- NAME: Aaron Douglas
- OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Painter
- BIRTH DATE: May 26, 1899
- DEATH DATE: February 02, 1979
- EDUCATION: University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Topeka High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Topeka, Kansas
- PLACE OF DEATH: Nashville, Tennessee
- Full Name: Aaron Douglas
- Nickname: "Father of Black American Art"
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Aaron Douglas was an African-American painter and graphic artist who played a leading role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
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Aaron Douglas was an African-American painter and graphic artist who played a leading role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. His first major commission, to illustrate Alain LeRoy Locke's book, The New Negro, prompted requests for graphics from other Harlem Renaissance writers. By 1939, Douglas started teaching at Fisk University, where he remained for the next 27 years.
"We can go to African life and get a certain amount of form and color, understanding and using this knowledge in development of an expression that interprets our life."
Born in Topeka, Kansas, Aaron Douglas was a leading figure in the artistic and literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. He is sometimes referred to as "the father of black American art." Douglas developed an interest in art early on, finding some of his inspiration from his mother's love for painting watercolors.
After graduating from Topeka High School in 1917, Douglas attended the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. There, he pursued his passion for creating art, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1922. Around that time, he shared his interest with the students of Lincoln High School in Kansas City, Missouri. He taught there for two years, before deciding to move to New York City. At the time, New York's Harlem neighborhood had a thriving arts scene.
Arriving in 1925, Douglas quickly became immersed Harlem's cultural life. He contributed illustrations to Opportunity, the National Urban League's magazine, and to The Crisis, put out by the National Association for the Advancement Colored People. Douglas created powerful images of African-American life and struggles, and won awards for the work he created for these publications, ultimately receiving a commission to illustrate an anthology of philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke's work, entitled The New Negro.
Douglas had a unique artistic style that fused his interests in modernism and African art. A student of German-born painter Winold Reiss, he incorporated parts of Art Deco along with elements of Egyptian wall paintings in his work. Many of his figures appeared as bold silhouettes.
In 1926, Douglas married teacher Alta Sawyer, and the couple's Harlem home became a social Mecca for the likes of Langston Hughes and W. E. B. Du Bois, among other powerful African Americans of the early 1900s. Around the same time, Douglas worked on a magazine with novelist Wallace Thurman to feature African-American art and literature. Entitled Fire!!, the magazine only published one issue.
With his reputation for creating compelling graphics, Douglas became an in-demand illustrator for many writers. Some of his most famous illustration projects include his images for James Weldon Johnson's poetic work, God's Trombone (1927), and Paul Morand's Black Magic (1929). In addition to his illustration work, Douglas explored educational opportunities; after receiving a fellowship from the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania, he took time to study African and modern art.
Douglas created some of his best-known painting in the 1930s. In 1930, he was hired to create a mural for the library at Fisk University. The following year, he spent time in Paris, where he studied with Charles Despiau and Othon Friesz.
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During the early 20th century, African-American poets, musicians, actors, artists and intellectuals moved to Harlem in New York City and brought new ideas that shifted the culture forever. From approximately 1918 to the mid 1930s, talent began to overflow within this newfound culture of the black community in Harlem, as prominent figures—Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, to name a few—pushed art to its limit as a form of expression and representation. These are some of the famous African Americans who shaped the influential movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.
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