Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Richard Lonsdale Brown (1892-1917)

The story of Richard Lonsdale Brown's life is--like the story of all lives--one of triumph and sadness. It's a story of a young and very talented artist, determined to make his way in the art world despite his humble origins and the view society had of people of color. He was born on August 25, 1892, in Evansville, Indiana. It would appear that his father was an itinerant tradesman, a bricklayer and construction worker who went where there were jobs. Nineteen hundred found the family in Pittsburgh. They later took up residence in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where Brown spent most of his youth. In his late teens, he attended the Charleston Institute, a trade school in which he learned the skills and techniques of house painting, graduating in 1910. West Virginia proved an inspiration to the young artist, and he began creating impressionistic watercolor landscapes of his father's home state.

At the age of seventeen, Brown ventured from home, pursuing his art career in Pittsburgh before moving on to New York City. He approached numerous art galleries in New York with no success. His youth, inexperience, and color blocked his entry into the mainstream art community. In the spring of 1911, Brown, penniless and in search of affirmation, arrived on the doorstep of an established artist, George de Forest Brush (1855-1941), and asked him to review his work. Brush was impressed and took Brown under his wing. That summer, thanks to a scholarship from the NAACP, Brown studied under Brush at the art colony at Cornish, New Hampshire, and returned with him to New York in the fall. In March 1912, he had a very successful solo exhibition at the Ovington Gallery. He produced illustrations and cover art for The Crisis magazine, and in May 1913, won a bronze medal in the city’s National Academy of Design show. 

The artistic passion and desire for learning that delivered Brown to New York next carried him to Boston, where he continued his studies and paid his way by painting houses. He painted the Robert Gould Shaw House, and while there, produced illustrations for The Crisis as well as civil rights posters, commissioned by W.E.B. Du Bois, the founder of the NAACP. Then, Brown's life took a turn that we--a century later--can only wonder about: He inexplicably abandoned his artistic pursuits on the East Coast and returned home to his parents, moving with them to Muskogee, Oklahoma, in the winter of 1916. It was in Muskogee, in the fall or early winter of 1917, that Brown died at the age of twenty-five, from an "incurable illness," possibly pneumonia. According to an auction website, only three known works by Richard Lonsdale Brown survive. I would suggest that the inextinguishable spirit of the artist also survives.

"An Indian Mound" (ca. 1914), a watercolor by Indiana artist Richard Lonsdale Brown.
"Mount Monadnock" (1911), a work in gouache of a prominence in New Hampshire, where Brown studied with George de Forest Brush at the Cornish art colony.
Brown was also an illustrator, creating work for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP under the editorship of W.E.B. DuBois. Here is his cover for the Easter number, April 1912.

Trivia: It's interesting to note that Brown, a painter of landscapes, found benefactors in two men with names having similar meanings: de Forest and DuBois.

Written by Bridget Hanley, Proficient Pen, and Terence E. Hanley
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 27, 2012

Elton Clay Fax (1909-1993)

Born on October 9, 1909, in Baltimore, Maryland, Elton Clay Fax attended Claflin College and the College of Fine Art at Syracuse University. He began his career as a lecturer and art teacher at Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in the 1930s. He was a prolific artist, illustrating more than thirty books and a multitude of magazine articles, and he produced the weekly comic strip Suzabelle, which ran in several black newspapers during the 1940s. He was also an accomplished writer who travelled extensively throughout the United States and overseas. During his illustrated lectures abroad, Fax brought news of the American Civil Rights Movement to other peoples. He held formal positions as a U.S. Department of State International Exchange Program Representative in South America and the Caribbean, a delegate to the International Congress of Society of African Culture in Rome, and a lecturer with the U.S. State Department in East Africa.

No matter where his other commitments and interests led him, Fax never lost sight of his calling as an educator, teaching courses in colleges and universities throughout the United States, lecturing in schools around the world, and conducting workshops and talks for children in schools and community centers. He held teaching, guest lecturer, and artist-in-residence positions at several colleges and universities over the course of his career, including a residency at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Fax's career as an illustrator began in 1942 with pictures for Astounding Science-Fiction. Illustrations for Science Fiction Stories, Unknown Worlds, and Weird Tales followed. Fax went on to illustrate many children's books, from Tommy Two Wheels by Robert Norris McLean (1943) to The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody by Genevieve Gray (1972), which was adapted to the ABC Weekend Specials in 1978. In addition, Fax illustrated his own books on his travels and on the lives of black Americans.

After a long and distinguished career, Elton Clay Fax died at his home in Queens, New York, on May 13, 1993. He was eighty-three years old.

Renowned author, artist, and educator Elton Clay Fax began his illustration career in science fiction magazines. The image is small, but here's an illustration for "The Cave" by P. Schuyler Miller from Astounding Science-Fiction, January 1943. 
This drawing in ink, of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shows Fax's facility with a pen and with portraiture.
In later years, Fax turned to weightier subjects, such as famine in Africa. The title of this piece is "Bread," and it was part of a series of lithographs called "Black and Beautiful," executed between 1964 and 1968. From the collection of Temple University.
Elton Clay Fax (1909-1993)
Postscript: A portrait of George Washington Carver from the second book illustrated by Elton Clay Fax, Dr. George Washington Carver, Scientist (1944).

Written by Bridget Hanley, Proficient Pen, and Terence E. Hanley
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley