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--which houses 50 works by Thrash in its Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, acquired between 1941 and 1999--the exhibition will be on view in the Museum's Berman and Stieglitz Galleries from October to December, 2001. Drawn from public and private collections, Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered will demonstrate Thrash's mastery of a wide variety of printmaking methods, as well as his accomplishments as a draftsman and watercolorist. The exhibition will also document the range of the artist's poetic imagery: childhood memories of the rural south (Cabin Days); hard times in the urban north (Coal Dust); patriotic war work (Defense Worker); sensuous nude studies (Before the Curtain); as well as lively scenes of his community (News Corner) and sensitive portraits of its residents (Mary Lou).
Dox Thrash (1892/3-1965) was born and raised in Griffin, Georgia. He fought in France during World War I, and was enrolled in the School of The Art Institute of Chicago from 1914 to 1923 (he began with evening classes in 1914, and became a full-time student following his military service). After his Chicago years, the artist lived for a time in Boston before gravitating to New York during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance, and settled in Philadelphia around 1929. In 1936, at the height of the Depression, Thrash joined the Philadelphia-based Graphic Arts Workshop of the government-sponsored Works Progress Administration. His innovations in printmaking caught the attention of Philadelphia Museum of Art director Fiske Kimball and prints and drawings curator Carl Zigrosser, who both 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.
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 compelling imagery and rich chiaroscuro of Thrash's own carborundum prints have linked his name most closely with this inventive method, and the process was quickly adopted and adapted by other members of the WPA workshop, including a number of Thrash's younger African American colleagues.
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, from Boston to San Francisco, as well as in Mexico City. During these same years one-person exhibitions of Thrash's work were held at the Pyramid Club, the Art Alliance, and Lincoln University in the Philadelphia area, and in Washington, D.C. at Howard University and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
In addition to publishing 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. The 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 will celebrate the remarkable artistic, cultural and creative contributions of artists born or based in Philadelphia. The series includes the insightful paintings of Alice Neel (February 18-April 15, 2001), Out of the Ordinary: The Architecture and Design of Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown & Associates, the first retrospective exhibition exploring the provocative, playful and often iconoclastic architecture and design of Philadelphia's leading architectural firm (June 10-August 5, 2001), and will culminate with concurrent exhibitions devoted to Thrash and the late 19th-century painter, Thomas Eakins (October 7-December, 2001).