III

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

James Lesesne Wells

Primitive Girl, 1929

Linocut on paper

7.5" x 7"


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Primitive Girl

In James Wells's forty years as an educator, he had a tremendous impact on African American art as it developed in this century. He began as an instructor in 1929 at Howard University, where his skill as a master craftsman, artist, and teacher benefited a long line of African American artists until his retirement in 1969. During the summer of 1933, his influence spread as he was appointed director of the Harlem Art Workshop and Studio, where he taught children and adults. David Driskell was among the many noted artists inspired by Wells's nurturing instruction. At the time of Well's death in 1993, Driskell wrote of him: "These artistic colleagues with myself, are the lively voices that sing joyfully—the lyrical memories of one man's kindly devotion to helping us understand beauty, truth and the unity of form in what often seemed like a world without order."

Primitive Girl emerges out of the New Negro Movement, an era when black artists began to investigate their relationship to the ancestral arts and incorporate them into a discourse on contemporary black identity. This work constitutes Wells's celebration of the essence of African ancestral arts vibrantly articulated by his signature vocabulary of pattern, rhythm, and contrast.   A. L. C.

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