Question of the Week
What African American artist supervised the Graphic Art Division of the Works Progress (later Work Project) Administration in Philadelphia?
Answer: Dox Thrash.
To provide relief for artists during the Depression, the Federal Art Project (FAP) was created in 1935 under the Works Progress Administration. In Philadelphia, the FAP Graphic Art Division was supervised by artist Dox Thrash.
Raised in a former slave cabin in rural Georgia, Thrash first studied art as a teenager at the Art Institute of Chicago while also working as an elevator operator. He joined the U.S. Army in September 1917 at age 24 and served with one of the units popularly known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Thrash later completed his art training in Chicago, and then traveled around the country for several years before settling in Philadelphia where he initially worked as a janitor. As an artist, he achieved his greatest fame working with the FAP in Philadelphia’s Fine Print Workshop from 1936-1939. He invented a new printing (mezzotint) process using carborundum, an abrasive used in making lithographic prints, to produce a range of deep, rich tones. Thrash would make this process his primary medium for many years. His most celebrated works document changing African American identities in the 1930s and 1940s, addressing issues of race, history, gender, and modern art.
Once the FAP was terminated, Thrash worked briefly for the Sun Ship Co. in Chester, and after World War II he found a job as a house painter with the Philadelphia Housing Authority. He passed away in Philadelphia in 1965.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.