Thursday, November 08, 2018


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Bearden

Romare Howard Bearden was born on September 2, 1912, in Charlotte, North Carolina. His birthdate is from the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Birth Index, at, and the Social Security Death Index. When Bearden was drafted in World War II his birth year was recorded as 1912. Some publications and web sites have the birth year as 1911. His Social Security application had his birthplace. Bearden’s parents were Richard Howard Bearden and Bessye Johnson Banks.

Bearden’s father signed his World War I draft card on September 30, 1918. His address was 173 West 140th Street in Manhattan, New York City. He was employed as a buffet porter and steward on the Canadian Pacific Railway. A second, undated draft card had the address 231 West 131st Street in Manhattan and his job as dining car waiter with the Atlantic Coast Line rail company.

Bearden and his parents have not yet been found in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census.

The 1925 New York state census said the family were Manhattan residents at 173 West 140th Street. Bearden’s father was an inspector. The household included a maid who was a seamstress.

In the 1930 census, the Beardens and three lodgers resided at 154 West 131 Street in Manhattan. Bearden’s father was a health department inspector and mother a newspaper writer.

New York Age, February 27, 1932, reported Bearden’s college publication role.

Romare Howard Bearden son of Howard and Mrs. Bessye Bearden of 154 West 131st street, New York City, has been elected art editor of the Beanpot, humor magazine of Boston University where young Bearden is a student in the sophomore class. In his freshman year young Bearden was pitcher on the baseball team.

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Bearden drew Dusty Dixon, in March 1933, for the Stanton Feature Service. No newspaper has yet been found that ran more than the two strips shown above, though printing dates vary widely. 

In Art in Crisis: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Struggle for African American Identity and Memory (2007), Amy Helene Kirschke wrote 
[Bearden] spent his first two years in college at New York University, graduating with a bachelor of science in education in 1935. He started drawing cartoons in college and became the art editor of the New York University student magazine Medley and the school newspaper's principal cartoonist. Bearden was part of a relatively new and small group of black cartoonists that was forging new territory in illustration. The work of E. Simms Campbell (who he met in Boston), Ollie Harrington, Miguel Covarrubias, Honore Daumier, Jean-Louis Forain, and Kathe Kollwitz would greatly influence him. His early cartoons, along with those he did for the magazine College Humor, established Bearden’s lifelong interest in social realism and social commentary through art. He also contributed cartoons to the nationally circulated Baltimore Afro-American, the urban League’s Opportunity magazine, and Collier’s. His early published comic strips included Dobby Hicks (which has been compared to the strip Henry), which was followed by Dusty Dixon, a more evolved strip. He felt neither strip was the ideal place for his social commentary and sought a better way to communicate his view of the black condition. His developing interest in identity, in his southern heritage, and in the issues of the people of the black diaspora, which became a dominant theme of his work, found their early expressions in his political cartoons of The Crisis. These political cartoons led him to pursue a career as a politically engaged artist.
The strip Dobby Hicks mentioned above has not yet been found  in any newspaper.

The Negro Star (Wichita, Kansas), December 1, 1933, published this item, “Mr. Romeo [sic] Bearden has designed a new Christmas Seal for the NAACP. He is a young artist and cartoonist of New York.”

In the New York Amsterdam News, March 19, 1988, Mel Tapley wrote

…Romare flirted with songwriting and might even have been a major league pitcher, having been on Boston University’s varsity baseball team, before he transferred to NYU. He’d even hurled a couple of summers for the Boston Tigers, an all-Black team. Twenty of his songs were recorded, among them “Seabreeze,” that featured Billy Exkstine and Oscar Pettiford…. 
…[In the 1930s Bearden] enrolled at the Art Students League, having soon decided that he preferred life of an artist to teaching math. George Grosz was his instructor and introduced him to the work of Kathy Kollwitz and Honore Daumier—all recorders of social protest….
The Detroit Tribune (Michigan), July 9, 1938, said Bearden was a pallbearer at the funeral of James W. Johnson.

According to the 1940 census the Beardens lived at 50 Morningside Avenue. Bearden and his mother were deputy inspectors with the health department. His father was a public works inspector.

During World War II Bearden enlisted on May 7, 1942 in New York City. Tapley said “…Bearden, who during World War II was in the Army and became a sergeant, 372nd Infantry Regiment, studies in Paris under the G.I. Bill. The 372nd, [John A.] Williams pointed out, was an outfit that won hundreds of medals fighting with the French army.”

According to the Detroit Tribune, June 13, 1942, Bearden had a full-page illustration in the June Fortune Magazine

Washington—(ANP)—Another striking blow at discrimination against Negroes in war industries, the Army and the Navy, was delivered by an organ of big business this week when Fortune magazine attacked such racial restrictions in a 10 page article in its June issue.

Entitled “The Negros War,” the article, which strikes out boldly against discrimination, is graphically illustrated with drawings by Charles “Spinuky [sic]” Alston. A full page frontispiece showing unemployed Negro workers standing near a defense plant was drawn by Romare Bearden….
Bearden’s mother passed away September 23, 1943. Her death was reported two days later in New York Age. At the time Bearden was a sergeant in the Army. His father was a Board of Health inspector who resided at 351 West 114th Street.

New York Age, February 5, 1944, reported Bearden’s upcoming exhibition.

Miss Carrese Crosby, former publisher of books and magazines in Europe, is sponsoring an exclusive exhibition of the works of Sgt. Romare H. Beardcn, of the 372nd Headquarters Company, in the G Place Gallery, Washington, D. C. from Tuesday to February 15th. The artist-soldier left Saturday accompanied by bis father, R. Howard Bearden, to attend the preview on Sunday.
A new art center in Harlem was reported in the New York Age, February 17, 1951.
Harlem’s newest cultural center, the LETCHER Art Center located at 2368 Seventh Ave., has brought together some of the country’s leading artists. Aside from Ohio-born Evelyn LETCHER, whose husband, Henry M. directs the three art centers established in D.C. by this talented duo, the center has recruited the services of Charles S. CARTER, Marc K. HEINE and Vivian S. KEYES, instructors to commercial art, ceramics and arts and crafts, respectively. The board of consultants reads like a “Who’s Who” in the world of art, with Elton FOX, Jacob LAWRENCE, Grayson WALKER, Romare H. BEARDEN aad Charles “Spinky” ALSTON making up the brilliant panel.
The New York, New York, Marriage License Index, at, recorded the issuance of a marriage license to Bearden and Nanette Rohan in 1954.

In the Amsterdam News Tapley said

…In the late Sixties, however, Bearden, [Norman] Lewis and [Ernest] Crichlow started the Cinque Gallery, which is still operating.

Cinque in Black history was a slave who ld a mutiny aboard a slaveship, piloted it to freedom, but then stood trial for the revolt.

…The initial goals for Cinque Gallery were: to provide a showcase for promising artists; share the collective experience of the founders with the newcomers; and to assist these discoveries in “getting their hands in.”
The Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual” was from March 25 to July 9, 1971. The following year “The Prevalence of Ritual.” was at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The Amsterdam News, July 22, 1972, covered the exhibition and said Bearden’s
first one-man show was in 1940 at the studio of Ad Bates in Harlem. He was founder of the Spiral Artist Group, an organization formed primarily to deal with the problems of Black artists in America. He was also one of the founders of the CINQUE Gallery in New York.

He was appointed art director of the Harlem Cultural Council in 1964, a position he still holds. In 1969, he co-authored with Carl Holty in a book titled “The Painter’s Mind” and in 1970 was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to write a history of Afro-American art. Bearden has shown in many group exhibitions and had in­ numerable gallery and museum shows in he U.S. and Europe over the last thirty years.

The 1964 collages, called “Projections,” marked a major breakthrough in his art. Since then Bearden has been working exclusively in collages.
Bearden passed away March 12, 1988 in New York City. The New York Times, March 13, 1988, said Bearden suffered a stroke at New York Hospital.

Further Reading
National Gallery of Art

—Alex Jay


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