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Identity


Art and Artists
 Africa, Sierra Leone
 Chuck Close
 James Ensor
 Frank Gehry
 Robert Gwathmey
 Marsden Hartley
 Pepón Osorio
 James Rosenquist
 Ernest Whiteman

Inner Worlds What is Art?  Environment  Designing Spaces and Places
Robert Gwathmey
About the Artist

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.

Vocabulary Terms

Depression--A period during the 1930s of drastic decline in the economy characterized by decreasing business activity, falling prices, and unemployment.

sharecropper--A tenant farmer who gives a share of his crop to the landowner in lieu of rent.

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Inner Worlds | What is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons