Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

African-American Writers and Artists

        | HSW

African-American Writers and Artists Part II
Artists Henry Tanner and Romare Beardon
Artists Henry Tanner and Romare Beardon
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Below is the second part of "African-American Writers and Artists."

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in 1859 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Tanner decided to become a painter at age thirteen after he saw an artist working in a park near his home.

He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1879, but he was not treated very nicely because he was black. So he went to study in Paris, where he was respected as a great artist. He painted about faith and hope and feelings all people could relate to. Tanner has since been honored in many exhibitions in the United States and France.

 

Romare Bearden was born in 1914 in Charlotte, North Carolina, but he spent much of his childhood in Harlem, New York. Bearden remembered having artists and musicians at his house all the time. That is how he became a huge blues and jazz fan, and he started working his love of music into his art.

Bearden went to school at Columbia University in New York City and earned his degree in mathematics. He never had a formal art education, but that did not stop him from following his heart. He used his awesome talent and his perspective of life to achieve a booming career in painting.

Bearden's work has been highly admired for its rhythm, beauty, and unique sense of color.

Selma Burke was a sculptor and a teacher who was born in 1900 in Mooresville, North Carolina. She started sculpting with clay from the riverbed near her home and made figures and objects from the clay. Selma's work dates back to the Harlem Renaissance, and she traveled and studied under several famous artists. In 1943, she won an international competition and was chosen to design a portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She also designed a dime.

Jacob Lawrence holding Selma Burke's dime.
Jacob Lawrence holding Selma Burke's dime.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

At age 82, Jacob Lawrence was considered the most widely praised African-American artist of the 20th century. He was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917. When Lawrence and his family later moved to Harlem, New York, his mother enrolled him in an after-school arts program. There he experimented with many different types of art. He used his canvas to make many bold, brightly colored statements on freedom, dignity, struggle, and daily life among African-American people.

In 1970 Lawrence was the first artist to win the Spingarn medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He also was a professor and the head of an art department.

There is an old saying that goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." So when we look at the beautiful pictures created by African artists, we might have enough words to write a book!

The paintings, drawings, and sculptures they created are not only nice to look at, but they often represented a part of daily living and ceremonial rituals.

Wood, bronze, ivory, gold, metal, cloth, and copper were some of the materials used as symbols of emotional expression. African art has been a way to record history and often has served as a visual solution to certain problems.

African-Americans continue to use their art and their words to tell stories and to show others where they have been, where they are, and where they are going. Whatever the purpose, art reminds us how beautiful life can be.

For more children's stories and activities, check out:

  • 1
  • 2