Tag: Art

#FashionFriday: Ann Lowe

Ann Lowe — a highly sought after designer in her day — is the first world-renowned black designer who created dresses for socialites and brides. She created looks for families including the Auchinclosses, DuPonts, Kennedys, Posts, Rockefellers, and Roosevelts. She is also the first black designer to own a boutique on Madison Avenue. And her stunning creations were also sold at Henri Bendel, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus.

Lowe was born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898 although the specific date is unknown.  Lowe was a great-granddaughter of a skilled seamstress slave and a white plantation owner. Her mixed-race grandmother, Georgia Tompkins, was given her freedom after being purchased by a freeman named General Cole. Ann learned to sew from Georgia and from her mother Janey Lowe, who made dresses for Southern society women. Janey Lowe died in 1914 when Lowe was sixteen. At the time of her death Janey Lowe was working on four ball gowns for the First Lady of Alabama, Elizbeth Kirkman O’Neal. Lowe finished the dresses.

In 1912 when she was fourteen, Lowe married Lee Cohen with whom she had a son, Arthur Lee. Lowe’s husband wanted her to give up working as a seamstress but she left him after she was hired to design a wedding dress for a woman in Florida. In 1917, 19-year-old Lowe and her son moved to New York City, New York where she enrolled at St. Taylor Design School. The segregated school required Lowe to attend classes in a room alone. After graduating from St. Taylor Design School in 1919, Lowe and her son moved to Tampa, Florida. The following year, she opened her first dress salon “Annie Cohen.” In 1928, Lowe returned to New York City after saving $20,000 of her earnings. While there she began to work on commission for Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel, Chez Sonia, and other prominent retailers.

In 1946, Lowe designed the dress that actress Olivia de Havilland wore to accept the Academy Award for Best Actress. In 1950, Lowe and her son open a second salon called Ann Lowe’s Gowns, on New York City’s Lexington Avenue. Here Lowe created designs for some of the most prestigious families in the nation including the Rockefellers, the Lodges, the DuPonts, the Posts, and the Biddles. In 1953, she was hired to design a wedding dress for Jacqueline Bouvier for her wedding to Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy but was never properly credited for her creation. Lowe was chosen by Jacqueline’s mother Janet Auchincloss, who previously commissioned Lowe to design the wedding dress she wore when she married Hugh D. Auchincloss in 1942. The wedding dress was widely admired at this highly publicized social event.

Throughout her career, Lowe worked for wealthy clients who often persuaded her to charge hundreds of dollars less for her work than her competitors.  Eventually in 1962, she lost the salon in New York City after failing to pay taxes. That same year, her right eye was removed due to glaucoma.  Lowe also developed a cataract in her left eye which was saved by surgery. In 1968, at the age of 70, Lowe opened a new store called Ann Lowe Originals, on Madison Avenue.  She retired two years later in 1972.

Lowe was married twice.  Her son by Lee Cohen, Arthur Lee, was Lowe’s business partner from the 1930s until his death in 1958. Lowe married a second time but that marriage also ended in divorce. As a single woman, Lowe later adopted a daughter, Ruth Alexander.

Ann Lowe died on February 25, 1981.

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#TuesdayArtist: Charles White

This work is known by two titles: Mother and Awaiting His Return. The woman who dominates the composition stares into space, her strongly modeled figure a study in patience. Given the work’s date (1945), the framed star in the background (a symbol of the US military), and the word mother inscribed in the lithograph’s lower left corner, the two titles make equal sense. The woman’s face is easily interpreted as that of a mother waiting for a loved one to return from service in World War II. Artist Charles White has chiseled her facial features with determination while infusing her expression with sadness. The cubist faceting of her figure imparts a feeling of solidity and strength in her that is reinforced by her imposing size and foreground placement. Her hands and face are nearly architectural, with their sharp edges and straight-line markings of light and shadow. Yet her tired eyes, her chin set into the palm of her hand, and the merest hint of doubt in her expression signal concern.
In 1942 White, primarily known as a painter of historical murals, shifted his focus to portraits of everyday African Americans on the advice of Harry Sternberg, an instructor at the Art Students League, New York. White’s portraits, including Mother, depict anonymous people dealing with situations common to the black experience. The meticulous draftsman used his skill to render human emotion and endurance in the face of such obstacles as discrimination. His works from the 1950s, the decade when the civil rights struggle exploded in the United States, show the cost of such perseverance in images of black men and women fighting for social justice.

#TuesdayArtist: Jacob Lawrence

Daybreak – A Time to Rest is one in a series of panel paintings that tell the story of Harriet Tubman, the famed African American woman who freed enslaved people using a fragile network of safe houses called the Underground Railroad. This abstracted image emphasizes Tubman’s bravery in the face of constant danger. Lying on the hard ground beside a couple and their baby, she holds a rifle. Her face, pointing upward to the sky, occupies the near center of the canvas, her body surrounded by purple. Tubman’s enormous feet, grossly out of proportion, become the focal point of the work. The lines delineating her toes and muscles look like carvings in a rock, as if to emphasize the arduous journeys she has made. Reeds in the foreground frame the prone runaways. Three insects (a walking stick, a beetle, and an ant) are signs of activity at daybreak.

Jacob Lawrence is renowned for his narrative painting series that chronicles the experiences of African Americans, which he created during a career of more than six decades. Using geometric shapes and bold colors on flattened picture planes to express his emotions, he fleshed out the lives of Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and African Americans migrating north from the rural south during and after slavery. Lawrence was 12 in 1929 when his family settled in Harlem, New York, at a time when African American intellectual and artistic life was flourishing there. As a teen, he took classes at the Harlem Art Workshop and Harlem Community Art Center, where he studied works of art by African American artists and learned about African art and history. Lawrence went on to create images that are major expressions of the history and experience of African Americans.

#TuesdayArtist: Romare Bearden

The title of this collage could refer to several of its details. In the top right quadrant a nearly camouflaged passing train with billowing smoke travels to an unknown location. The central figure, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, appears lost in thought. A woman stares at the viewer with a disproportionately large eye, her hand on the windowsill. In the “background” (at right), blue birds fly. These elements and others recall Romare Bearden‘s childhood in rural North Carolina and personify journeying, a central theme in African American history. The train suggests the Underground Railroad—the network of abolitionist-run safe houses that secretly transported people escaping enslavement—and the post-slavery migration of African Americans, primarily northward, to seek better lives.
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and raised primarily in the surrounding Mecklenburg County, Bearden eventually settled in New York City to finish college at New York University. He was a social worker there for several decades, during which time he spent nights and weekends on his art. Originally an abstract painter, Bearden began creating collages in the early 1960s using images from photo-magazines such as Life and Ebony. In addition to his unflinching, faceted images of black life, Bearden is remembered for his published books on art and aesthetics and for his political energy on behalf of black culture.