Celebrating Black Visual Artists: James A. Porter

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James A. Porter

Long, long, long before I decided to do these daily Black History Month blog postings honoring Black visual artists, there was James A. Porter. Known as the Father of African American art history, Porter was a painter, a Howard University art instructor, and the author of the first comprehensive history of African American art: Modern Negro Art.

Born in 1905, the Baltimore, Maryland native was first introduced to artistic painting by his older brother. He attended Howard University in 1923 and became an instructor of painting and drawing there upon graduation. Later on, he would continue pursuit of artistic knowledge at New York University (where he earned his masters in the history of art), New York City’s Art Student League, and Sorbonne’s Institute d’Art et d’Archeologie in Paris.

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Woman Holding a Jug, 1932

Early on in his work, Porter was known as a master at African American portraiture (he won awards, Ya’ll) and many of his pieces were exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Art, New York’s MOM, Baltimore Museum of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.Later, after much travel through West Africa and Egypt, his work took on more of an African theme as he believed that it was important for Blacks to connect with their African heritage. (Fist in  the air.)

Porter first became interested in researching and documenting African American artists after reading a brief account about Robert S. Duncanson. His research on such artists became his master’s thesis. Porter eventually became the head of Howard University’s art department and the Art Gallery–where he exhibited African American, Cuban and Haitian artwork. In 1965, Porter was honored as one of the nation’s 25 best art teachers.

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On a Cuban Bus, 1946

Porter died in 1970 and I find it ironic that the man who first realized the importance of preserving Black visual art history is not remembered and celebrated in a bigger, broader way. Although I did manage to find several articles about Porter on line, I was hard pressed to find more examples of his artwork.

To learn more about James A. Porter, click here.

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