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Richmond Barthé
Born January 28, 1901(1901-01-28)
Died March 5, 1989 (aged 88)
Nationality American
Field Sculpture

James Richmond Barthé (January 28, 1901 – March 5, 1989) was an African American sculptor known for his many public works, including the Toussaint L’Ouverture Monument in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and a sculpture of Rose McClendon for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House.

Barthe once said that “all my life I have be interested in trying to capture the spiritual quality I see and feel in people, and I feel that the human figure as God made it, is the best means of expressing this spirit in man.”

Contents

Early life

Richmond Barthé was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, (in January 1901). His father died at 22, when Richmond was only one month old, leaving his mother to raise him alone. Barthé spent his teen years in New Orleans, Louisiana.

His fourth grade teacher and his parish priest influenced young Richmond’s aesthetic development, and he showed great promise as an artist at a young age, but as a Colored American in the South, he was barred from enrolling in any of the art schools in New Orleans, Louisiana, near his home. When Barthé was twelve, his work was shown at the county fair in Mississippi, and he continued to develop remarkably as an artist.

At fourteen, Barthé left school to take a job as houseboy and handyman, but he still spent his free time drawing. At eighteen, having moved to New Orleans, his parish priest in New Orleans and a writer for the New Orleans Times Picayune recognized his ability. Richmond donated a portrait he made for a church fund raiser. The priest and the writer, along with his employer determined to find an art school where Barthé could study and expand his talent.

Lyle Saxon of the Times Picayune newspaper, tried unsuccessfully against racist policy to get Barthé registered in art school in New Orleans. In 1924, with the aid of a Catholic priest, the Reverend Harry Kane, S.S.I, and with less than a high school education and no formal training in art, Barthé was admitted to the Art Institute of Chicago. During the next four years Barthé followed a curriculum structured for majors in painting. During his four years of study he worked as a busboy at a small café. His work caught the attention of Dr. Charles Maceo Thompson, a patron of the arts and supporter of many talented young black artists. Barthé was a flattering portrait painter, and Dr. Thompson helped him to secure many lucrative commissions from the city’s affluent black citizens.

During his senior year he was introduced to sculpture by his anatomy teacher. He began modeling in clay to gain a better understanding of the third dimension in his painting. This transition proved to be, according to him, a turning point in his career. He exhibited two busts in the 1927 Negro in Art Week Exhibition and in the April 1928 annual exhibition of the Chicago Art League. He received much critical praise and numerous commissions following this.

Life in New York

Following his graduation from The Art Institute of Chicago in 1928, Barthé spent several months in New York, established a studio in Harlem, and eventually moved to NYC permanently in 1930. During the next two decades, he built his reputation as a sculptor. He is associated with the Harlem Renaissance. He won a Guggenheim fellowship twice and other awards. By 1934, his reputation was so well established that he was awarded his first solo show at the Caz Delbo Galleries in New York City. Barthé experienced success after success and was considered by writers and critics as one of the leading “moderns” of his time.

Harlem was one of the three major centers of gay life in New York in 1930, and Barthé soon became integrated into Harlem's gay world. Throughout his career, many of his patrons and subjects were other gay men, and the exploration of both race and eroticism were central to his work. [1]

Among his African American friends were Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Jimmie Daniels, Countee Cullen, and Harold Jackman. His white allies included Carl Van Vechten, Noel Sullivan, Charles Cullen, Lincoln Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, and Jared French.

In 1946 Barthé became a member of the National Sculpture Society.

Life in many areas

Eventually, the tense environment and violence of the city began to take its toll, and he decided to abandon his life of fame and move to Jamaica, West Indies. His career flourished in Jamaica and he remained there until the mid-1960’s when ever-growing violence forced him to yet again move. For the next five years he lived in Switzerland, Spain, and Italy before eventually settling in Pasadena, California, where he worked on his memoirs and most importantly, editioned many of his works with the financial assistance of the actor, James Garner, until his death in 1989

Works and honors

Richmond Barthé "Boxer" (the Cuban featherweight, "Kid Chocolate"),1942, Art Institute of Chicago

Some of his major public works included his Toussaint L’Ouverture Monument and General Jean-Jacques Dessalines Monument, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Green Pastures: Walls of Jericho for the Harlem River Housing Project, and a sculpture of Rose McClendon, the African American actress, for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House. His pieces are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, among others.

Richmond Barthé received many honors during his career, including the Rosenwald Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, and was honored by the National Academy of Arts and Letters. Barthé also received awards for interracial justice and honorary degrees from Xavier and St. Francis Universities. He was the recipient of the Audubon Artists Gold Medal in 1950.

References

  1. ^ GLBT Biography of Barthé: http://www.glbtq.com/arts/barthe_jr.html

Further reading

  • Black, Patti Carr. American Masters of the Mississippi Gulf Coast : George Ohr, Dusti Bongé, Walter Anderson, Richmond Barthe. Jackson, Miss.: Mississippi Arts Commission ; Starkville, Miss.: Department of Art, Mississippi State University, 2009.
  • Vendryes, Margaret Rose. Barthe : A Life in Sculpture. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

External links

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