An interview of John Woodrow Wilson conducted 1993 March-1994 August, by Robert F. Brown, for the Archives of American Art.
Wilson discusses his childhood as a member of a family of middle class blacks from British Guiana (now Guyana); his father's grave disappointments in the face of racial discrimination; his parents' push for their children to succeed; early urge to read and draw; encouragement by School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston students who taught at the Roxbury Boys Club; his secondary education; and friends.
He talks about his education at the MFA School, Boston, and comments on such teachers as Ture Bengtz and Karl Zerbe and compares their exacting methods with those of Fernand Leger, his teacher in Paris.
His work of the 1940s prior to going to Paris; the importance of early awards and sales received while still a student at the MFA School; the excitement of sharing a studio with fellow students, Francesco Carbone and Leo Prince; and encouragement to stay in school during WW II with the promise of a European study fellowship after the war.
The great impact of his years in Paris (1948-49); the lack of racial prejudice; the liberating effect of Leger's teaching; his awe of the work of Masaccio and Piero della Francesca during a trip to Italy; and the deep impression made on him by seeing tribal art in the Musee de l'Homme, Paris.
Continued discussion of Leger; his teaching methods; and influences on his work.
His first teaching position at the MFA School; his involvement in civil rights in Boston; his gregariousness and the use of his studio as a meeting place for artists and political activists; his involvement with socialism in Boston and New York; and working in a socialist children's camp. He remembers meeting Paul Robeson, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, and Bob Blackburn, who was then setting up his printmaking atelier in New York; marriage to a fellow socialist (June 1950); move to Mexico on a fellowship to study with Jose Orozco on the advice of Leger, only to find that Orozco had died; terrors of travel as an interracial couple through the U.S.; and different racial attitudes in Mexico and the U.S.
Living in Mexico (1950-56) and anecdotes of David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera; his wife's meeting with Frieda Kahlo and seeing her collection of folk art; their free and cosmopolitan, if impoverished, life in Mexico; his work in a printmaking atelier and on the production of frescoes, and a lengthy aside about his brilliant brother, Freddie, who because he was black was not allowed to pursue his first love, geology, for many years.
Continued discussion of his experiences in Mexico; the dreary year (1957) he spent doing commercial art for a meatpackers' union in Chicago, a city he disliked; his move to New York in 1958, taking on commercial work to support his family, and teaching anatomy at the Pratt Institute.
Teaching art at a junior high school in the Bronx, and his gaining respect of students through special projects; teaching drawing at Boston University (1965-86), his approach to teaching including his demanding standards, the seriousness of the students, his opposing rigid attendance and grading rules, and colleagues, such as David Aronson who had created the School, Reed Kay, Jack Kramer, Sidney Hurwitz, and the University president, John Silber.
Working with the black arts entrepreneur, Elma Lewis, in setting up a visual arts program for the Boston black community (late 1960s-1970s), including the selection of a curator, Edmund Barry Gaither, a young art historian, who eventually established a museum of African-American art; his participation in various black art exhibitions, despite his belief that art should be seen regardless of the ethnic origins of artists; his move toward sculpture, beginning in the early 1960s, as a medium most expressive of black persons, culminating in the 1980s in a series of colossal heads and a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. for the U.S. Capitol (1985-86); and why he makes art and will so long as he is able.
Biographical / Historical:
John Wilson (1922- ) is an African American painter, sculptor, illustrator, printmaker, and educator from Boston, Massachusetts. Full name John Woodrow Wilson.
Originally recorded on 11 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 22 digital wav files. Duration is 16 hr., 2 min.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators. Funding for the transcription and microfilming of the interview provided by the Newland Foundation.
The papers of art critic Emily Genauer measure 11.4 linear feet and date from circa 1920 to 1990. Found within the papers are correspondence with artists, gallery owners, and friends; extensive writings; research and reference files; personal business records; and photographs. Notable correspondents include David Aronson, Mrs. Max Beckman, Isabel Bishop, Dorothy Carnegie, Marc Chagall, Salvatore Dali, Stuart Davis, Martha Graham, Harry F. Guggenheim, Irene Rice Pereira, Clyfford Still, Rufino Tamayo, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among many others.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of art critic Emily Genauer measure 11.4 linear feet and date from circa 1920 to 1990. Found within the papers are correspondence with artists, gallery owners, and friends; extensive writings; research and reference files; personal business records; and photographs.
Notable correspondents include David Aronson, Mrs. Max Beckman, Isabel Bishop, Dorothy Carnegie, Marc Chagall, Salvatore Dali, Stuart Davis, Martha Graham, Harry F. Guggenheim, Irene Rice Pereira, Clyfford Still, Rufino Tamayo, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among numerous others. Extensive writings consist largely of drafts of columns written by Genauer and supporting research notes, as well as essays, speeches, lectures, book manuscripts, and memoirs. Research and reference files include source material for columns and essays. Personal business records document Genauer's work on committees and arts organizations, juries, awards, honors and also include interview transcripts and other personal scattered files. There is material regarding her leaving the New York World-Telegram. Printed material includes two of Genauer's books, magazines, newspaper clippings, and exhibition catalogs. Photographs are portraits of Genauer and of artwork.
This collection is arranged as 6 series.
Series 1: Correspondence and Letters, 1938-1991 (Box 1, 12, 0.8 linear feet)
Series 2: Writings, circa 1930s-1990s (Box 1-3, 2.5 linear feet)
Series 3: Research and Reference Files, circa 1920s-1990s (Box 4-6, 2.6 linear feet)
Series 4: Personal Business Records, 1933-1992 (Box 6-7, 0.8 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Materials, circa 1920s-1990s (Box 7-9, 12, 1.6 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1930s-1970s (Box 9-11, 12, 1.8 linear feet)
Biographical / Historical:
Emily Genauer (1911-2002) was a modern art critic and columinst working in New York City from 1932 until well into the 1980s. In 1974, she won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished art criticism.
Genauer was born in 1911 in Staten Island. She attended Hunter College and Columbia University, majoring in Journalism. She began her writing career in 1929 with the New York World, which later became the New York World-Telegram. She became a strong advocate for modern art and sculpture and introduced modern artists like Marc Chagall and Diego Rivera to the newspaper audience. She also followed lesser known artists and often visited their studios, and they, in return, regularly read her articles and reviews of their shows.
Genauer left the New York World-Telegram in 1949 after a dispute with the owner who accused her writing as overly sympathetic to "Communists and left-wingers" and told her she could no longer write about Picasso. She immediately went to work as the art critic for the New York Herald Tribune, where she worked until 1967, when it folded. She then wrote a regular column for the Newsday Syndicate until the mid-1970s. She also worked for Harper's and in television and served on the council for the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1966 to 1970. Genauer was the author of a number of books, including The Best of Art, Chagall at the Met, and Rufino Tamayo.
Genauer passed away in 2002 in New York City at the age of 91.
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming (reel NG1) including 300 letters, photographs, and printed material. Loaned materials were returned to the lender and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Emily Genauer lent letters on reel NG1 for microfilming 1959. Constance Roche, daughter of Emily Genauer, donated additional papers in 2000 and 2003.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice. Contact Reference Services for more information.
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