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Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered

October 27, 2001–February 24, 2002

This major retrospective, which includes some 60 prints and 30 drawings and watercolors, documents for the first time the artistic achievements of Dox Thrash, an important African American artist who rose to national prominence during the late 1930s.

Philadelphia Museum of Art staff members of the time, including director Fiske Kimball and Prints and Drawings curator Carl Zigrosser, took an active interest in the Workshop’s efforts. Spurred by their enthusiasm, the museum acquired 75 prints produced by African Americans for the WPA in the 1940s. Today, the museum houses 50 works by Thrash in its Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, acquired between 1941 and 1999.

While with the WPA, Thrash discovered that gritty carborundum crystals, normally employed to remove images from lithograph stones, could also be used on 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 his innovative method.

This exhibition focuses on the WPA years and the 1940s and 1950s, when Thrash’s prints and drawings were shown in major cities across the United States. Drawn from public and private collections, the selected works exhibit the range of the artist's poetic imagery: childhood memories of the rural south, hard times in the urban north, patriotic war work, sensuous nude studies, as well as lively scenes of his community and its residents.

  • Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago, Illinois: September–November 2002

Main Building

About the Artist

Born in 1893 in Griffin, Georgia, Thrash fought in France during World War I and studied at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago between 1914 to 1923. After his Chicago years, the artist lived for a time in Boston and New York (during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance), before settling in Philadelphia around 1926. In 1937, at the height of the Great Depression, Thrash joined Philadelphia’s government-sponsored WPA Graphic Arts Workshop as a seasoned printmaker with a taste for experimentation.


The exhibition is made possible by:

Additional support is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions, The William Penn Foundation, The Philadelphia Tribune, NBC 10 WCAU, and Amtrak.


John Ittmann, Curator of Prints

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