A major retrospective including some 60 prints and 30 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 1930s. 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 (1892/3-1965) 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. 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 1936, 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. Staff members of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 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 American artists 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.
The exhibition will focus 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 will display 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 sensitive portraits of its residents.
In addition to the first illustrated checklist of Thrash's approximately 150 prints, the fully illustrated exhibition catalogue will contain four essays: an evaluation of Thrash's work in the context of his times, by Dr. Kymberly N. Pinder of the School of The Art Institute of Chicago; an account of the WPA Graphic Arts workshop in Philadelphia, by Cynthia Medley-Buckner, an 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 Dr. David Brigham of the Worcester Art Museum; and a biography of the artist by John Ittmann, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and organizer of the exhibition. This exhibition is expected to travel to three additional venues in 2002.
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 artistic, cultural and creative contributions of artists born or based in Philadelphia.