A major retrospective including some 100 prints, drawings and watercolors by Dox Thrash will document for the first time the remarkable artistic achievements of an important artist who rose to national prominence during the late 1940s. Organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered will be on view in the Museum's Berman and Stieglitz Galleries from October 27, 2001 to February 24, 2002.
Dox Thrash (1893-1965) boldly confronted cultural history through his art, whether presenting a portrait of a strong individual, an unflinching image of racial violence, or a frank celebration of the female nude. His work documents the black American's evolving identity in the 1930s and 1940s, addressing contemporary issues regarding race, history, gender and modern art.
"The Museum acquired its first works by Dox Thrash in 1941, when he began to emerge as a major force in the WPA's Graphic Arts Workshop in Philadelphia," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "We are very pleased, after years of research and discovery, to present this broad retrospective of Dox Thrash's artistic accomplishments as part of the Museum's 125th anniversary. The dedicated work of print curator John Ittmann and the generosity of the lenders to the exhibition has produced a remarkable overview of Dox Thrash's development from his days as an art student to his later years as an innovative printmaker."
Drawn from public and private collections, the exhibition demonstrates Thrash's mastery of printmaking methods. It documents the range of the artist's poetic imagery: childhood memories of the rural South (Cabin Days, about 1938); hard times in the urban North (Coal Dust, about 1937); patriotic war work (Defense Worker, about 1941); sensuous nude studies (Siesta, about 1944-48); as well as lively scenes of his community (Twenty-Fourth Street and Ridge Avenue, about 1937-39) and sensitive portraits of its residents (Mary Lou, about 1939-40).
Dox Thrash was born and raised in Griffin, Georgia, fought in France during World War I, and studied at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago between 1914 and 1923. In 1937, at the height of the Depression, Thrash joined Philadelphia's government-sponsored WPA Graphic Arts Workshop as a seasoned printmaker with a taste for experimentation. While with the WPA, Thrash discovered that gritty carborundum crystals, normally employed to remove images from lithograph stones, could also be used to roughen the surface of copper plates to make etchings. The process was quickly adopted and adapted by other members of the WPA workshop, but the compelling imagery and rich chiaroscuro of Thrash's own carborundum prints have ensured that it is his name that is most closely linked with this innovative method.
In the early 1940s, Philadelphia Museum of Art director Fiske Kimball and prints and drawings curator Carl Zigrosser took an active interest in the Workshop's efforts, acquiring some 75 prints produced by African-American artists for the WPA. Today the Museum houses some 50 works by Thrash in its Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, some of them recent acquisitions.
"Shortly after I arrived at the Museum in 1990, I had the pleasure to present an exhibition on printmakers who worked in Philadelphia during the first half of the 20th century," said John Ittmann, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and organizer of the exhibition. "Dox Thrash was one of the 14 artists selected for that show. He emerged as an unusually poetic power, and I wanted to know more about him. Researching this exhibition has been a remarkable journey of rediscovery, as we've uncovered a missing part of his life's work. Thrash's images speak with tremendous freshness today."
Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered is made possible by Exelon Corporation. Additional support was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions, The William Penn Foundation, NBC 10 WCAU and Amtrak.
The exhibition catalogue is co-published by the Museum and the University of Washington Press, where it is one of the distinguished Jacob Lawrence Series on American Artists. It contains the first illustrated catalogue raisonné of Thrash's 188 known prints, two thirds of which came to light as a result of research leading to the exhibition. The publication also contains four scholarly essays: an evaluation of Thrash's work in the context of his times, by Kymberly N. Pinder, Assistant Professor of Art History at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago; an account of the WPA Graphic Arts workshop in Philadelphia, by Cindy Medley-Buckner, independent scholar; an exploration of the role played by the Pyramid Club in African American cultural affairs in Philadelphia during the 1940s and 1950s, by David Brigham, Curator of American Art at the Worcester Art Museum; and a biography of the artist by John Ittmann. The exhibition will also be shown in September 2002 at the Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago, the city where Thrash received his art education.
Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered is one of a series of exhibitions--all mounted in conjunction with the Museum's 125th anniversary in 2001--that celebrate the remarkable contributions of artists born or based in Philadelphia.
To commemorate the work of this pioneering Philadelphia printmaker, over 50 area arts organizations will join together to present Celebrating Prints and Printmaking: In Homage to Dox Thrash, held from November 2 to December 14, 2001. Festival activities are free to the public and range from educational programs to exhibitions of work by WPA era contemporaries of Thrash, print demonstrations and artist lectures. Information on print festival events is available at www.printcollaborative.org.