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Black Artists Represented in the Mint's Collection


Items in the Mint Museum Library collection on Black artists:





David Drake (1800-1865) 


Pottery is recognized as an important craft in North and South Carolina, but the traditional narrative often centers white Europeans. David Drake's history reveals a more complicated narrative. In the 19th century, pottery companies in Edgefield, South Carolina were run by white men, but the artworks were made by Black enslaved people. While there is not much information about Drake's life, we know that he used language as a form of resistance. In 1834, South Carolina passed a law stating that it was illegal for enslaved people to learn how to read and write. When looking at his pieces today, you can see short poems and Drake's signature across the vessels. Drake gained freedom in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, but did not receive credit or compensation for these works during his lifetime.




Minnie Evans (1892-1987)


Evans was born in Long Creek, North Carolina, but spent much of her life in Wilmington. Until she was 43 years old, Evans did not draw or paint, but began after she heard a voice saying to "draw or die." Much of her inspiration came from her dreams, visions, God, and the lush environment of the Airlie Gardens where she worked. Additionally, Evans used imagery from the Caribbean because she had traced her ancestry back to Trinidad. Evans's artworks are extraordinarily vivid with unique patterns, but she refused to explain them, stating, "They are just as strange to me as they are to anybody else.”



Minnie Evans, Design Made at Airlie Gardens, 1967, oil and mixed media on canvas mounted on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1972.44. Photo from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.







Hale Woodruff (1900-1980)


Woodruff was born in Cairo, Illinois and grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1927, he began a four year journey to Paris where he became friends with other notable African American artists, such as Henry Ossawa Tanner, Josephine Baker, and Augusta Savage. Upon returning to America amidst the Great Depression, he taught at Atlanta University. While in the south, he was drawn to American regionalism and was inspired to express Black life in America.




Hale Woodruff, Sunday Promenade, 1996, linocut on arches paper, The Mint Museum, Gift of Lyn and E. T. Williams, Jr., New York, New York and Naples, Florida. 2010.93.8




Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1988) 


Lois Mailou Jones had a life defined by her commitment to the arts and her cultural identity. The Boston born painter, studied at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and continued on to design textiles for firms in New York, before she began her educational career in 1928 at the Palmer Memorial Institute of North Carolina. Her contributions to the school were plentiful; she founded the arts department, taught folk dancing, coached basketball, and more. A couple years later, Jones went on to teach in the arts department at Howard University. In 1970, Jones served as the United States Information Agency's African cultural ambassador. Her background in textiles, as well as her cultural ambassador work, inspired her use of flowers, leaves, cultural motifs, and African imagery in her paintings. 




Lois Mailou Jones, Babelle, Paris, 1937, oil paint on canvas, The Mint Museum, Gift of the Lois Mailou Jones Pierre-Noel Trust, 2011.17






Charles Henry Alston (1907-1977)


Charles Henry Alston, the Charlotte born art educator and prolific creative, was the first African American supervisor of the Works Progress Administration. Alston supervised the creation of the Harlem Hospital's murals. The Columbia University graduate enjoyed a highly successful career in art education; he was the first African American to teach at the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Students league. Through his work with Mexican muralists, art as inspiration for social activism was a strong influence in his art. 



Romare Bearden (1911-1988) 


Perhaps one of the most renowned artists in the Mint's collection is Romare Bearden, a Charlotte-born artist. At three years old, Bearden's family moved to New York in order to escape white supremacy and Jim Crow laws of the South. While he spent much of his life working in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, Bearden often drew inspiration from his North Carolinian roots. Bearden's legacy lives on in Charlotte, as we can see in a sculpture dedicated to him and the Romare Bearden Park. One of Bearden's most notable artistic practices was his use of collage, which merged the imagery of the past with commentary on present-day life for Black Americans. 





Romare H. Bearden, Of the Blues: Carolina Shout, 1974, collage, The Mint Museum, Museum Purchase: National Endowment for the Arts Matching Fund and the Charlotte Debutante Club Fund. 1975.8




Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) 


Despite being born free in Washington, DC, Catlett's work is inspired by the legacy of her parents enslavement. She graduated from Howard University with a BS in art, after Carnegie Mellon rescinded her acceptance because of her racial identity. She went on to work supervising an elementary school art program in Durham, North Carolina. In 1939, Catlett was admitted to the University of Iowa, and would become the first woman to receive her MFA in Sculpture. The sculptures and prints that comprise her impressive body of work often feature black women.




Elizabeth Catlett, Singing Their Songs, 1992, color lithograph on paper, Museum Purchase: Portraits of Black Women Fund. 2002.97.1




John Wilson (1922-2015) 


John Wilson was born in Boston, MA. Wilson was inspired to make art at a young age while he studied at the Roxbury Boys Club. He then went on to graduate from Tufts University in 1947, before spending time in Mexico and Paris. Having live and and trained in Mexico alongside artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Wilson's sculptures, paintings, and prints exhibit a powerful sense of socio political consciousness, and often feature black men as subject matter. 


John Wilson often explored politics and justice in his print and sculptures.

John Wilson from The Boston Globe




John Biggers (1924-2001) 


John Biggers was an influential muralist from Gastonia, NC. His work commented on injustices in the United States, including racism and economic inequality. After a period in the Navy and travels to West Africa, his style developed into one of social realism. Biggers was one of the first African American artists to address the concept of the African Diaspora. In addition to murals, he also worked on paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures. 




John Biggers, Family Arc, 1992, lithography on paper, Museum Purchase, 1996.66A-C. 




A.B. Jackson (1925-1981)


Alexander Brooks Jackson was a painter born in New Haven, Connecticut who earned his BFA and MFA from Yale University. Jackson's art education career was robust; he taught at Southern University, Norfolk State, and Old Dominion University, where he was the first black faculty member. Throughout his teaching career he exhibited his art in many shows. He published a book in 1979; As I See Ghent: A Visual Essay. 




Faith Ringgold (1930-2024)


Faith Ringgold, the iconic creative and activist was born in Harlem, NY. Her unique approach to art and storytelling pioneered a new merging of the fine arts and craft disciplines. Ringgold's quilts, paintings, sculptures, and masks were inspired by African culture, community, race, gender, and historic traditions of storytelling. She committed her life and work to using art as a vessel for education and change making. Her children's book, Tar Beach, was published in 1991, and won the Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award, among many others. 



Faith Ringgold 1930-2024, from her website linked below. 





Leo Twiggs (1934-) 

"Most of my works have deep roots in my experiences growing up in the South but my intent, as always, is to explore the human condition. It is this exploration, I believe, that makes art endearing and enduring" - statement from the artist, found on his website


Twiggs was born in St. Stephen, South Carolina and earned his BA from Claflin University, MFA from New York University, and Doctor of Art from University of Georgia. The batik artist's work has been international featured and recognized.  




Leo Twiggs, Conversation, 2018, dye on cotton, Museum purchase with funds from the Charlotte Debutante Club, 2018.44.





Nellie Ashford (1943-)


Nellie Ashford was born in Charlotte, NC. Ashford's art can almost be looked at as a time capsule of the Charlotte that she grew up in as a black woman during the Jim Crow era. Her work is mixed media and evokes strong emotions through its depiction of people, relationships, and community inspired by her own experiences. Through her art, one understands her pride for her cultural identity. 


Picking Flowers In The Springtime 14x11


Nellie Ashford, Picking Flowers in the Springtime







Joyce J. Scott (1948-) 


Scott is a printmaker, performing artist, educator, sculptor, weaver, and most notably, a beadworker. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland and has worked in the area for most of her life. As hardships such as police violence and poverty have surrounded her, she feels it is necessary to show a darker side in her artwork. Take, for example, Rodney King's Head Was Squashed Like a Watermelon (1991), which draws the viewer in via beautiful and intricate beadworking. However, it also succinctly expresses how police brutality is a rampant issue that is often minimized in our society. Through depictions of racism and sexism, Scott hopes her work compels people to change and create a better world.




Joyce J. Scott, Hunger, 1991, glass bead on thread, Gift of the Friends of the Mint, 1992.23.





Michael D. Harris (1948-) 




Wendel White (1956-)





Sana Musasama (1957-) 




Nick Cave (1959-) 




Beverly McIver (1962-)

McIver was born in Greensboro, NC and raised alongside two sisters. Having grown up in poverty amidst racial violence in Greensboro, her self-portraits have become important for confronting stereotypes about Black women and finding self-expression. Family is also an important theme in her work, which we can see clearly in portraits depicting Renee, McIver's sister who is mentally disabled and whom she now cares for. McIver's explorations of race, gender, class, and occupation provide insights into both her personal life and society at large.




Stacy Lynn Waddell (1966-) 


Waddell was born in Washington D.C. and came to North Carolina to complete a BA at the School of Design, North Carolina State University and her MFA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Waddell uses layers of gold in her artworks to create a glimmering surface that the viewer feels compelled to look at closely and slowly. In addition to gilding, she also uses techniques of branding and singeing to comment upon beauty and power in American history. Waddell splits her time between studios in Durham and New York City.





Sharif Bey (1974-) 




Kehinde Wiley (1977-) 






Marielle Plasir (1978-) 





Antoine Williams (1980-)


Williams grew up in Red Springs, NC and has worked extensively across the state. His art is centered on revealing the complexities of race in the United States, which is inspired by his childhood living in a rural, working-class area. His pieces are mixed media, ranging from murals to performance to collages and more. 


In discussing his work, Williams states, "My practice is an exploration of the notion, society as monstrous, and its effect on Black physical, mental, and emotional states of being. The work created sits at the intersection of radical Black imagining, magical realism and critical race theory. I use a variety of material and processes to weave futures, present, and histories into surrealist speculative economies that investigates the complexities of contemporary Black life in the context of class and power."






Created by RJ Maupin, Library Volunteer

Contributions by, Natalie Goretti, Library Intern 2024