One of the featured artists during the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas helped cultivate the concept of the ‘New Negro.’ Douglas painted murals for buildings and created cover art for numerous black publications, including The Crisis and Opportunity. He moved to Tennessee in 1940, where he taught at Fisk University for 20 years and subsequently founded their art department. Under FDR’s Works Progress Administration, Douglas also painted a mural for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem. The four-panel series showcases the African-American story, from their time in Africa to their enslavement in the United States to being liberated from the Civil War and adjusting to life in New York City.
Born at the peak of racial discrimination and prejudice, Lois Mailou Jones cultivated her craft in painting at the School of Museum of Fine Art in Boston. Jones entered her paintings into competitions via her white friends who would hand in her submissions for her. Throughout the years, Jones continued to paint and expand her network of fellow artists. Jones went on to give lectures throughout Haiti, Ethiopia, Ghana and so on. Her paintings from those visits combined with her previous work garnered enough attention to be featured in Ebony magazine. Her paintings are still considered an important part of the Harlem Renaissance.
Jacob Lawrence established himself as the first mainstream artist of the Harlem Renaissance. Lawrence came to success at age 24, which lasted until his death in 2000. His paintings portrayed stories of African migration to the United States, particularly the South. The subsequent paintings in his Migration Series compared the discrimination that African Americans faced in the South to African American life in the North.
Augusta Savage established herself as a sculptor, civil rights activist, and an educator. She gained artistic notoriety after she sculpted images of prominent figures such as W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey. During the Great Depression, Savage took part in roles that assisted other struggling artists and was dedicated to teaching students art. Eventually well known for her work, she was commissioned to create a sculpture for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Unfortunately, the sculpture was destroyed before the fair ended. Savage is still noted as one of the Harlem Renaissance’s most inspirational female artists.
Zora Neale Hurston was one of the Harlem Renaissance’s most popular female writers, best known for her book Their Eyes Were Watching God. It can be said that she was a strong influence on Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Cade Bamabara. Hurston was one of the staples of the Harlem Renaissance and of the 20st-century literary world. In 1975, Ms. Magazine published Hurston’s personal essay, titled ‘In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,’ which sparked additional interest in her work. As for the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston helped remind people of the richness of their culture and heritage.
Richmond Barthé was known for his sculpted portrayal of black figures. Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, his work depicted men in their natural form, through which he partially described his own self-identity. Although his work brought him many successes during the 1930s and 1940s, Barthé struggled with his homosexuality. His sculptures depicted a sense of intensity and sensuality that attracted European patrons and people of the press.
Charles Alston was a sculptor, painter, artist, muralist, and teacher. Alston was born in Charlotte, North Carolina but was raised in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University, Alston was an active member of his community. He started a boy’s camp called the Utopia House, where he became a mentor to fellow sculpture Jacob Lawrence. Alston became the director of the Harlem Hospital’s murals, as well as the first black supervisor of the Federal Art Project in 1935. By the end of 1936, two of his works had been featured in the Museum of Modern Art. His other prominent works include Portrait of a Man, Girl In A Red Dress, and Portrait of a Woman.