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Hale Woodruff

August 26, 1900 - September 6, 1980


Hale Aspacio Woodruff was an African American artist, draftsman, printer, and educator. He was best known for his murals, especially the Amistad Munity Murals (1939) which depicts the mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad, the trial of the enslaved people, their acquittal, and their return to Africa. Woodruff was born in Cairo, Illinois, and grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. He studied at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, Chicago Institute of Art, and the Harvard Fogg Museum. In 1926 he won an award from the Harmon Foundation which enabled him to travel to Paris and continue studying there. In Paris, he attended various institutions and met leading art figures such as Henry Ossawa Tanner, the leading African American artist of his time. Woodruff developed an interest in African art and Cubism.

Woodruff returned to the United States in 1931 and became the art director at Atlanta University, a historically black college. While teaching, he turned away from abstract art and focused on social issues, including scenes of Southern poverty, racism, and depictions of lynchings. He also founded the Atlanta University Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures, and Prints by Negro Artists which featured many African American Artists. In 1936, he traveled to Mexico to study under Diego Rivera, known for his murals as well as his paintings. Woodruff applied Rivera\’s techniques to painting and printmaking toward his social advocacy, focusing on the racism and poverty that many African Americans faced during the Great Depression. After World War II, he taught at New York University before retiring in the 1960s, he continued to make art through the 1970s.

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