III

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Wilmer Jennings

Still Life, 1939

(Still Life with Fetish)

Wood engraving on paper

10" x 8"


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Still Life

Wilmer Jennings was one of many African American artists who benefited from the printmaking programs offered by the WPA between 1935 and 1943. Through WPA programs established in urban community arts centers, black artists gained valuable technical and artistic experience as both teachers and students. Although there were relatively few black printmakers during this period, the WPA program in particular was responsible for bringing into the world of printmaking many more African Americans than had been involved heretofore, many of whom went on to become the most important African American artists of the twentieth century.

Wilmer Jennings, who worked for the WPA in both Atlanta and Providence in the mid-1930s, was most famous for his black-and-white wood engravings. Still Life uses the traditional format of objects assembled on a table top as a vehicle for exploration of form and ideas. The elongated, cylindrical forms of the urn, the African statue, and the plant contrast with the square modularity of the tablecloth, book, and background motif. Jennings's incorporation of African sculpture into a still life composition with non-African objects recalls the use of this device by Harlem Renaissance artists who used African motifs to assert a sense of pride in an African heritage while maintaining an identity as Americans.   A. L. C.

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