William Ellisworth Artis was born on February 2, 1914, and he was an African-American sculptor, whose favorite medium was clay. The freedom of modeling gave him a broad range of expression. During the latter part of his life, he began to focus on potting. He was born in Washington, NC, but as a teen, he moved to New York 1927. He taught at the Harlem YMCA after finishing high school, then was involved with Works Progress Administration's artists project.
He studied sculpture and pottery at Augusta Savage Studios in the early 1930s and was a part of the Harmon Foundation exhibition in 1933. He was featured in the 1930s film A Study of Negro Artists, along with Savage and other artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance, including Richmond Barthé, James Latimer Allen, Palmer Hayden, Aaron Douglas, William Ellisworth Artis, William Ellisworth Artis, Lois Mailou Jones, and Georgette Seabrooke.
He received the John Hope Prize, which led to a scholarship at the Art Students League in 1933-34. Artis was hired by Audrey McMahon, the director of the College Art Association, along with several other artists to teach crafts and paint murals in churches and community centers. From 1941 to 1945, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he earned his academic degrees.
In 1950 he received his Bachelors in Fine Arts, and in 1951 his Masters in Fine Arts from Syracuse University, where he studied with the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. After leaving Syracuse, he taught at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. In 1945, Artis, with fellow artist Romare Bearden and Selma Burke, were together in the landmark Albany Institute of History and Art exhibit and over the next decade found the black artist making inroads in national exhibits and major galleries.
From 1956 to 1966 he was Professor of Ceramics at Nebraska Teachers College after which he was Professor of Art at Mankato State College until 1975. Artis died in 1977.
During this time a joint retrospective exhibition with his works was held in 1971 at Fisk University. He is also featured in Against the Odds, an exhibition of African American Artists from the Harmon Foundation.
His works can also be found at Atlanta University, the Whitney Museum, the Two Centuries of Black American Art exhibited and collected by Fisk University, Hampton University, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and private collectors.
The G.C. and Frances Hawley Museum
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