Los Angeles, CA
The mural movement in the 1930s was spearheaded by Diego Rivera in Mexico, but in the US, the chief muralist was Hale Woodruff. Unlike his American contemporary Thomas Hart Benton, Woodruff relied on narrative (often historical) to convey meaning instead of slippery allegory. This made his work accessible to a larger audience. Hale Woodruff never shied away from inflammatory or controversial subjects, including lynchings and abject poverty. Hale Woodruff considered teaching an essential part of any artist’s life and is responsible for creating Atlanta University’s prestigious art program as well as its Art Annuals, yearly exhibitions showcasing African-American art.
During his educational career, Hale Woodruff migrated from Illinois to Tennessee to Indiana then to Atlanta, tasting all of Midwest America. As an instructor at Atlanta University, Woodruff had no equal, and his experiences touring the Midwest added a worldliness to his work. Apparent too were the traditional elements of art history: his organization of figures in Art of the Negro: Muses is very reminiscent of El Greco’s The Burial of Count Orgaz.
Another monumental influence was muralist Diego Rivera, with whom Hale Woodruff worked and studied. Rivera’s tutoring is clear in Woodruff’s Mutiny on the Amistad, which features the battle aboard the infamous slave ship. Like Rivera’s work, Woodruff fills the scene with dramatic motion and a host of individual figures.
The Amistad Murals, mural, 1938. http://clatl.com/atlanta/hale-woodruffs-talladega-college-murals-of-the-amistad-mutiny-embark-on-a-national-tour/Content?oid=5532077
Shanty Town, woodcut, 1935 (The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA). http://blogs.artinfo.com/lacmonfire/files/2013/12/image001.jpg
Settlement and Development, mural, 1949 (Golden State Mutual Headquarters, Los Angeles, CA). http://blogs.artinfo.com/lacmonfire/tag/hale-woodruff/
Two Figures in a Mexican Landscape, oil on canvas, 1934 (The David C. Driskell Center, College Park, MD). http://www.driskellcenter.umd.edu/narratives/exhibition/sec3/wood_h_02.htm
The African-American Registry. “Five Decades of Greatness in Art, Hale Woodruff.” 2013. http://aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/five-decades-greatness-art-hale-woodruff
Michaud, Debbie. “Hale Woodruff’s Talladega College Murals of the Amistad Mutiny Embark on a National Tour.” June 6, 2012. http://clatl.com/atlanta/hale-woodruffs-talladega-college-murals-of-the-amistad-mutiny-embark-on-a-national-tour/Content?oid=5532077
Archives of American Art. “Oral History Interview with Hale Woodruff.” November 18, 1968. http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-hale-woodruff-11463