Oral history interview with John Wilson

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.wilson93
Creators:
Wilson, John, 1922-2015
Brown, Robert F.
Dates:
1993 March 11-1994 August 16
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
497 Pages
Transcript
Repository:

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
An interview of John Woodrow Wilson conducted 1993 March-1994 August, by Robert F. Brown, for the Archives of American Art.
Scope and Contents
Wilson discusses his childhood as a member of a family of middle class blacks from British Guiana (now Guyana); his father's grave disappointments in the face of racial discrimination; his parents' push for their children to succeed; early urge to read and draw; encouragement by School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston students who taught at the Roxbury Boys Club; his secondary education; and friends.
Scope and Contents
He talks about his education at the MFA School, Boston, and comments on such teachers as Ture Bengtz and Karl Zerbe and compares their exacting methods with those of Fernand Leger, his teacher in Paris.
Scope and Contents
His work of the 1940s prior to going to Paris; the importance of early awards and sales received while still a student at the MFA School; the excitement of sharing a studio with fellow students, Francesco Carbone and Leo Prince; and encouragement to stay in school during WW II with the promise of a European study fellowship after the war.
Scope and Contents
The great impact of his years in Paris (1948-49); the lack of racial prejudice; the liberating effect of Leger's teaching; his awe of the work of Masaccio and Piero della Francesca during a trip to Italy; and the deep impression made on him by seeing tribal art in the Musee de l'Homme, Paris.
Scope and Contents
Continued discussion of Leger; his teaching methods; and influences on his work.
Scope and Contents
His first teaching position at the MFA School; his involvement in civil rights in Boston; his gregariousness and the use of his studio as a meeting place for artists and political activists; his involvement with socialism in Boston and New York; and working in a socialist children's camp. He remembers meeting Paul Robeson, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, and Bob Blackburn, who was then setting up his printmaking atelier in New York; marriage to a fellow socialist (June 1950); move to Mexico on a fellowship to study with Jose Orozco on the advice of Leger, only to find that Orozco had died; terrors of travel as an interracial couple through the U.S.; and different racial attitudes in Mexico and the U.S.
Scope and Contents
Living in Mexico (1950-56) and anecdotes of David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera; his wife's meeting with Frieda Kahlo and seeing her collection of folk art; their free and cosmopolitan, if impoverished, life in Mexico; his work in a printmaking atelier and on the production of frescoes, and a lengthy aside about his brilliant brother, Freddie, who because he was black was not allowed to pursue his first love, geology, for many years.
Scope and Contents
Continued discussion of his experiences in Mexico; the dreary year (1957) he spent doing commercial art for a meatpackers' union in Chicago, a city he disliked; his move to New York in 1958, taking on commercial work to support his family, and teaching anatomy at the Pratt Institute.
Scope and Contents
Teaching art at a junior high school in the Bronx, and his gaining respect of students through special projects; teaching drawing at Boston University (1965-86), his approach to teaching including his demanding standards, the seriousness of the students, his opposing rigid attendance and grading rules, and colleagues, such as David Aronson who had created the School, Reed Kay, Jack Kramer, Sidney Hurwitz, and the University president, John Silber.
Scope and Contents
Working with the black arts entrepreneur, Elma Lewis, in setting up a visual arts program for the Boston black community (late 1960s-1970s), including the selection of a curator, Edmund Barry Gaither, a young art historian, who eventually established a museum of African-American art; his participation in various black art exhibitions, despite his belief that art should be seen regardless of the ethnic origins of artists; his move toward sculpture, beginning in the early 1960s, as a medium most expressive of black persons, culminating in the 1980s in a series of colossal heads and a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. for the U.S. Capitol (1985-86); and why he makes art and will so long as he is able.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
John Wilson (1922- ) is an African American painter, sculptor, illustrator, printmaker, and educator from Boston, Massachusetts. Full name John Woodrow Wilson.

Administration
Immediate Source of Acquisition
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators. Funding for the transcription and microfilming of the interview provided by the Newland Foundation.

General
General
Originally recorded on 11 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 22 digital wav files. Duration is 16 hr., 2 min.
General
Uneven transcription reflects Wilson's unusual speech pattern.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
African American artists -- Interviews Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Study and teaching -- Massachusetts -- Boston Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Study and teaching -- Mexico Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Study and teaching -- France -- Paris Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painters -- Massachusetts -- Interviews Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sculptors -- Massachusetts -- Interviews Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Printmakers -- Massachusetts -- Interviews Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art teachers -- Massachusetts -- Interviews Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American artists as teachers Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sound recordings Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interviews Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Aronson, David, 1923-2015 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Bengtz, Ture, 1907-1973 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gaither, Edmund B. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hurwitz, Sidney, 1932- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Kay, Reed Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Kramer, Jack Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Léger, Fernand, 1881-1955 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lewis, Elma Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rivera, Diego, 1886-1957 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Siqueiros, David Alfaro Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Zerbe, Karl, 1903-1972 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. School Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Boston University. School of Fine and Applied Arts Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/