Slide2: The Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education
Casein, painted directly on prepared plaster wall
95” x 280” Theisen, pg. 24-25 The Artist’s Words: The Artist’s Words “Women are the creators of culture and civilization. My art has always honored the role of women as equal partners in the struggle and celebration of life.” Theisen, pg. 23 History: History Painted to honor the memory of Dela Lee at the request of her husband, Reverend Fred T. Lee of Houston
Portrays important female figures from American history: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Phillis Wheatley
John Biggers used the research and documentation from this mural to complete his doctoral dissertation at Pennsylvania State University.
Theisen, pgs. 23-27 Harriet Tubman: Harriet Tubman “Harriet Tubman (c. 1820-1913) was a slave who escaped to the North and became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Tubman, often called ‘General’ and ‘Moses,’ made nineteen trips home to bring three hundred slaves to freedom.” Theisen, pg. 23 Harriet Tubman: Harriet Tubman “Biggers later wrote of the challenge of depicting the heroic figure of Harriet Tubman…:
‘The problem was to create a female figure of Herculean strength and power, yet full of human emotion…a protector of children, mother of men, leading broken and enslaved humanity in a freedom march.’”
At first, the women of the community objected to the masculine appearance of the female figures in the painting.
Theisen, pg. 23 Sojourner Truth: Sojourner Truth Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883), freed by the New York Emancipation Act of 1827, became an itinerant preacher and was the first Negro woman to speak out publicly against slavery. Much of her public speaking was also devoted to promoting education for Negroes and women’s suffrage.” Theisen, pgs. 23 Phillis Wheatley: Phillis Wheatley The portrait of the mother and child reading represents another important African-American woman. Kidnapped from Africa as a young child, Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) was the first African-American poet to be published. Her first book of poems, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious, and Moral”, was published in 1773. http://www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spc/exhibits/treasures/american/wheatley.html The Story: The Story “‘The right side [of the mural] represents slavery out of which Harriet Tubman leads her people, symbolized by the Torch of Freedom pushing over the column…’” Theisen, pg. 26 The Story: The Story “‘Left of the column, the Tree of Life, also supported by man’s labor, embraces the balance of the mural depicting progress in education, science, music and healthful living, with Sojourner Truth as the Pioneer Teacher.’”
Theisen, pg. 26 Symbols: Symbols Quilt motif
The face of a young man with a vision (reappears in The History of Negro Education in Morris County, Texas)
Oversized hands and feet of figures Theisen, pg. 26 Dreamer’s face from History of Education in Morris County, Texas Dreamer’s face from Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education Symbols: Symbols “‘I got a great deal of joy out of making those powerful hands and feet—even more than the faces. The people of my youth who’d worked as canecutters, miners, sharecroppers—the people I knew about—all had those strong hands, feet, and shoulders. I was trying to portray working people…’” Theisen, pg. 27 Artistic Influences: Artistic Influences “In this work, Biggers began to apply more of Diego Rivera’s principles for working with mural space:
the use of color symmetry,
the overlapping of silhouettes
the massing of heads
the introduction of bold diagonals that move the eye from baseline to high horizon
the underlying geometry unifying the wall plane
the bold, simple modeling of figures.” Theisen, pg. 26 Location: Location The Blue Triangle YWCA is located at 3005 Mcgowen St. near the campus of Texas Southern University.
Reproduction rights for The Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education were granted to the Blue Triangle by Dr. Biggers. Proceeds are used to support community programs. Theisen, pg. 27 Source: Source Images of artwork, artist quotes, and descriptions of the mural are taken from The Murals of John Thomas Biggers: American Muralist, African American Artist by Olive Jensen Theisen (1996).