Lot 54: Charles White
Untitled (study for Mary McLeod Bethune mural)
Signed and dated lower right; inscribed lower left "Concept mural sketch for Mary McLeod Bethune Branch Library of Los Angeles/Scale 2 Inch One FT (10 by 15 feet)"
Image: 19.75" x 29.875"; Sheet: 21.5" x 30.125"; Smaller sheet at bottom: 2.875" x 30.125"; Frame: 22.625" x 32.75"
LAMA would like to thank the Estate of Charles White for their assistance in cataloguing this work
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Originally from Chicago, Charles White (1918-1979) was a mural painter and educator who settled in Los Angeles in the late 1950s. At the age of seven, White's mother bought him an oil painting set, and from there, White devoted all of his free time to art. "Art became the most important thing in my life," said White. By the age of 14 he was hired as a sign painter, which earned him money to pay for his membership in the Arts and Crafts Guild. The group of young black artists collected enough money for a member to take one art lesson at the Chicago Art Institute so he could return to teach the rest of the group what he had learned. White's single lesson was highly influential to the young artist, and a few years later his hard work and technical prowess earned him a scholarship to the art school in 1937, and three years later an invitation to work for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Arts Project. Through this opportunity, White celebrated the black heroes of the United States in numerous murals, including one of his most famous, Five Great American Negroes (1945) at Howard University where he was artist in residence.
After a life-changing sojourn in rural Mexico, White and his family fled the stifling city life in New York for Altadena, California in 1957. Beginning in 1965, he taught at the Otis Art Institute where he devoted the later years of his life to education, though he found time to paint murals. He established a studio in the now historic Castle Green in Pasadena, an open air room separated from the main building that provided White the cross ventilation and natural light necessary to complete his final mural, Mary McLeod Bethune (1978), still hanging at the Exposition Park Branch of the L.A. Public Library. This preliminary sketch was completed in preparation for the mural, a tribute to Mary Bethune, one of the most influential African American educators of the 20th century. The sketch and mural both depict Bethune surrounded by a father strumming a guitar, a mother, and a child reading. White labored for nine months to complete the five by seven mural, and having only been paid a modest 3,000 dollars, it is a testament to his lifelong dedication to learning.
"Mary McLeod Bethune." Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, 2014. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
White, Charles Wilbert. Interview by Betty Lochrie Hoag. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution, 1965. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.