"The father of African art." "Dean of African-American
painters." "Pioneering Africanist." All of these honorifics
have been applied to Aaron Douglas. His painting—typified by
flat forms, hard edges, and repetitive geometric shapes—was
strongly shaped by African motifs and culture, as well as by African-American
Douglas was drawn to Harlem from his native Kansas after hearing
about the creative output of other black artists. Scholars W. E. B.
Du Bois and Alain Locke, who promoted the work of talented black artists,
admired Douglas' designs and included his illustrations in leading
publications. James Weldon Johnson asked Douglas to illustrate his
book of poetic sermons, God's Trombones.
In 1934, the Works Progress Administration commissioned Douglas to
paint Aspects of Negro Life, a four-panel mural for the 135th
Street Branch of the New York Public Library. In one of the panels,
Song of the Towers, Douglas depicts three figures, each portraying
a facet of the black experience. The figure on the right represents
the escape of former slaves, while the figure on the left symbolizes
the economic hardships of African Americans. In the middle stands
a saxophonist—an emblem of the new opportunities that art and
music offered blacks during the Harlem Renaissance.