William Edouard Scott (1884-1964)
William Edouard Scott, son of Edward Miles Scott and Caroline Russell Scott, his middle name taken after his father’s first name, was born March 11, 1884, in Indianapolis, Indiana, of mixed African-American and Native American blood. His grandparents came to Indianapolis in 1822 from Kentucky, but they had not been Slaves. Scott’s great grandfather was of Cherokee descent and his great grandmother of the Blackhawk tribe; his other ancestors were Negro. He attended Elementary School #23 and graduated from Emmerich Manual Training High School in June 1903. Tall and athletic, he was a member of the track team. It was during this period of schooling Scott discovered his talent for art. After graduating, he spoke of some early decisions which helped shaped the rest of his life. “My father expected I would begin a business career and earn lots of money, but when I unfolded my plans of studying to be an artist, he thought I had lost my reason from too much book study and treated me like one demented. I had the encouragement of my mother and sister however. Now, in order to study, I had to earn money to carry me along, so I took the first job that presented itself, which was to work on the streets as a day laborer. I was strong and did not mind, for with each shovel of earth I allowed my fancy to turn it into a paint brush and the street into a canvas and then passed the day in mental pictures.” Scott spent the summer of 1903 in Chicago. While there, he received a contract to draw plans for a flat to be built by a wealthy Black woman in Chicago, a skill he had learned in high school. He also painted two portraits, receiving five dollars for one and fifteen dollars for the other. After returning to Indianapolis in fall 1903, he accepted employment under Otto Stark (1859-1926) at Manual Training High School. Scott’s primary job was the inventory and stocking of art supplies. More importantly, Scott also assisted with freshman drawing instruction. With this additional responsibility, Scott became the first Black person to teach in a public high school in Indianapolis. During this period, Scott received additional drawing instruction from Stark and attended classes at the John Herron Art Institute (later known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art) with which Stark was affiliated. At 19 years old, Scott was planning to become a sculptor and looked forward to enrolling in architectural design, life drawing and sculpture classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where well known sculptor, Lorado Taft (1860-1936), was teaching. In 1903, he observed, there were only two colored sculptors of any reputation in the world and one of those was a woman. By fall 1904, Scott had saved sixty-five dollars; he packed his art portfolio and left Indianapolis for Chicago. He was fortunate to have his work come to the attention of John Henry Vanderpoel (1857-1911) who taught nude life drawing and painting. Mr. Vanderpoel’s class was reserved for third-year or senior students but Scott’s portfolio demonstrated such promise he was given a trial period. He enrolled on September 26, 1904. That November, he was accorded an honorable mention in the monthly class concours. He also entered the illustration class of Thomas Wood Stevens (1880-1942) where throughout the year he earned several monthly honorable mentions.