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Walter Henry Williams



Walter Henry Williams was an African American artist who became well versed in painting, printmaking, and sculpting. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he lived with his mother who encouraged his art career. At the age of five, Williams mother died of pneumonia and his father who was very strict and authoritative took custody. These changes caused the artist to become very withdrawn from those around him and led him to live in a dream world he thought up in his head. Going to pool halls, clubs, and jukebox joints in Harlem, Williams met artists who inspired him to become a painter. Before he could do so, he was drafted in the Army from 1942- 1945 where he was employed to bury soldiers– some of whom he witnessed being buried alive. The events of his childhood and Army experience contributed towards a pattern of depression and alcoholism throughout his life. Under the G.I. bill, Walter Henry Williams was able to attend the Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1951. Two years later, he participated in his first group exhibition for “Whitney’s 1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting” and studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. When he graduated in 1955, Williams recieved the John Hay Whitney Foundation fellowship and used the money to travel to Denmark. Previously, his artwork showed urban scenes of isolation but following his travels he showed Black children playing in the countryside and beautiful scenery. Eventually, he made his way back to North America and traveled often between the United States and Mexico. He enjoyed going to Mexico due to the strained racial climate in the United States and while there, painted pieces of Mexican monuments. He eventually married a Danish women, they experienced so much backlash regarding their interracial marriage that they permanently moved to Denmark and eventually got his citizenship. The last exhibition he completed before his death was at the International Art Fair in Tokyo, Japan. On June 13, 1998, Walter Henry Williams passed away due from liver cancer.

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