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Artist in Focus: Dox Thrash


Dox Thrash (1893–1965) was a prolific printmaker who settled in Philadelphia in the late 1920s. In 1937, at the height of the Great Depression, he became the first Black artist to work for the Fine Print Workshop of Philadelphia, a branch of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal relief program designed to employ thousands of artists and share their work with the public.

Technical Innovation

Within his first year at the Fine Print Workshop, Thrash worked with colleagues Michael Gallagher and Hubert Mesibov to invent a new printmaking process. He discovered that Carborundum, a gritty commercial abrasive, could be used to roughen the smooth surface of a copper printing plate, enabling it to hold a significant amount of ink across its evenly pitted surface. A printmaker could then use a variety of tools to smooth selected areas of the plate in order to compose an image. Proceeding from dark to light, Thrash achieved the wide tonal range—inky blacks, silvery grays, and translucent whites—you see in the prints below.

Portraits of American Life

Thrash used his carborundum mezzotint process to explore the rich artistic potential he found in the ordinary rhythms of social life around him. He created expressive images of Black America, from the rural setting of his hometown of Griffin, Georgia, to stirring portraits of his neighbors in Philadelphia. By manipulating dramatic contrasts and establishing subtle gradients of light and dark, Thrash haloes his subjects with a palpable sense of interest, even admiration.

Dox Thrash’s Legacy in Philadelphia

The museum began collecting Thrash’s prints in the 1940s. Today, it holds a substantial collection of his work, which, along with that of other WPA artists, forms a cornerstone of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Thrash’s home still stands today in Sharswood, a neighborhood not too far from the museum. Recent efforts led by the Dox Thrash House Project and the Black Futures Campaign have worked hard to save the historic landmark and secure its economic future.

Online Exhibition

Image Gallery

About the Artist

Dox Thrash came of age as an artist in the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Georgia in 1893, he left home at a young age and worked his way north to Chicago, where he attended classes at the School of the Art Institute. He served abroad in the US Army during World War I from 1917 to 1919 and upon returning lived in various East Coast cities before settling in 1926 in Philadelphia, where he remained until his death in 1965. Thrash is remembered today for his groundbreaking print technique, evocative imagery drawn from personal experience, and contributions to the vibrant art scene in Philadelphia and beyond.


Laurel Garber, The Park Family Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings
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Discover additional stories and items related to this exhibition.

In the Collection
In the Collection
See additional works by Dox Thrash in our collection.
Explore nearly 150 collection objects created by American artists of African descent.
K–12 Resource
K–12 Resource
This classroom resource celebrates the innovation of African American artists.

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