Born in Cairo, Illinois, Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900-1980) spent his childhood in Nashville, Tennessee. His formal education during the early 1920s in the visual arts varies, from the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, where he lived for a number of years, to Harvard University and The Art Institute of Chicago. In 1923, he gained his earliest public recognition when he won the award in the Harmon Foundation show in the annual Indiana artists exhibition. Read more
With his prize money, he purchased a one-way ticket to Paris and with that help of an additional donor, was able to study at the Académie Moderne and Académie Scandinave for four years. In 1931, Woodruff returned to the United States, where he served as an art instructor at Atlanta University, later earning the title of department chair. Quickly, his reputation grew and he gained the title of one of the most talented African American artists of the Depression era. His style was purely figurative, bold, and muscular, often in oils and watercolors. Southern lynchings that were prevalent at the time, in addition to the overall ill treatment of African Americans resonated with him, resulting in these themes being incorporated into his work. His most renowned works at the time were the Amistad murals, painted between 1939 and 1940 in the Savery Library at Talladega College in Alabama. These murals were heavily influenced by Diego Rivera, of whomst Woodruff studied with in Mexico in 1938. As his artistic career progressed, the curvilinear rhythms of his mural work faded, eventually transitioning to Georgian landscape consisting of diagonals and bold contrasts in color; a style that stuck with him throughout the remainder of his career.