Aaron Douglas


People may ask, what other than a tornado can come out of Kansas? Well, Aaron

Douglas was born of May 26, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas. Aaron Douglas was a
"Pioneering Africanist" artist who led the way in using African-
oriented imagery in visual art during the Harlem Renaissance of 1919- 1929. His
work has been credited as the catalyst for the genre incorporating themes in
form and style that affirm the validity of the black consciousness and
experience in America. His parents were Aaron and Elizabeth Douglas. In 1922, he
graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Fine Arts in Lincoln. Who
thought that this man would rise to meet W.E.B. Du Bois\'s 1921 challenge,
calling for the transforming hand and seeing eye of the artist to lead the way
in the search for the African American identity. Yet, after a year of teaching
art in Kansas City, Missouri, Douglas moved to New York City\'s Harlem
neighborhood in 1924 and began studying under German artist Winold Reiss. His
mentor discouraged Douglas\'s penchant for traditional realist painting and
encouraged him to explore African art for design elements would express racial
commitment in his art. The young painter embraced the teachings of Reiss to
develop a unique style incorporating African- American and black American
subject matter. He soon had captured the attention of the leading black scholars
and activists. About the time of his marriage on June 18, 1924, to Alta Sawyer,

Douglas began to create illustrations for the periodicals. Early the following
year, one of his illustrations appeared on the front cover of Opportunity
magazine, which awarded Douglas its first prize for drawing. Also, in 1925,

Douglas\'s illustrations were published in Alain Looke\'s survey of the Harlem

Renaissance, The New Negro. Publisher Looke called Douglas a "pioneering

Africanist," and that stamp of praise and approval for the artist
influenced future historians to describe Douglas as "the father of Black

American art." His fame quickly spread beyond Harlem, and began to mount
painting exhibitions in Chicago and Nashville, among the numerous other cities,
and to paint murals and historical narratives interpreting black history and
racial pride. During the mid- 1920\'s, Douglas was an important illustrator for

Crisis, Vanity Fair, Opportunity, Theatre Arts Monthly, Fire and Harlem. In

1927, after illustrating an anthology of verse by black poets, Caroling Dusk,

Douglas completed a series of paintings for poet James Weldon Johnson\'s book of
poems, God\'s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Douglas\'s images for the
book were inspired by Negro Spirituals, customs of Africans and black history.

The series soon to became among the most celebrated of Douglas\'s work. It
defined figures with the language of Synthetic Cubism and borrowed from the
lyrical style of Reiss and the forms of African sculpture. Through his drawings
for the series, Douglas came close to inventing his own painting style by this
combination of elements in his work. During this time, Douglas collaborated with
various poets. It was also his desire to capture the black expression through
the use of paint. He spent a lot of time watching patrons of area nightclubs in

Harlem. Douglas said that most of his paintings that were captured in these
particular nightclubs were mainly inspired through music that was played.

According to Douglas, the sounds of the music was heard everywhere and were
created mostly during the Harlem Renaissance by well-trained artists. Douglas\'s
work was looked upon by most critics as a breath of fresh air. His work
symbolized geometric formulas, circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares
became the dominant design motifs for Douglas. It was in Douglas\'s series of
paintings called God Trombones that Douglas first expressed his commitment
through the use of geometric shapes for Black artists. The faces and limbs in
these series of paintings are carefully drawn to reveal African features and
recognizable Black poses. In God\'s Trombones, Douglas achieved his mastery of
hard- edge painting using symbolized features and lines. Through his use of
these things he was able to bring to life the stiffness in the figures which
symbolized Art Deco. But, unlike the decorative programs that exist in Art Deco,
most of Douglas\'s work capitalized on the movement that was influenced by the
rhythms of Art Nouveau. Each of the paintings in the God\'s Trombone series
expresses the humanist concerns of Douglas. For example, in Judgment Day, one of
the seven Negro sermons Douglas illustrated for James Weldon Johnson, he planned
to place emphasize on the positive appearance of Black power. In this painting,

Gabriel, who represents the archangel, sounds the trumpet to awaken the dead
from their spiritual rest. He is portrayed in this