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Allan Freelon's Untitled Artwork of a Ship
Art Museum Showcases the Work of Allan Freelon
Published: Monday, February 23, 2004

DURHAM, N.C. - The North Carolina Central University Art Museum will present the exhibition, Allan Freelon: Pioneer African American Impressionist March 7 through April 23, 2004. An opening reception is scheduled Sunday, March 7 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the museum. Curated by Kenneth G. Rodgers, director of the NCCUArt Museum, the exhibition will be the artist’s first exhibit in the South.


Allan Freelon (1895-1960) initially came to prominence while exhibiting in the Harmon Foundation exhibitions in the 1930s. Soon after he produced a body of paintings and prints that depicted familiar scenes located in his native Philadelphia and in Gloucester, Massachusetts where he summered. He increasingly became dedicated to more traditional subjects in spite of influences to pursue other directions. Freelon painted portraits of neighbors in such works as Old Woman and captured farm scenes based on familiar people and places. Freelon also produced etchings and other intaglio prints that occasionally incorporated some of the social content heralded by the Harlem Renaissance. He was an active member of the Philadelphia group of artists and writers associated with the New Negro Movement and served as editor of the short-lived literary magazine Black Opals (1927-28).

Allan Freelon was born and raised in Philadelphia on September 2, 1895. After completing four years of study on scholarship at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art in 1912, he continued graduate studies in education at the University of Pennsylvania and received his M.F.A. at the Tyler School, Temple University. In 1919, he joined the faculty of the Philadelphia Board of Education as an instructor and, in 1922, was appointed art supervisor for elementary, and, later, secondary education, a position he held until his retirement. Freelon participated in the Works Projects Administration’s Public Art project in the 1930s. His work within the Philadelphia public school system and at his own private studio school in Telford, Pennsylvania attracted a significant following of artists from the late 1930s through the 1950s. Although Freelon had studied etching with Earl Horter, he did not follow his teacher’s growing interest in modernist abstraction and African art, but instead remained more closely linked to the late impressionist style of other teachers, Hugh Breckenridge and Allan Gruppe.

Alain Locke placed Freelon among the group of “traditionalist” artists with William E. Scott, William Farrow, Laura Wheeler Waring and Edwin A. Harleston, who emphasized painting technique over “an art of social interpretation and criticism.” Freelon’s paintings of the Harbor at Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he spent his summers at Hugh Breckenridge’s art school will be included in the exhibition. The painting and others are built up of blocks of colors to create flickering light effects that underscore his interest in technical problems that are resolved by painting similar natural scenes from different points of view and under different light conditions. Freelon exhibited several variations on the Gloucester harbor scene in the Harmon juried shows of 1928 through 1931.

The influence of Emile Gruppe and Hugh Breckenridge on Freelon was profound. Their theories and techniques regarding the role of color in painting reflected a keen understanding of the Impressionists. They pushed Freelon to use bold color while maintaining his own style. In the tradition of the European Impressionists and post-impressionists Freelon produced paintings that referenced the work of Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Henri Matisse. In an untitled composition (Boat at Harbor), included in the exhibition, Freelon clearly understands the basic tenet of complimentary colors yielding aesthetically satisfying color combinations. The prominently positioned boat is comprised of planks of red and green, while the shallow water shows Freelon’s handling of pigment and confident brushwork in orange and blue.

Freelon’s works are included in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Howard University Art Gallery among others. His exhibition record is equally impressive. In addition to exhibiting with the Harmon Foundation, Freelon had solo exhibitions at Atlanta University in 1934, the Warwick Galleries, Philadelphia in 1935, and Temple University and Howard University in 1940. During the mid-1930s, he participated in group exhibitions such as the Whitney Museum’s Regional Exhibition of Oil Painting and Sculpture and the John Wanaker Regional Exhibition, in 1934; and the Harmon Foundation cooperative showings of work by Negro artists with the College Art Association in 1934-35 and the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, in 1935. Freelon served as an administrator and juror for hundreds of art exhibitions focusing on art produced by Philadelphia’s youth. He remained an important figure in the Philadelphia art scene until his death in 1960.

The North Carolina Central University Art Museum, located on Lawson Street across from the Farrison-Newton Communications Building, is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is wheelchair accessible. Admission is free. For more information, please contact the NCCU Art Museum at (919) 530-6211.

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