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The scattered papers of African-American painter, muralist, illustrator, sculptor, and educator Charles Henry Alston (1907-1977) measure 0.9 linear feet and date from 1924-1980. The bulk of the collection documents his personal and professional relationships with figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Researchers should note that this collection contains very little documentation on Alston's actual federal WPA work with the Harlem Art Workshop, the Harlem Artists Guild, or his Harlem Hospital murals completed in 1940. A photograph of Alston in 1937 is likely the only reference to the actual WPA murals in this collection.
Scattered correspondence includes general correspondence; letters concerning Alston's artistic endeavors; and personal letters from friends and family. Found is a copy of a thank you note from Eudora Welty to "John" for a jacket design presumably by Alston; letters from Harlem Renaissance figures and personal friends Romare Bearden, Byron Brown, Jacob Lawrence, Hale Woodruff, and Dr. Louis T. Wright.
Commission files are for Alston's murals including those in the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance building in Los Angeles, California (1947); and the addition to the Harlem Hospital (1965); and the Family and Criminal Courts Building in the Bronx, New York (1976). There is one file concerning teaching at City College New York (CUNY).
Writings and notes includes scattered notes and three short stories probably by Alston entitled "Bitsy O'Wire," "Body and Soul," and "Gigi."
Printed materials include illustrations by Alston in the Columbia University literary magazine, The Morningside, and medical illustrations done for Dr. Louis T. Wright. Also found are scattered clippings, exhibition announcements, press releases, and materials from the First Conference on Aesthetic Responsibility.
Photographs are of Alston, Alston with his wife, Myra Logan, his mother Anna Alston Bearden, Romare Bearden, and Hale Woodruff. Photographs of note include one of Alston holding a self-portrait, and one of the artist in 1937 with works that are most likely preliminary sketches of his WPA murals at Harlem Hospital. There are also photographs of Alston's works of art.
Charles Henry Alston papers, 1924-1980. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The bulk of this collection was digitized in 2010 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials not scanned include health records, financial tax notes, duplicates, and photographs of works of art.
Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
In 1970, Charles Alston loaned materials for microfilming, including correspondence with Henry Epstein, Langston Hughes, Robert Riggs, Harry Sternberg, J. Johnson Sweeney, Hale Woodruff, and others. Also loaned for microfilming were sketchbooks, printed materials, and photographs. Subsequently, some of the photographs were later donated by Alston's sisters. The loaned materials are available only on microfilm reel N70-23 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan.
Additional Charles Henry Alston papers are also located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
Also found in the Archives of American Art are two oral history interviews with Charles Henry Alston, one conducted by Harlan Phillips on September 28, 1965 and another by Al Murray on October 19, 1968.
Charles Henry "Spinky" Alston (1907-1977) was a painter and an educator from New York, N.Y. Charles Alston was born in Charlotte, N.C. and grew up in Harlem. He was director of the Harlem Art Workshop during the Great Depression, along with sculptor Henry Bannarn. There he taught and mentored African-American painter Jacob Lawrence, as well as Romare Bearden, among others. Alston also helped form the Harlem Artists Guild, which pressured the government to be more inclusive in its grant giving. He was an instructor at the Art Students League (1950-1971) and at the City College of New York (1959-1977).
The collection was donated by Aida Winters and Rousmaniere Alston Wilson, Charles Alston's sisters, in 1982 and 1984.
This site provides access to the papers of Charles Henry Alston in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 948 images.
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001