Robert Gwathmey was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1903, where
his family had lived for eight generations. Gwathmey's father was
a railroad engineer who was killed on the job before Gwathmey was
born. His mother supported the family by working as a teacher. Gwathmey
worked his way through the Maryland Institute by joining the rigging
gang building a dam on the Susquehanna River. While attending the
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts he worked at a settlement house
in Philadelphia and in the engraving room of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
He even worked his way to Europe on a freighter ship. He returned
to the United States and began a long career as a painter and art
teacher of art.
During the Depression, Gwathmey was
teaching in Philadelphia. It was an exciting time. He was involved
with national and international politics, but continued to paint.
Many years before the Civil Rights movement in America, Gwathmey,
who was white, developed an interest in racial issues. He was shocked
by the harsh treatment African Americans received in the south and
the "acute blind spots of my boyhood friends and associates."
He visited the South every summer, and in 1944 he worked on a tobacco
farm with black sharecroppers. Gwathmey
was interested in making paintings that would identify the racism
he saw in America and help create democratic race relations.
period during the 1930s of drastic decline in the economy characterized
by decreasing business activity, falling prices, and unemployment.
farmer who gives a share of his crop to the landowner in lieu of
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