Learn how publications provided opportunities for black artists in On the Harlem Newsstand: Vehicles for Many Voices.

 

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979)
Painter and illustrator

 

 
 
 

 


The Kennedy Center
ARTSEDGE
Marco Polo
This resource was created in March 2003 by ARTSEDGE. All rights reserved.
ARTSEDGE is a project of the Education Department of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,
and is a member of the MarcoPolo Partnership
View the famed piece Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers.

"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 jazz music.

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.


 

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Douglas illustrated The Negro Speaks of Rivers for Langston Hughes.
His mural, Aspects of Negro Life, was on display at the Harlem YMCA.
He illustrated James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones.
His work was published in the magazine Opportunity.
His illustrations appeared in the Survey Graphic anthology of work by black writers.
Douglas contributed to the magazine Fire!!, edited by writer Wallace Thurman.
He illustrated Claude McKay's Home to Harlem.
Douglas received awards from the Harmon Foundation.
 
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