Dynamic technique, politics collide in Hale Woodruff's Talladega College murals, by Felicia Feaster

More about Hale Woodruff's historical 1930s murals, the history of African American Murals, and American History

Recommended by Isabel Rojas-Williams, Art Historian (The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, MCLA), article written  by Felicia Feaster.

"The Mutiny on the Amistad," (1939) oil on canvas by Hale Aspacio Woodruff, one of the six murals from Talladega College featured at the High Museum.

"One of the most striking features of African-American artist and teacher Hale Woodruff’s murals on display in the High Museum’s “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College” is the vivacity of their colors: the deep, rosy pinks, eggplants and swimming pool blues. It is one of the enduringly magical characteristics of fine art: how the decades and in some cases the centuries can melt away as an artwork bristles with the immediacy of something freshly conceived.

The six commissioned murals painted between 1939 and 1942 and housed at Alabama’s Talladega College -- founded in 1867 as an institution for freed slaves -- document important moments in African-American history. Three of the works are dedicated to the 1839 slave mutiny aboard the Amistad ship; one depicts the Underground Railroad; and two commemorate the founding of Talladega College -- including the largest work at 70 x 243 inches.

In addition to the headlining murals, there are early paintings; studies for these and other mural projects; prints and even a side wing of the exhibition devoted to the conservation of the Talladega murals. In a move away from what has in the past often been the museum’s tendency to trumpet great works without engaging a deeper conversation, this Woodruff show wisely provides the necessary elixir of context for both Woodruff’s career and the social and art history the murals emerged from. The first professor of art at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), Woodruff was important not just for his artwork, but for the example he set, of an artist engaged with America’s racial politics.

From earlier works in Woodruff's career we see the influence of Cezanne and Picasso-modernism and Cubism, showing up in the fluid, kinetic forms of the Talladega murals whose human figures sway and bend like live oaks. Woodruff also fell under the sway of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s social consciousness (Woodruff spent some time studying in Mexico with Rivera himself). Of course as a black man living in America, Woodruff didn’t need a Mexican Communist to school him on injustice. Woodruff observed first-hand the profound poverty ringing Atlanta University.

His weeping forms and muddy color palette often give a sinister, dream-like element that underscores the social horrors he depicts. A desolate hillside and the remains of a home in the 1936 painting “Southland” depicts the region in almost nightmare terms. A still-shocking suite of linocut prints included in “Rising Up” offer singularly disturbing portraits of Southern life. Two of those linocuts made in 1935 offer graphic depictions of lynchings and appeared in a New York exhibition on that theme also featuring work by George Bellows and Thomas Hart Benton.

An interesting aspect of the show is the remarkable attention given, in Woodruff's Depression-era America, to the country's racial divide and the specter of racism. While every American schoolchild today knows about the March on Washington, the story of the slave uprising aboard the Amistad is less well-known. The murals reveal not only Woodruff’s singular talent, but little discussed, instructive facets of American history. Lest one imagine Woodruff was one-note divisive, his vision of a Talladega campus built by both black and white men represented in “The Building of Savery Library” (1942) mural conveys a spirit of harmony and optimism about America’s future.

The murals themselves are remarkable not just for enduring the decades so well, but for the way Woodruff makes history, as the cliche goes, come alive."

Views: 137


You need to be a member of Leimert Park Beat to add comments!

Join Leimert Park Beat

Leimert Park Beat is the news and social network for Leimert Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. Stay informed. Join now!


• Got news you think everyone should know? Blog it.

• Have a show or attending a benefit? Put it on the calendar.
• Video of the big game? Embed it.
• Photos of your business or the school play? Upload them.


With your help, LeimertParkBeat.com raised money to hire reporters, graphic artists and community members to cover our area.
Read the stories - Urban Economy 411, Redevelopment Hell and One of these don't belong.

Latest Activity

Heather Lee Presha and Bing Bing are now friends
10 hours ago
DojO- commented on DojO-'s blog post PHIL RANELIN (Multi-Generational) Jazz Ensemble "Bonafied" • DwighTrible Presents @ The World STAGE • Fri., Jan. 19th 9 PM [ToNight]
"Phil Ranelin gives J.J. Johnson his due - Kyle Long, NUVO"
10 hours ago
DojO-'s blog post was featured

PHIL RANELIN (Multi-Generational) Jazz Ensemble "Bonafied" • DwighTrible Presents @ The World STAGE • Fri., Jan. 19th 9 PM [ToNight]

Presented by Dwight Trible, Executive Director non-profit 501(c)(3) The 'new' World STAGE Art, Education & Performance Gallery "Winter Jazz Concert Series +" Incl. MC…See More
Yolanda Hall is now a member of Leimert Park Beat
DojO- commented on DojO-'s blog post PHIL RANELIN (Multi-Generational) Jazz Ensemble "Bonafied" • DwighTrible Presents @ The World STAGE • Fri., Jan. 19th 9 PM
"#5 - Top Recommended @ allabout Jazz nearyou/LA  JAN19Fri PHIL RANELIN Ensemble · DwighTrible Presents The World Stage Art, Education & Performance Gallery Los Angeles (Leimert Park Village), CA 9:00 pm $20"
DojO- updated an event

l_adies l_ove l_aughter @ The 'new' World STAGE · Sat., Jan. 20th, 2018 9PM at The World Stage - Art, Education and Performance Gallery non-profit 501(c)(3)

January 20, 2018 at 9pm to January 21, 2018 at 12am
Long-standing Leimert Park Village Event...Held every 3rd Saturday of each & every month...(Unless indicated otherwise) ¿Hear?. "Ladies Love Laughter"  . "Come out,,, , check out,,, laugh out,, LOUD  The best time, only 10$" -   "I'm so EXCITED…See More
DojO- commented on DojO-'s blog post PHIL RANELIN (Multi-Generational) Jazz Ensemble "Bonafied" • DwighTrible Presents @ The World STAGE • Fri., Jan. 19th 9 PM
"What’s Hot In SoCal Jazz Weekly Best Bet 4 Live Jazz In L.A. Friday 1/19 – Trombonist Phil Ranelin is at The World Stage in South L.A."
DojO- posted an event

Benefit Memorial Celebrating the Life of Helena Lady Walquer · Hosted by Robert Townsend at Nate Holder Theater

January 28, 2018 from 3pm to 5pm
...  acebook$10 (suggested) DonationRegistration: In Advance (recommended)…See More

© 2018   Created by enhager.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service