Essay: Aaron Douglas (1899-1979)

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This is an essay on Aaron Douglas. Aaron Douglas, the most prominent painter of the Harlem Renaissance was born on May 26, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas. Aaron Douglas was encouraged at an early age by his mother to continue his creative interest in art.

Aaron Douglas, the most prominent painter of the Harlem Renaissance was born on May 26, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas. Aaron Douglas was encouraged at an early age by his mother to continue his creative interest in art. His drawings and paintings were welcomed on the walls of the Douglas’ home. He graduated with a B.A. in Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska in 1922 and later graduated from Teachers College of Columbia University in 1944. After obtaining his BFA, Douglas taught art at high schools in Nebraska and Missouri.

In 1924, he moved to New York, where he served for two years as an apprentice to the German artist Winold Reiss, whom he met through Charles S. Johnson, then editor of Opportunity.  Winold Reiss, an illustrator from Germany who encouraged him to look to African art for inspiration in his work. Douglas’ use of African design and subject matter in his work brought him to the attention of William Edward Burghardt DuBois, and Alain Locke who were pressing young African-American artists to express their African heritage and African-American folk culture in their art. This was during the “Harlem Renaissance” or New Negro Movement, and Aaron Douglas became a leading visual artist during this time. In fact, he was called the “Dean of African-American painters” at a time when DuBois and others were trying desperately to convince painter Henry O. Tanner to return from Europe and establish a school of African-American painting.

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