Black History Month: Focus on Black Printmakers

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Check out these historic Black printmakers active with the WPA.


Untitled: (Head of a Young Boy)
11 3/8 x 9 3/8
Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

Painter, sculptor and printmaker was a member of the group of young artists who participated in the programs of Karamu Settlement House in Cleveland, Ohio. Carlo was active in Cleveland throughout the early 1940’s and exhibited at the. 1940 Chicago American Negro.

Born in the Roaring Third precinct in Cleveland, Ohio in 1911, his mother was a talented artist and ceramics instructor at Karamu House. Carlo exhibited numerous works such as the “Tool Shed” linocut at the “Exhibition of Karamu House of Graphics Artists February – March 1941.  He died in Cleveland, Ohio in 1987.


Artist Life #3, 1939
10″ x 12″
Cleveland Public Library, Fine Arts and Special Collections Department

Hughie Lee-Smith was born in Eustis, Florida, in 1915. In Cleveland, where he moved at an early age, he studied at the Cleveland Museum, the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art), and as a scholarship student at the Karamu Settlement House, where he also taught. Lee-Smith received his B.S. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. He worked with the WPA/FAP in Cleveland as a printmaker. His works are represented in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Art; the Lagos Museum, Lagos, Nigeria; Howard University, Washington, D.C.; and Atlanta University. Lee-Smith organized the first exhibition of African American artists in the Midwest in 1943. He is a member of the National Academy of Design, New York, Artists Equity Association, and Allied Artists of America. Lee-Smith has been on the faculty of Claflin University, Orangeburg, North Carolina; was artist-in-residence at Howard University; and taught at the Art Students League, New York. He died in 1999.


Beacons of Defense, n.d.
18 7/18″ x 25 1/18″
Free Library of Philadelphia,
Print and Picture Department

The graphic artist Raymond Steth was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1918. He studied under Henry Richter and Michael Gallagher. In 1938 he worked on the development of the Carborundum print with Dox Thrash (the inventor of the Carborundum print process) and Michael Gallagher, further developing it into a color process. In 1940 he joined the graphics division of the FAP in Philadelphia, where he co-organized an independent printmaking/ graphics workshop called “Philographics.” Steth was responsible for consultation and procurement for the graphic arts and printmaking departments for the Morgan State College Fine Arts Building in Baltimore. He was guest curator at the Philadelphia Print Club from 1942 to 1943. His work is included in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Howard University, Washington, D.C.; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., the Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C.; the New Jersey State Library, Newark; Morgan State College; the Library of Congress, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He passed away in 1997.


Abraham, n.d.
“Carbograph” (Carborundum mezzotint)
10 1/2″ x 8″
Free Library of Philadelphia, Print and Picture Department

Dox Thrash, painter, printmaker, and teacher, was born in Griffin, Georgia, in 1893 and died in Philadelphia in 1965. Thrash studied art through correspondence courses, joined the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, and from 1919 to 1922 studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1939 to 1940 he worked on the Pennsylvania Federal Art Project. Thrash invented the Carborundum print process. His work is represented in the collections of the Library of Congress; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; and Howard University, Washington, D.C. At the time of his death, his personal collection was acquired by the Philadelphia Public Library.



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