence tells a clear story of a historic event.  

Between 1916 and 1930, more than a million people moved north. Lawrence’s parents made the journey, and he grew up hearing stories about it; as a young artist living in Harlem, the heart of New York’s African American community, he recognized it as an epic theme. Originally known as The Migration of the Negro but renamed by the artist in 1993, this cycle of sixty images—each accompanied by a caption written by the artist—chronicles a great exodus and arrival.


In 1947 Jacob Lawrence received a commission from Fortune magazine to depict African American life in the so-called Black Belt, a broad agricultural region of the Deep South. Part his series,"The South", Catfish Row is one of ten temperas resulting from Lawrence’s journey, all painted on his return to New York.   VMFA read more

The Legend of John Brown, No. 13, 1977,   22 silk-screen prints. Based on his same-size gouache paintings from 1941 (was owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts)  read more at VMFA

Depression, 1950,   part of “Hospital” series, tempera and watercolor on paper

Catfish Row, 1947, part of “The South” series, egg tempera on hardboard, VMFA

He considered his work to be celebratory and said once that his images “just deal with the social scene … They’re how I feel about things.” (Wheat, Jacob Lawrence, American Painter, 1986)        more info

Video at MoMa (at bottom of page)

In the North the Negro had Better Educational Facilities (no 58 in "The Great Migration" series), 1940-41, casein tempera on hardboard   MoMA.

The 1920s—The Migrants Arrive to Cast Their Ballots, 1974   serigraph   VMFA

Not a part of The Great Migration series, but an extension. Here is a great VIDEO from the Cincinnati Art Museum 

Even this extension was done as part of 3 prints.

His series of paintings include: The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, 1937, (forty one panels), The Life of Frederick Douglass, 1938, (forty panels), The Life of Harriet Tubman, 1939, (thirty one panels), The Migration of the Negro,1940–41, (sixty panels), The Life of John Brown, 1941, (twenty two panels), Harlem, 1942, (thirty panels), War, 1946 47, (fourteen panels), The South, 1947, (ten panels), Hospital, 1949–50, (eleven panels), Struggle ?History of the American People, 1953–55, (thirty panels completed, sixty projected).

Early in his career, Lawrence realized that the stories of American history that were not told in history books needed to be told; and one painting could not do justice to any one story. This became his series style. To create a series, Lawrence would plan all the 'parts' to the story.  He would plan not only the images, but the size and orientation of the surfaces. Once he had the sketches all finished, he would draw them on white paper or white hardboard. Usually using gouache (opaque watercolor), he would paint ALL of one color on ALL of the panels at one time. So, all 60 of the Migration panels would have been laid out and worked on at the same time.


His titles were very important, and part of the artwork. 

Jacob Lawrence

Sculptor Augusta Savage once said: "I was a Leap Year baby, and it seems to me that I have been leaping ever since." Born on Feb. 29, 1892, Savage leapt from the Jim Crow South to public attention in the Harlem Renaissance.

As a young child, she used the red clay around her town in Florida to make little clay figures. Her father, who was a fundamentalist preacher, saw them as 'graven images' and would destroy them and punish (beat) her. 


Fortunately, a teacher spotted her talent, and with $4.60 in her pocket she moved to Harlem, cleaned houses to pay rent, and studied at the Cooper Union School of Art

Augusta Savage

Gamin, 1929   white plaster, painted with shoe polish, possibly a portrait of her nephew, Ellis Ford. "Gamin" is French for "street urchin".   more at the SAAM

The Harp, 1939  New York World Fair Postcard

Realization, photo taken with Savage in 1938. Commissioned by the Work Projects Administration of the New Deal.  Location unknown

Savage working on Lift Every Voice in Song for 1939 NY World Fair, plaster and paint. 

The World Fair committee renamed it The Harp. The sculpture was 16' tall. The artist took a leave of absence for 2 years to work on this project. Destroyed at the end of the World Fair, when the building it was in was bulldozed down. Five million visitors came to see it, and it was one of the most photographed objects.    NPR audio and description

Portrait of a Baby, 1942   terra cotta

in 1923 she won a trip to Paris, but it was discovered she was Black, the Paris authorities rescinded the award. Even during the Jim Crow era this was a big deal and many letters were written in her support, but the authorities would not change. Six years later she won fellowships to Paris and Europe, and she stayed there 3 years. 

During the Depression she returned to Harlem and created a gallery and school. Among her students were Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Charles Alston, and Gwendolyn Knight. 

The school was an early step in her lifetime of social activism. Blending activism and art became her mission.

In 1939, the artist Augusta Savage was the first African American woman to open her own art gallery in America – the Salon of Contemporary Negro Art. Devoted to showcasing the work of black artists, 500 people poured into the opening reception, where Savage announced:

“We do not ask any special favors as artists because of our race. We only want to present to you our works and ask you to judge them on their merits.”

Her legacy lived on in Charles Alston, one of Savage’s students, famed for his bust of Martin Luther King Jr. This was the first artwork of an African American in the White House. Alston established the Harlem Artists Guild, which helped create career opportunities for black artists, and continued Savage’s legacy for civil rights activism through art.

read more

Many of her works have been destroyed or lost; only 12 are known to exist.

Witch Doctor 1, 1969

Calloway continued to exhibit widely in the 1970s, including a landmark show, in conjunction with Betye Saar, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1977. Having met a few years earlier, Saar and Calloway quickly became very close friends. Saar was even instrumental in the development of several of Calloway's artworks, sending Calloway the dress and photograph that would feature prominently in Vanity, which was included in the San Francisco exhibition. The two artists would exhibit together several times over the course of their careers.

—Naima J. Keith

“As a black woman artist I wished to look beneath the misconceptions with which history had covered my people and me."

Day 21: Hamilton Glass 

Proud Sister, 2010

Day 16: Romare Bearden,


Day 17: Augusta Savage,


Week One/Page One

Week Two/Page Two

Week Three/Page Three

Calloway became active in the civil rights movement during the 1960s, becoming president of the San Jose chapter of the NAACP. In 1965 she participated in the historic march in Selma, Alabama, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—an experience that changed the direction of her work. The artist recalled, "When I came back I felt as though abstract work had to go on hold. So I started painting my world around me." The first of her new works was a painting of civil rights marchers being fire-hosed. As the years passed, her work grew more three-dimensional, from paintings on canvas to life-size wood cutouts of figures, often wearing real clothes. The Grandfather (1970s) is an installation of an old man holding an infant in a simply furnished room, seemingly chilled from the snowy day outside. With such works, the artist combines various media (wood, cloth, leather) to produce a popular image, "a portrait of a people that is universal in its humaness; the reservoir of images is limitless."         more info

Mother and Daughter, 1970

Day 18: Jacob Lawrence


Day 19: Kara Walker, b. 1969

Day 20: Willie Cole, b. 1955

Page One        Page Two       Page Three     Page Four

Page Three

African-American Artists

In thinking about the NMWA #5womenartists challenge in March, I asked myself, "Could I name at least one African-American artist each day for every day in February?" In about 5 minutes I had 22 names, and after focusing, I now have closer to 50, or more. Quite a few have art in the VMFA (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts), and many are from or live in or near Richmond. My criteria (as with the women artists), was if I could remember their name OR the work of art.  

Day 15: Marie Johnson Calloway, 1920-2018

Born Marie Edwards in 1920, Calloway was raised in the then-segregated city of Baltimore. Working as a public school teacher for a decade before attending Morgan State College, Calloway completed a degree in art education in 1952. In an effort to escape segregation, she moved to San Jose in 1954. She earned a master's degree at San Jose State University and a doctoral equivalency from San Francisco State University. While teaching at a number of San Jose public schools, Calloway pursued her work as an artist, winning an award at the California State Fair and Exposition in 1960 for an abstract painting entitled Prejudice. She subsequently worked as an art specialist in the Santa Clara school district, an assistant professor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and in the art department of San Jose State University, and an associate professor in the art department of San Francisco State University.

Week Four/Page Four

Ascension (When it Rains it Pours), (2016), plastic bottles, zipties, PVC, photos, and galvanized steel, approximately 20’ diameter

In 2020 Glass stepped up his work to include collaboratively designed and painted murals around Richmond after the summer protests, as part of his Mending Walls Project, "We Need to Talk". For this particular mural, Glass wrote: 

"In a time where so many Americans are questioning their identity and visibility in America, this piece is meant to project the notion that we all make up the fabric of America. It is  more important now than ever to #vote and fight for the values we are promised as Americans because WE are America and our freedom and liberty depends on us."

Painted by Hamilton Glass and Eli McMullen

Struggle in the Ruffles