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.
Italo Scanga's personal correspondence is with family, friends, and colleagues. Some letters between Scanga and his Italian family members are written in Italian. There are many years of greeting and holiday cards. Letters from Elaine Stevens includes one videocassette.
Correspondents include John Anderson, David Askerold, Clayton Bailey, Lois Baron, Larry Becker, Eva Benincasa, Doug Benson, Barbara Boeltcher, Tom and Elaine Bosworth, Benjamin Buchloh, Scott Burton, Richard Calabro, John Campbell, James Carpenter, Neke Carson, M. Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Gerry Cerrome, John F. Clark, E. Claycomb, W.W. Colescolt, Don Corrigan, Randall DeLeeuw, Alessandro De Santiliana, Anne d'Harnoncourt, Grant Drumheller, Margaret and Joe Early, Kate Elliott, Diego Esposito, Bob Eyos, Jim Falconer, Terry Fox, Richard Frankel, Michael Frimkess, Virginia Fritz, Lilian Garcia-Roig, Andrea Gill, Dan Gill, Ron Glowen, Laura Goodwin, Ian Graham, Art Green, Phyllis Green, Hans Haacke, Walt Haas, Allan Hacklin, Jim Harmonie, F. Hasler, H. Hayward, Jeffrey Held, Bruce Helender, James Higginson, Haley Hodnett, Heather Holden, Eddy Hood, Walter Hopps, Colita Humbert, Ulrica Hydman-Vallien, Eileen Jager, Tim Jackson, Ray Johnson, Donald Judd, W. Judy, Steve Juscik, Larry Kahn, Robert Kitchen, L. Kleban, John Knight, Kasper Koenig, Hilton Kramer, Jack Krueker, Herman Leland, Seaver Leslie, Bob Lesnik, Ben Lifson, Tom Lieber, Walter Lippert, George Lloyd, Jake Lovejoy, Margaret Lys, K. Mally, Carlo Matrisciano, Arthur Matuck, Adolfo Mazzotta, Boyd Mefferd, Zesty Meyers, Robert Miller, Rick Mills, John Moore, Fred Nagelbach, J. Napiwocki, Bruce Nauman, Shalom Thomas Neuman, Felice Nittolo, B. Norquist, Jules Olitsky, C. Oman, Wendy Pelayo, Patte Peuguine, Jack Reilly, Terry Rischel, E. Rudam, John Rogers, Bob Rohm, Daphne Ruff, Waine Ryzak, A. Pachner, Guiseppe Padula, Ann Percy, Anne Perrigo, Giancarlo Politi, Nick Posner, P. E. Powers, Lucio Pozzi, Bob Projansky, Joe Sabrina, Joseph Sampson, Art Schade, Anto Sepp, Ann Simon, Linda Simon, Mark Stivers, Sergio Tarantino, Irving Tazan, Paul Tomedy, Linda Trunzo, Preston Tsaro, Elizabeth Tullis, Juris Ubaris, John Udvardy, Barbara Vaessen, Kevin Vavrek, Bob Wade, Jeffrey Wasserman, Bruce Weiss, Donald Wilkins, Christina Williams, Joel Williams, Wolfgang Wittman, Joan Wolcott, Anne Woodson, Su Mei Yu, John Zeeman, and Rudolf Zwirner.
Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, followed by items from unidentified correspondents, or signed with first names only or illegible signatures. Researchers should note that additional correspondence between Scanga and artists may be found in Series 3.
This collection is open for research. Access to original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center.
Researchers interested in accessing audiovisual recordings in this collection must use access copies. Contact References Services for more information.
Italo Scanga papers, circa 1930-2001. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
One letter from David Aronson, 1996 and one letter of recommendation, 1996; a poem by Rosenthal, "Disillusion," written in 1936 and printed ca. 1938, in reaction to his dismissal as an art teacher at Medford Senior High, apparently because he was Jewish; a clipping from the Boston Globe ,1941, on his art classes; and five photographs of Rosenthal and family and of art classes taught by Rosenthal and others, including Alma Lebrecht, Reed Kay, Bernard Chaet, and Jack Kramer. The materials relate primarily to his teaching career at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Boston school system.
Biographical / Historical:
Sculptor, ceramist, art educator; Boston, Mass. Rosenthal attended the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston school while in high school, and later taught there. He received a Master's degree in Education from Boston University in 1936, and taught in the Boston school system from 1936-1976, rising from key teacher of high school students to supervisor of art for the entire system in 1966. Many of his students went on to become notable artists.