Hale Aspacio Woodruff
Hale Aspacio Woodruff was born in Cairo, Illinois, on August 26, 1900, the only child of Augusta Bell Woodruff and George Woodruff., To occupy her son while she was at work, his mother had him copy artwork from the family Bible. He soon made drawings from newspapers and history textbooks. "I learned wherever I could," said Woodruff, who later was the cartoonist for his high school paper.
After graduating, he obtained a hotel job in Indianapolis, and began his formal art training at the only art school in Indianapolis, the Herron Art Institute, which had only some forty students. In exchange for his services as a desk clerk, the "colored" YMCA gave him a room. Woodruff became friends with Herman Lieber, who owned a local art supply store. In 1923, Lieber gave Woodruff the book, Afrikanische Plastik [African Sculpture], by Carl Einstein.
Woodruff was inspired to investigate modernism through the lens of traditional African art. He drew inspiration from many sources, ranging from African art to Renaissance frescoes.
In 1931, after four years of travel in Europe, Woodruff became a professor at Atlanta University. He was the first African-American with formal training to earn an art professorship in a southern Black university. Woodruff displayed works of major Black artists (such as Allan Freelon and Palmer Hayden), in the library at Atlanta University annually, and he made student exhibitions a feature of commencement week.7
Woodruff strove to make art more accessible to his students and to the African-American community. A student of his remembered, "Woodruff took us to the High Museum [of Art]. He had to get special permission because Blacks didn’t go in there at all unless they worked there....In other words, Mr. Woodruff was very much like Fred Douglas. . . We were all very proud of him."
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