Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas on May 26, 1899. Growing up influenced by his mother’s love for watercolor painting, Douglas developed an interest in art early on. After graduating from Topeka High School in 1917, he embarked on a journey pursuing the creative arts, attending the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, eventually graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1922. He eventually relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, where he shared his love of art with the students of Lincoln High School, an elite public high school for black students. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”] After serving as an art instructor there for two years, he then moved to the Harlem neighborhood of New York City: cultural capital of black America during the early 20th century. During this time, Douglas studied under the German modernist Winold Reiss. Reiss often encouraged Douglas to embrace and celebrate his “race pride,” resulting in the incorporation of African motifs and themes into his artwork while simultaneously including the art-deco aesthetic of the modern Jazz age; overall making his work independently expressive fusing modernism and African art. These attributes are evident in his distinctive, black and white graphic work, often depicting figures as bold silhouettes.
Douglas quickly gained fame and played a central role within the Harlem Renaissance, often submitting his work to to African American publications such as the NAACP’s Crisis, the National Urban League’s Opportunity, and Vanity Fair. This enabled Douglas to gain a reputation for creating compelling graphics, resulting in his becoming an in-demand illustrator and eventually muralists. The most compelling, legendary works in his oeuvre include the eight compositions in James Weldon’s God’s Trombones, his work in Paul Morand’s Black Magic, and his mural cycle titles Aspects of Negro Life. Today, Douglas is commonly referred to as “the father of black American art.”[/read]