Brushes Without Fame
( A Three Hour Documentary Series )

Producer/ Director /Writer
Don Mizell

Executive Producer
St Clair Bourne

"Nobody Knows My Name"
During the slavery period African captives were denied recognition of individual identity. Yet these individuals still produced specific craftworks of the very highest quality, crafts which are now nonetheless considered priceless.

... but everybody knows my work ...
The movie opens . . . at an auction in Sotheby's today, focusing on craftworks made by the hands of anonymous slaves from the antebellum South. A visual montage of slaves creating these works segues to news clippings from the period advertising trade in these slave craftsmen. Then there follow further examples of celebrated houses, furniture, and quilts in the antebellum South. Also, the story of Quilts and their crucial role as hidden signposts on the Underground Railroad will be featured.

'The Tragic Mulatto'
The first paintings by African Americans were by half-white sons of slave masters. As such, they were given privileges as house Negroes not accorded to the field Negroes who were the unsung craftsmen out in the barn, whose faces and names remain invisible to us even now. These are names and faces we do know — artists such as Patrick Reason, Joshua Johnston, Julien Hudson, Robert Douglas. The first Black painters painted their masters, then abolitionists, and then Black men. And, while their works are not as valued as the work of the craftsmen, today, they and their work are no less significant in understanding the story of African American art in the context of the American Experience. This is the seed of the color-caste/class cleavage which has plagued the Black community ever since.

The story of Edward Bannister symbolizes the plight of 'free' African American artists at the time in a nutshell. It summarizes the dilemma facing African American achievement writ large. Edward Bannister reads in the newspaper that Black folks really don't have the faculties to paint, that Blacks don't have the refined faculties to paint. So Bannister decides he is going to become a painter. He goes to Philadelphia, where he manages to gain admission to the School of Fine Arts. Bannister was just determined to prove them wrong and starts painting incredible things. He gets the support of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and important abolitionists. He becomes celebrated. The bottom line: Bannister enters into a contest at an art expo — and wins. However, the presenters don't know he's Black. Therefore, when he goes to the expo to accept the award they won't let him in the front. He goes around to the back. They won't let him in. They send him the award.

Edmonia Lewis' story is another telling example.

Episode 1: Part 2
'I've Known Rivers' / 'No Place to Be Somebody'/ Man Without a Country'

I've Known Rivers'
The second half-hour covers from The Civil War to the 1920s — when the African captives were emancipated, and 'freed' so that they could create whatever art they chose. The film interestingly notes that African American artists immediately stopped painting white people, both masters and abolitionists, as they had before the Civil War.

But instead of painting themselves, African American Artists turned away from portraits of human beings to landscapes in nature which was all the rage in the world of art in both America and Europe. (A whole movement had developed, the first movement toward an American painting, as distinct from European painting was led by Homer Winslow, Thomas Eaton, as they began to paint American landscapes from a new perspective.)

Painters such as R. Duncanson, G. Tyler Brown, N. Primus, C. Porter embraced the Great outdoors as it represented a kind of 'freedom' that the social strictures of society indoors were not prepared to permit. Moreover, the magnificent beauty of Nature was not something that required white tutelage or permission to embrace — nor was it unfamiliar to Africans in their native land, or in the fieldwork as American captives. Indeed, nature knew no color; the country fields were for all — until, again, others came along insisting otherwise.

'No Place To Be Somebody'
With Westward Expansion to the frontier, the great open spaces quickly became 'No Place to Be Somebody' for these artists. It was time to move along, perhaps to another country or another continent even. E. Warburg, M. Warick, W.E. Scott. So, ironically many artists flee to Europe, even if it is the continent the race-mongering white 'Americans' just came from.

Meanwhile, negative, caricatured, images of Blacks dominated the media of the day, making it difficult, if not impossible, for those who would depict Blacks in a more dignified manner to be given a fair opportunity to have their work valued or even viewed.

'Man Without a Country'
For the African American painter, time in Europe was de rigueur even if they would still be 'A Man Without a Country'. Ironically, it's better in many ways important to their art. That's where and when they begin to absorb some of the insights and methods of the creative revolution and innovations taking place in Europe occasioned by the advent of photography.

Photography could replicate reality better than a painting. Artists were now throwing off the yoke of realism in portraiture and landscape representation as de rigueur evidence of superior painting and moved in reaction toward Impressionism, which was the deconstruction of exact representation of reality. Photography undermined the perception that painting exactly what one sees in reality is the highest level of art and opened up the possibility to paint what one thinks, that what is seen with the mind's eye is actually a superior level of creative expression, artistically speaking.

Henry O. Tanner, W.E. Scott, Laura Waring, all absorbed the innovations in Paris. By the early 1900s these had formed a small community of sorts who upon their return en masse after WWI spearheaded the first great age of African American painting, an integral outgrowth of the emerging New Negro philosophy of Alain Locke and WEB DuBois and the Harlem Renaissance.

Episode 2: Part 1
'Invisible Man' / 'The New Negro' / —'I Am Somebody'
Invisible Man' / 'The New Negro' / 'I Am Somebody'

This episode explores the emergence for the first time of African American painting as a significant force in African American life and the art world. Coincidental with the New Negro/Harlem Renaissance phenomenon, African American artists just back from Europe began to make a more profound claim to visual art in America. Finally there is a critical mass of great artists making great art, art increasingly important to the nation and the world of art (although as is often the case, scarcely recognized at the time as either).
The William H. Johnson story is illustrative of the ongoing dilemma. William H. Johnson wanders around Denmark, crazy after returning from South Carolina. William H. Johnson, from South Carolina, goes to Denmark, marries a white woman. He remains there, becomes an unbelievable painter, celebrated in Europe. Then he comes back home to South Carolina. He's out in the street on the sidewalk in the still segregated South painting a brothel. Black man was supposed to get off the sidewalk in the South, and he's out there with an easel. "What are you doing?" He's painting a brothel downtown. They beat him up, throw him in jail, and run him out of town. That leads to a mental deterioration.

Beauford Delaney, Alma Thomas, Horace Pippin, Clementine Hunter, Lois Mailou Jones, Archibald Motley.
The story of the Harmon Foundation, a crucial patron of Black artists for a brief, but pivotal time will be highlighted.. The issue of patronage is one of the key factors in assessing the evolution of the art. If you don't have patrons, then you can't do the work.

The patronage of the federal government for the first time becomes relevant through the WPA. The next phase is the beginning of the generation of Black artists that we know now and consider now as the most important of the 20th century coming out of the WPA. There is an entire history of incredible murals — all left-wing, leftist, radical versions of history — that the federal government (through the WPA) financed.

Aaron Douglas, Sargent Claude Johnson, Hale Woodruff, Palmer Hayden, Charles Alston, Charles White, William Artis.Black artists collaborate with social realists and left-leaning progressive white artists and begin to paint inspired ideological-based themes about the history of African Americans on murals.

Making public art financed by the government, artists without a color/caste pedigree took advantage and, exposed to the opportunity to be painters as a result of this, went on to become recognized, albeit belatedly, as some of the greatest of the last half of the 20th Century:

One was Jacob Lawrence, who didn't know anything about it until he was taken under the wing of Augusta Savage who ‘showed him the ropes’. These artists came from nowhere, from the lowest social echelon, for the first time, because before that it was all bourgeois, and they are the ones that became the great ones ultimately — purely as a function of the government's patronage.

Having reached a critical mass in the sheer number of artists pursuing their craft, there was a quantum leap in the level of creative achievement as well as the scope, and so sculpture, lithograph, woodcut, etc., became areas of tremendous achievements.Richmond Barthé, Augusta Savage, Selma Burke, Joseph Porter.
The Role of the Black College in supporting and limiting progress is examined. Howard's Alain Locke, Atlanta's WEB DuBois, Hampton's Alan Lowenstein are key figures in the development of the art.

Unlike with Blues or jazz, the Black community did not generally support African American visual art. Some say the condescending air of superiority affected by the bourgeois mulatto was a key reason; it was a delimiting factor in any case.