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Aaron Douglas

May 26, 1899 - February 2, 1979


Aaron Douglas (May 26, 1899 – February 2, 1979) was an African American artist and one of the most influential and well-known artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Douglas was born in Topeka Kansas and grew up in a segregated school system. After his high school graduation, he worked in a glass factory before enrolling in the University of Nebraska. In 1922, he graduated from the university and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. In 1925, Douglas intended to pass through Harlem on his way to Paris to advance his career and learn new techniques. However, he was convinced to stay in Harlem to develop his art in the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Douglas studied with the German artist Fritz Winold Reiss who encouraged him to paint with African-centric themes and create a bridge and unity between African Americans and art. During this time, he also became an art critic for The Crisis, a monthly journal of the NAACP. In the 1930s, Douglas returned several times to Fisk where he became an assistant professor of art education. However, he retained his Harlem residence and continued to play an active part in the community. In 1944, he completed a Master of Arts degree at Teachers College, Columbia University and became the chairman of the art department in Fisk. Douglas primarily developed two art styles during his career: traditional portraiture and murals. His abstract work often sought to unite the African American community through song, dance, imagery and poetry.

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