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Art Exhibit Celebrates Heroes Gone but Not Forgotten

J'accuse #6
Sound of Silence

The art of Charles White will be displayed at the North Carolina Central University Art Museum from Sept. 30 through Dec. 21 in an exhibit titled, “Heroes Gone but Not Forgotten.” An exhibit opening will be held on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 2 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The exhibit features 47 works by White, including drawings, prints and paintings, spanning four decades. Included are 10 original works of major figures in black history commissioned by the Johnson Publishing Co.

White is considered to be one of the most significant African-American artists of the 20th century, noted for depicting both the depth of pain and indomitable spirit inherent in African-Americans.

“White’s contribution to American art practice is immense,” said Kenneth Rodgers, director of the Art Museum. “It would be difficult to think of an artist who more completely merged presentations of distinct individuals with the presence and unmitigated weight of truth.”

Referred to as America’s greatest visual critic in the realms of social justice and race relations, White’s career spanned 50 years, as both a teacher and artist.

Born in Chicago in 1918, he attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, finding work with other artists through the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Created by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the WPA was funded by Congress with passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. WPA was the largest and most ambitious project of the New Deal, employing millions of workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. Also included under the WPA umbrella were large arts, drama, media and literacy projects. At its peak in 1938, WPA provided paid jobs for 3 million unemployed men and some women. The Federal Arts Project gave unemployed artists the opportunity to create murals, canvases and sculptures for hundreds of post offices, schools and other public buildings.

In 1939 under the auspices of the WPA, White painted the mural “Five Great American Negroes” for the Cleveland Branch of the Chicago Public Library. This work, depicting Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver and Marian Anderson, gave life to these five African-American heroes of American history and celebrated their contributions.

In 1941, White moved to New Orleans and began teaching at Dillard University. A year later he received the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, which allowed him to study art at the Art Students League in New York City. He also traveled throughout the South, doing research and making studies for his mural “The Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America.” The American Contemporary Art (ACA) Gallery in New York mounted White’s first solo exhibition in 1947.

White became co-founder of the Committee for the Negro Arts and was the third African-American elected a full member of the National Academy of Design.

A year before his death in 1979, he returned to mural painting and created his last major mural, “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune—Last Will and Testament” at the Mary McLeod Bethune Public Library in Los Angeles.

White’s work can be found in major museums and in public and private collections throughout the country.

The NCCU Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call the museum at 919-530-6211.

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
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