William Edouard Scott (1884-1964) © Illinois Historical Art Project
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.
There was not much money left after tuition and registration fees were paid. Scott had to earn some income in order to live and study. He found a job waiting tables at a Chicago restaurant working from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in return for fifty cents a day plus one meal. During his second term he added a job of sweeping out classrooms morning and night. This carried the added benefit of being able to secure supplies from those left behind by more fortunate students.
Success came early. In 1905, he won Second Prize in a poster competition for students for the Shakespearean festival of the Ben Greet players, offered by Bureau Agency of Music, Chicago. He continued winning illustration competitions which earned him commissions to help offset his school expenses. Scott’s illustrations were published in Inland Printer, Outing, Red Book and Voice magazines.
Scott continued to study at the Art Institute until 1909, two years after he won third prize for composition and graduated on June 21, 1907. He had entered the class of visiting professor Ernest Clifford Peixotto (1869-1940) to study illustration in 1907, and continued commercial illustration classes with Stevens where he won honorable mentions for his work in Redbook and in the Felsenthal school mural competition. His first known mural work had been completed in early 1907, with a group of students for an upcoming industrial exhibition in Chicago. They depicted various industrial conditions in Chicago. Scenes included those of a sweatshop, a tobacco factory and Scott’s panel of the stockyards.
In 1907, he participated in a senior class project with Stevens to complete murals for schools in Evanston and Highland Park, two Chicago suburbs. The subjects had an English theme which was sketched by the professors then painted by the students. Scott and fellow student Frederic Milton Grant worked on a portion of the mural entitled Strolling Players destined for Highland Park. The murals were exhibited at the student’s exhibition in the Art Institute before installation.
He took life classes with Frederick Warren Freer (1849-1908) and from Harry Mills Walcott (1870-1944) and he studied portrait painting with Louis Betts (1873-1961) in 1907-1908. In May, he was awarded the third place in the Frederick Magnus Brand Memorial Composition Prize competition, which brought him fifteen dollars. During the 1908-1909 school year, he continued with Walcott and Stevens, taking a smattering of classes from Oliver Dennett Grover (1860-1927), Caroline Dupee Wade (1857-1947) and Fred De Forrest Schook (1872-1942) and at the end of the year was awarded first place in the Brand competition, a prize of fifty dollars, the highest honor in the school. In addition, he won faculty honorable mentions in drawing and painting and in oil still life.
Scott contributed one of four panels by senior students for a mural at the Albert G. Lane Technical High School in 1909. The mural was for the assembly hall and depicted the industry of that time. This work, combined with his previous mural decorations for the suburban schools, caused noted sculptor and teacher Charles J. Mulligan to say Scott would become one of the greatest Negro painters in this country if he continued to develop in the same fashion. He was also described as “modest.” This was the kind of recognition which had afforded him scholarships enabling five years of study at the Art Institute.
By the time he left school, he had managed to save $400 toward his dream of going to France. He asked Art Institute Director, William M. R. French, to write a letter of recommendation for use in his travels. The director stated:
“He has been an earnest and successful student... In character he has been quite above reproach, and has the goodwill of everybody in the school... He received high honors in the department of pictorial composition and mural painting at the close of the passing school year, and also the previous year.”
To further supplement his savings, Scott found work at the Manual Training High School Art Department back in Indianapolis during the summer, 1909. Preparing to be gone for two years he left the United States for France in August, 1909. He wanted to divide his time between Paris, Holland and Italy. In Paris, he planned to study with expatriate African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) and African American artist William A. Harper (1873-1910) from Chicago.
While meeting with Scott, Tanner invited him to Trepied-par-Etaples, the artist’s colony where his summer home was located. Among other things, the home had a cellar full of potatoes. Tanner told Scott to help himself to all of the potatoes he wanted. Scott said he cooked potatoes in every way known.
That summer he had exhibition success in Paris. An Indianapolis newspaper reported he “exhibited three fine canvases at the summer salon at Paris-Plage, and has had high praise from the French papers.” Scott stayed abroad until having just enough money for the return boat fare to Chicago in late 1910 or early 1911. The fifteenth annual exhibition of the Society of Western Artists opened in Indianapolis in January 1910 and he showed three canvases. The Annual Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists opened at the Art Institute on January 31, 1911, and included one of his paintings. Scott was quoted in an article at this time stating his own idea was
“to accomplish all he could in his own life, hoping thereby to make the way easier for the next struggling colored boy who might aspire to become famous as an artist.”
At the time, Scott was considered a successor to recently deceased Chicago artist William Harper. After selling a few canvases, and probably earning some extra money through portraits, he obtained enough money to return to France a second time in 1912.
Scott said Paris was an expensive place for an art student to live. The least he paid was two dollars for an unheated room which seemed to be much colder than out-of-doors. Under these conditions, students spent hours at cafes. This time was occupied with writing letters, drinking coffee, listening to orchestras and watching people dance the tango. A few words of criticism from one of the celebrated artists could well cost five dollars.
Trepied-par-Etaples, the studio home of Henry O. Tanner in his semi-retired years, had been an important small fishing village and commercial port in the middle ages. It was located in northern France in Pas-de-Calals on the right bank of an estuary of the Canche, three miles from the Straits of Dover and seventeen miles south of Boulogne. In World War I, Etaples was used by the British. Scott had lived in Tanner’s home during his first trip and took up the same arrangement again. When asked about the cost of living there, Scott said:
“The fisherfolk of the town would pose for him for 20 cents each for half a day... Costs in Paris are similar to those in Indianapolis, but outside of the capital [sic] the price of living is small.”
One of Scott’s greatest experiences was this opportunity to study and live with Tanner. Many historians write about the number of students who studied with Tanner, although few students met and talked with him about art. Realistically there probably were only two people who spent extensive time with Tanner, Scott and Harper (a 1910 graduate of the Art Institute). Reflecting on his relationship with Tanner, Scott said, “Studying with Mr. Tanner was a source of great inspiration to me. He is painstaking, conscientious and a real genius.”
In the spring, 1912, Scott’s painting La Pauvre Voisien (The Poor Visitor, location unknown) was accepted at the great Salon Société des Artistes Français in Paris. Scott’s daughter recounted how the French newspapers wrote an article about his artwork and reproduced the painting in the paper. The painting portrays a family having their meal of bread and tea. They are interrupted by an old woman who enters on the left. Publicity about the painting came to the attention of government officials of the Argentine Republic who purchased the work for $600. Scott recounted the sale of the painting:
“I sent the painting to the salon and [sic] on the advice of a friend, Balfour Ker, a great American illustrator. ‘Put a price of $1000 on it’, he said, ‘Scott, you are not going to sell it anyway, so make the price big’. At the opening of the salon, I had about $10 in excess and my passage home. I had prepared to return to America when I received a letter from representatives of the Government of the Argentine Republic asking the lowest price I would accept for the picture. With as little money as I had, I would have gratefully accepted five dollars but thinking the whole proposition as a joke, I named a price of $600. Much to my surprise I received a check for that amount. I remained in France a year longer on that money.”
Scott returned to Indianapolis from his second course of study in Europe in November 1912, after his work had been exhibited that fall in Paris at the Salon d’Automne. He brought back twenty-six paintings done in a semi-impressionist style. These paintings were placed on exhibit in Otto Stark’s Indianapolis studio. It was observed that Scott did not belong to any certain movement of art, but chose what to him seemed best from several. The exhibition was both an artistic and financial success. Two of the canvasses won special attention and his A Wet Night at Etaples (Rainy Night, Etaples) was purchased by a group of Black citizens and donated to the local museum.
In 1913, Scott was commissioned to paint murals in a few of the public schools in Indianapolis. The school administrators in the Indianapolis system were implementing a new concept entitled, “The School Beautiful.” The project’s plan was that the school setting should be more attractive. Young people spending most of the year within the walls of the building should be able to learn in a bright and attractive atmosphere. On February 7, 1913, exercises were held for the dedication of his mural The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, in the first grade classroom at Public School #26, located on Martindale Avenue. The Indianapolis Star described Mr. Scott as showing much originality in the theme and treatment of the mural subject matter:
“His subject is The Old woman Who Lived in a Shoe and as the woman, he has chosen a typical old colored mammy busily engaged in looking after the affairs of her numerous broods, who of all ages and degrees from babyhood up to long-legged youth, are frolicking gayly along the way. He apparently has undertaken to indicate the happy, light-heartedness characteristic of childhood and of the colored race and has accomplished his purpose admirably. His taste in choosing to depict modern life and his own people instead of borrowing from classic models caused approving comment on the part of visitors present.”
The second mural completed during this period, Fountain of Knowledge, was unveiled on March 7, 1913 at Public School #23. Scott had attended this school and the mural was painted in his first classroom. Twenty-three feet long by forty inches tall, the newspaper noted this mural was one of the most beautiful works of its kind and gave recognition to Scott as “the young colored artist, whose work has attracted widespread attention.” The reporter described the work:
“He calls it Fountain of Knowledge, and has carried out the ideas by representing the teacher and a group of children, whose toys and pastimes typify the different arts and trades of the world. A small boy with a hammer and toy house represents the carpentering [sic] trade, one child with a tiny boat typifies commerce, while two little girls represent music and dancing. The figures are all of colored children, and range from the very light to the darkest seen in the race. Mr. Scott’s idea was to portray the happy-go-lucky disposition of the colored child and the fact that the colored child more than that of any other race acquires his knowledge unconsciously. He is not studious by nature: he does not inherit any tendency to study. His life, even under stress of poverty and misfortune, is on happy frolic. And yet he unconsciously absorbs knowledge through no apparent application of his own, until, as the artist expressed it, ‘All at once he has acquired something.’ Certainly the picture is the embodiment of the life and gaiety of childhood.”
Later in 1913, after winning a traveling scholarship from the Municipal Art League of Chicago, Scott returned to Paris for a third time. The artist is listed on the cabin passenger list of the ship “Chicago” which sailed from New York to Le Havre on Monday, May 12, 1913. While in Paris on this third trip, Scott studied with Jean Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian. Students paid for the privilege of drawing and painting while receiving criticism from well known academicians once or twice a week. Tanner had also been a student there. Tanner, who worked under Benjamin-Constant and Laurens from 1891 to 1896, offered a vivid image:
“The Académie Julian! Never had I seen or heard such a bedlam - or men waste so much time. Of course, I had to come to study at such a cost that every minute seemed precious and not to be frittered away. I had often seen rooms full of tobacco smoke, but not as here in a room never ventilated - and when I say never, I mean not rarely but never, during the five or six months of cold weather. Never were windows opened. They were nailed fast at the beginning of the cold season. Fifty or sixty men smoking in such a room for two or three hours would make it so that those on the back rows could hardly see the model.”
He also enrolled in the Académie Colarossi. In the summer, 1913, he submitted three paintings to the summer Salon Societe Artistique de Picardie Le Touquet at Paris-Plage. La Misere (The Unfortunate, location unknown) was awarded the Tanqueray prize in the amount of 125f. This painting and a picture of Scott were reproduced in the catalog of the exhibition. Tanner also had paintings in the exhibition.
Scott spent a great deal of time in Etaples with Tanner. In early 1914, Scott returned home. He learned before sailing that his painting Le Connoisseur (location unknown) had been accepted at the Salon at La Loque, in France.
By and large, Scott found his experiences in France positive and living expenses in the small towns reasonable. He said the stream that flows through Etaples was frequented by wild ducks which the peasants killed and offered for sale:
“A large duck cost me only 20 cents with an additional penny for enough large French chestnuts for dressing… I bought the little black shelled mussels, the French name of moule for which I could get enough of them for two big meals at a cost of just a penny. Also, for five cents I could get enough fresh fish for two meals.”
In May, 1914, Scott had an exhibition of thirty-one landscape paintings at the Senate Avenue Y.M.C.A. in Indianapolis. These paintings gave local people in Indianapolis an insight on what life was like in France:
“His largest canvas… is altogether different from anything ever attempted by him before… it is a religious painting [Tanner’s specialty]… It was all so impressive… It is a picture that will linger in the memory… The simple peasant with bowed head, surrounded by his flock, the dark, wooden crucifix rising high above him… a line of white-walled cottages… a few trees rising tall and slender.”
In September, 1914, Scott entered his French prize winning painting La Misere, changed the name to A Side Street in Rouen, and was awarded first prize in the category of Paintings and Drawings. A local collector purchased this piece. Second prize went to William Forsythe (1854-1935) Indiana artist and instructor at the Herron School of Art. In the same category, Scott won third place with his Figure Piece in Oil (location unknown), Otto Stark taking first. For the category of “Best and Most Important Exhibit,” Otto Stark won first award and his former student Scott, was awarded second.
In January, 1915, Scott went to Tuskegee, Alabama, at the invitation of Booker T. Washington. He had previously been encouraged by Otto Stark to study and “interpret colored life” as he had already shown a strong proclivity for this subject. Scott spent several months studying Southern life and observing the habits of everyday people:
“Otto Stark and other artists who are interested in Mr. Scott to interpret colored life, not only because this field is untouched, but because the work he has done along this line shows an artistic expression beyond anything he has accomplished in other fields.”
In October, 1915, Scott was asked by William Forsythe to work on a series of decorations for the Indianapolis General hospital. Accepting this commission to work along side other artists, Scott decorated the woman’s medical and the obstetrics wards in the Burdsal Wing with scenes including the four seasons, nations coming to light and the life of Christ. Over twenty panels ranged in size from five to forty feet wide encompassing about three hundred figures. He worked directly on his monumental canvas while it was adhered to the walls, painting in full scale without the use of sketch enlargements as was commonly the case for murals and used his small sketches, to the amazement of onlookers, to work directly on the canvas while completing the work in about five months.
For Unit B-1 Scott painted four biblical scenes; Adam and Eve Driven from the Garden, The Immaculate Conception, The Apostle John and The Apostle Paul. He also painted about a dozen scenes from the life of Jesus. Models for the murals included members of the hospital staff. The figure of Mary Madgalene was the superintendent of nurses. In another mural, “The Sermon on the Mount,” a robed Beduoin figure is a self portrait of Scott.
Although Scott was still considered a resident of Indianapolis, he lived in Chicago and considered himself a resident of the larger city. The distance between these two cities did not keep him from participating in the Indiana Artists Exhibition, which was held at the John Herron Art Institute. In 1916, Scott’s large entry War Times (location unknown) noted in the local press:
“A very large canvas by Scott, which is exhibited this year under the title ‘War Times,’ is quite in the ‘French’ style. Simple masses of ‘sweet’ color in a very light key, applied quite thin like a tapestry painting is the impression that it gives. The painting shows two old Breton peasant women on a wharf who are bidding goodbye to a clumsy youth of tender years. A misty, diffused sunlight envelopes the waters of the bay, opposite those about to set sail.”
The function for the Black Y.M.C.A. in most communities was multi-faceted. The Senate Avenue Y.M.C.A. in Indianapolis, was well-known for its Sunday afternoon meetings which generally included outstanding male and female speakers from across the country. Besides being a locale for community meetings, teas and athletic activities, the Y.M.C.A. was also a place in which the works of local Black artist were exhibited. Scott donated two murals to the Y.M.C.A. which he had painted in late winter and early spring of 1917. Entitled, The Spirit of the South, and Cannan, they may have been a reflection of sketches from his second tour of the Southern states.
In 1917, Scott and Tanner showed at the same American exhibition for the first time when their works were exhibited as part of the Art Association of Lafayette, Indiana’s annual exhibition. Tanner’s Rachel was sold to the Art Association for $2,500, the most expensive painting of the entire exhibition.
Telephone interview by the author with John W. Lee, 2/21/1999. John Lee is a cousin of Scott.
“Artist of Indian and Negro Extraction Attracts Attention with His Pictures,” Indianapolis Star, 11/17/1912, p.8.
Op. cit., Indianapolis Star, 11/17/1912, p.8.
“Worked As Laborer to Get Education in Art,” Indianapolis News, 9/12/1903, p.16. and “Colored Student, Formerly of M. T. H. S., Winning Honors in Chicago,” Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, vol. 20, col. 1, p.168.
“Indiana Artist of Mixed Negro and Indian Blood Winning Success in Paris,” Indianapolis News, 12/9/1911, p.2.
Op. cit., Indianapolis News, 9/12/1903, p.16.
Op. cit., Indianapolis News, 9/12/1903, p.16.
Rena Tucker Kohlmann, “Twenty Canvases By Gardner Symons Show,” Indianapolis News, 5/2/1914, p.2.
William E. Scott student records, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, November 1904.
William E. Scott student records, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, December 1904 - June 1905.
Donald Stanley Voge, The Boarding House, (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1995), p.17.
Lena M. McCauley, “Art,” Chicago Evening Post, 3/11/1905, p.8.
“Colored Student, Formerly of M. T. H. S., Winning Honors in Chicago,” no source, Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, vol. 20, col. 1, p.168. His class prizes totaled $42. The article also mentions his $25 prize for a Shakespearean festival, however, his prize was season tickets, which may have been in this value. The article also mentions he won a prize for an illustration in Inland Printer for the “Biography of William Caxton,” and a two prizes for a charity ball poster.
It was not uncommon for the advanced students of the school to complete illustrations for this publication, but only a few were chosen to do so. See: “Summer School of the Art Institute Begins on July Fifth,” Chicago Record-Herald, 6/26/1904 in Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, vol. 20, p.27.
“Artist of Indian and Negro Extraction Attracts Attention With His Pictures,” Indianapolis Star, 11/17/1912, p.8.
William E. Scott student records, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, June 1907.
William E. Scott student records, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, October 1907 - March 1908. The Felsenthal project murals were later completed at the end of the 1908 school year by the senior students; they included: Departure of Columbus From Palos; Coming of the Northmen; Primitive Art of the Indian and Triumphal March of Washington, see, Chicago Evening Post, 6/20/1908.
“Students Install Exhibit,” Chicago Chronicle, 3/29/1907. The exhibition opened at Brooke’s Casino under the auspices of the Consumers’ League and other settlement organizations who were working for the improvement of labor conditions in Chicago. Also included were works by students of the Armour Institute of Technology and Lewis Institute. Governor Deneen opened the exhibit with a convention held at the Art Institute of Chicago Fullerton Hall.
Chicago Evening Post, 3/3/1907.
Chicago Record-Herald, 7/7/1907 in Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, vol. 23. [Issues of the Sunday Record-Herald are not microfilmed and hard copies have not been located at any library] The mural is illustrated in the newspaper clipping. “In the background is an old English village of half-timbered gabled houses... W. Scott and F. Grant are the two students who have carried to real success an ambitious piece of work.” Another article announced their installation and titled them “The Beginnings of English Drama,” but failed to mention Scott, see: “Panels From Art Institute Are to Be Placed in School of the Suburb,” Chicago Evening Post, 8/17/1907. The murals were officially dedicated on October 24, 1907, an event which invited the four student artists, including Scott, see: Chicago Evening Post, 10/24/1907. The Highland Park mural was likely The Canterbury Pilgrims. Chicago Record-Herald, 7/26/1909 in Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, vol. 25, p.73. This corrects previous mention of works in Washington, DC, in “Echoes of the Past: Artists’ Biographies,” A Shared Heritage: Art by Four African Americans, (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1996), p.160. See also Chicago Evening Post, 9/1/1908 which discusses a mural by Frederick Milton Grant in an Evanston School upon which Scott assisted. Scott also completed murals for the Lincoln School in Evanston entitled Murals, Fort Dearborn, Trading With the Indians and The Fur Gatherers, see: Chicago Evening Post, 6/20/1908.
“Canvases Are Being Prepared in the Local Institute Under the Direction of Two Well-Know Chicago Artists,” Chicago Evening Post, 5/15/1907. This is almost certainly the mural work referred to in several biographies of Scott’s work. See also: Chicago Record-Herald, 6/16/1907 in Art Institute of Chicago scrapbooks, vol. 23.
William E. Scott student records, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, June 1908.
William E. Scott student records, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, June 1909.
Chicago Evening Post, 6/18/1909.
Chicago Evening Post, 6/19/1909. The other contributors to the mural were Margaret Hittle: “The Steelworkers”; Gordon Stevenson: “The Steel Workers” and Dorothy Loeb: “Primitive Bronze Workers”.
Op. cit., Chicago Record-Herald, 7/26/1909.
William M. R. French letters, 6/28/1909, Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago, p.442.
“Colored Man Will Study Art Abroad,” Indianapolis News, 7/25/1909, p.32.
Chicago Record-Herald, 7/26/1909 in Art Institute of Chicago Scrapbooks, vol. 25, p.73.
Lucile E. Morehouse, “New Interest Develops in Work of William Edouard Scott,” Indianapolis Star, 5/2/1943, p.19.
William E. Taylor, “William Edouard Scott: Indianapolis Painter,” Black News And Notes, Vol. 33, August 1988, p.4.
Op. cit., Indianapolis News, 12/9/1911, p.2.
“Battle For Success. Colored Men Who Contributed to New Y. M. C. A. Fund Tell of Early Struggles,” Chicago Daily News, 2/4/1911.
Op. cit., Chicago Daily News, 2/4/1911.
Lucille E. Morehouse, “Colored Artist Home From Study in France,” Indianapolis News, 4/16/1914, p.14.
Lucille E. Morehouse, “New Interest Develops In work of William Edouard Scott,” Indianapolis Star, 5/2/1943, p.19.
“Colored Artist Home From Study in Paris,” Indianapolis Star, 11/14/1912, p.13. The artist was a good sized man who had been an excellent boxer in school. One day he was sitting on a low stool painting in a deserted part of Etaples when he was approached by a fisherman who seemed to be set for trouble. Scott paid no attention at first. The fisherman continued to advance, looking as if he wanted to fight. Scott slowly rose from the stool, and to the fisherman’s surprise, towered over him. The fisherman dropped his fish, yelled “It’s Jack Johnson!” and ran off in great haste. He had mistaken Scott for the well known American black boxer, see: op. cit., Indianapolis News, 12/9/1911, p.2. It is a bit unclear, from op. cit., Morehouse, Indianapolis News, 4/16/1914, p.14, if he also took up residence for a time in Paris.
Francis C. Holbrook, “William Edouard Scott, Painter,” Southern Workman, Vol. 52, February 1924, p.74 and “Men of the Month,” The Crisis, March 1913, p.224.
Exhibition catalogue, Exposition Annuelle Des Beaux-Arts, Societe Des Artistes Francis, Reconnue D’Utiite Publique, 1912, p.149. Collection of Joan Wallace-Dawkins, Ph.D. (Wallace-Dawkins archives).
No confirmation of this could be located.
Op. cit., Holbrook, Southern Workman, February 1924, p.74. For further reference see: Letter to Scott from C. Lucet, 7/2/1912, translated by Dr. Sue A. Namias, Wallace-Dawkins archives. The information about payment received by Scott for the painting had been reported in U.S. dollar amounts. In fact, the amount was paid in francs which leads this writer to believe that the amounts of money in relation to Scott’s activities in France should have been reported in franc amounts.
“Artist of Indian and Negro Extraction Attracts Attention With His Pictures,” Indianapolis Star, 11/17/1912, p.8.
Op. cit., Indianapolis Star, 11/14/1912, p.13. A Wet Night at Etaples, is almost certainly the painting donated to the Herron School of Art Collection in 1913, the title changed to Rainy Night at Etaples. Some sources as early as 1924, maintain the date of donation as 1918, which is in error. See: Annual Report, (Indianapolis: Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, John Herron Art Institute, 1913). Indiana University – Purdue University archives, Indianapolis.
“Mural Painting Dedicated,” Indianapolis Star, 2/8/1913, p.7.
Florence Webster Long, “Wall Decoration Used In School,” Indianapolis Star, 3/9/1913, p.10.
The League was a group of artists and women’s clubs who sought to promote art in Chicago.
Catherine Fehrer, “List of Students Enrolled at the Julian Academy,” The Julian Academy Paris 1868-1939, (New York: Shepherd Gallery, spring 1989), n.p.
H. Barbara Weinberg, The Lure of Paris, Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers, (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991), p.227.
Exhibition Catalogue, Societe Artistique De Picardie Le Touquet, (Paris-Plage, 1913), Archives of American Art, Washington D. C.
Op. cit., Morehouse, Indianapolis News, 4/16/1914, p.14. Although a number of publications have indicated his work Silver Sun at Boulognewas (location unknown) was exhibited in 1914 at the Royal Academy, a check of Royal Academy Exhibitors 1905-1970: A Dictionary of Artists and Their Work in the Summer Exhibitions of the Royal Academy, (London: E. P. Publishing, Ltd., 1981), p.465 shows no exhibited work by Scott. Further communication with Adam Waterton, archivist, confirms his work was not a regular entry, but may have made it in after the show was hung and space was available for those works which had been judged “made doubtful” by the jury.
Op. cit., Morehouse, Indianapolis News, 4/16/1914, p.14.
Lucile Morehouse, “Works of William E. Scott, Colored Artist, Show Unusual Development,” Indianapolis Star, 5/5/1914, p.37.
“Local Artist Sells Prize Pictures,” Indianapolis Recorder, 9/19/1914, p.2.
Op. cit., Indianapolis Recorder, 9/19/1914, p.2.
“State Fair Fine Art Awards Show High Standard of Indiana Exhibits,” Indianapolis Star, 9/12/1914, p.3.
“Colored Artist to Study Negro,” Indianapolis Star, 1/16/1915, p.2.
Lloyd H. Wilkins, “Little Known Murals in City Among Finest Art Works in State,” Indianapolis Sunday Star, 1/7/1940, part 5, p.1. See also: “Decorates Burdsal City Hospital Wing,” Indianapolis Star, 10/31/1915.
Thurman B. Rice, M.D., “History Of the Medical Campus,” Chapter 22, Monthly Bulletin, Indiana State Board of Health, October 1948, p.236. Wishard Memorial Hospital archives, Indianapolis, Indiana.
Della Hardman Brown, “William Edouard Scott Remembered: Lessons From a Remarkable Life,” Ph. D. dissertation, Kent State University, Graduate School of Education, 1994, p.169.
Rena Tucker Kohlman, “Tomorrow Last Day of Indiana Art Exhibition,” Indianapolis News, 4/15/1916, n.p., Indianapolis Museum of Art Library scrapbook. Scott continued sending work to Indianapolis and was included in the annual exhibit the next year as well.
“Colored Artist’s Gift to the Colored Y.M.C.A.,” Indianapolis News, 4/12/1917, p.5.
Catalogue of the Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Art Association of Lafayette, Indiana, (Lafayette: Art Association, 1917). Tippecanoe Historical Association, Lafayette.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909 and published a monthly magazine, Crisis. The National Urban League was founded in 1910 and published a similar monthly magazine, Opportunity. These publications often commissioned Black artists to produce paintings which were reproduced on their covers. Scott began to establish a reputation as an illustrator when in 1918, he created covers for the April (Lead Kindly Light), November (At Bay) and December (Flight into Egypt) issues of the magazine of the Crisis.[i] The November cover was particularly compelling as it honored America’s Black soldiers. He also began to seek portrait commissions. “An Art Treasure at Home,” was the title for an advertisement in the March, 1919, Crisis in which Scott offered his services. The cost of a portrait ranged from twenty-five to one hundred dollars according to size:
“Send your photograph of yourself or your son or your brother who is ‘over there’ and he will paint a beautiful portrait of him; one that will retain color for one hundred years.”[ii]
Although national recognition of African American artist by the press was a few years away, the first group exhibition of art by Black Americans opened at the 135th street library in New York in late 1921. The critic viewed the exhibition of thirty-eight artists and evaluated the quality of skill as “more or less talented.” The reviewer spent most of the column discussing which of the artists were producing a “Negro” art and asking the question, “What does one expect to find in such an exhibition of Negro art?” The critic went on to state:
“But it is only in the cover-illustration by William H. Scott (sic). who is already well-known for his mural decorations and in the photographs by Professor Battey of Tuskegee Institute, that the Negro artist as such is revealed in any marked degree. Mr. Scott, who has studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the Julien [sic] Academy, has turned to the South for many of his models and subjects, and it is sometimes said that he is doing for the Negro race in painting what Paul Lawrence Dunbar did for it in verse.”[iii]
Scott eloped with Ester Faulks of Charleston, West Virginia on March 15, 1922.[iv] They were married in Wheaton, Illinois.[v] Later in the year they re-enacted the marriage ceremony in a Chicago church filled with their family members and friends. This union established a leveling of the artist’s life. Although noted for his artwork and his knowledge about the Black artist’s world, Scott was a person who liked his solitude. He belonged and participated in various art groups, but what he most enjoyed were lone walks around the ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. He enjoyed the atmosphere while talking with the people and showing an appreciation for the local cuisine. While Scott did not entertain, his wife often invited friends to their home. Ester’s social activities presented Scott an opportunity to display another one of his many talents; he was a gourmet cook. At times he presented lobster tail split in the shell and radishes cut into the shape of roses to his wife’s bridge party table.[vi]
During the teens and early 1920s, Scott must have been extremely busy with mural commissions and portraiture.[vii] The only time he exhibited at the Annual Exhibition of Works By Chicago Artists at the Art Institute had been in January 1911.[viii] Scott had ample opportunity to exhibit works from his easel.[ix] His work would have been readily accepted by the juries as a student of the Institute, his studies in France and his conservative style. We must conclude, since the exhibitions were the life blood of almost all artists in Chicago, his mural and other commissions took all his time. In 1922, he completed a mural for the First National Bank of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The next year he completed a mural for the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago. In 1924, he executed a mural at the Illinois National Bank in Edwardsville and in June, completed a cover illustration for the monthly magazine Opportunity, depicting a young Black boy going fishing.[x] At the end of the decade in 1929, his mural of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Trading with Indians, Jean Baptiste de Saible, was unveiled at the John D. Shoop School, on Chicago’s South Side.[xi]
The first Hoosier Salon exhibition was held at Marshall Field & Company galleries in Chicago. Instituted in 1925, by the Daughters of Indiana, the Earlham Alumni Association of Chicago and members of the Indiana Society of Chicago, the purpose of the exhibition was to show how art had grown during the past twenty-five years in the State of Indiana. In 1926, Scott’s first painting gained admittance by the jury and he was successful with two works in the 1927 exhibition and one painting in the 1928 exhibition.[xii] His 1928 entry was particularly important as it was a view of the Wrigley building on Michigan Avenue:
“The time represents about 5 o’clock in the evening, a few lights just showing in various windows of the two buildings which almost fireflies, in an opague [sic] silhouetted background. The scene is from Wacker drive, between Wabash and Michigan Aves., looking across the river, and was painted on a murky thawing, sloppy day. The entire sidewalk in the foreground, being covered with melted snow, reflects vividly, though grotesquely, the Wrigley tower in the distance.[xiii]
The Chicago Woman’s Club, founded in 1876, sought to make improvements in public education, prison reform and World War I relief. In 1927, in an attempt to improve race relations, it initiated an art exhibition to create a bridge between the races. The Negro In Art Week, Exhibition Of Primitive African Sculpture, Modern Paintings, Sculpture Drawings, Applied Arts And Books was held at the Art Institute of Chicago from November 16 to December 1, and consisted of both contemporary African American art (forty paintings plus sculpture, drawing and decorative art) and the Blondiau Collection of African art from the Belgian Congo.[xiv]
Charles Clarence Dawson (1889-1982), William McKnight Farrow (1885-1967) and Scott orchestrated the first criteria for works of art to gain entrance into the show, specifying the works must “conform as near as possible to standards set by regular art museums exhibitions and exhibition galleries.”[xv] Scott displayed seven paintings in the exhibition and his Vacation Time, Kenneth and Curtis Washington (location unknown), was reproduced in the catalog. The Negro in Art Week catalog listed a second corresponding exhibit at the Woman’s Club from November 16 to November 23. This exhibition consisted of works by thirteen artists, some in the applied arts, including five works by Scott.
An awareness of the African American artist on a national scale began with the advent of the Harlem or Negro Renaissance period of the 1920s. A very important part of the Renaissance was the Harmon Foundation formed in 1922, under the guidance of philanthropist William E Harmon with the purpose of “encouraging and stimulating individuals to self-help.” In 1926, Dr. George E. Hayes, leader of the Commission on Race Relation of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, was selected by the Harmon group to administer the Awards for Distinguished Achievement Among Negroes. This was the only division of the Foundation which included work of the fine arts. First Place artists received a gold medal and $400. Second place artists were awarded $100 and a bronze medal.[xvi]
In 1927, forty-one Black artists submitted applications for the award. Included were four works by Scott.[xvii] The gold medal was awarded Laura Wheeler Waring and the bronze went to John W. Hardick. The judges awarded Scott special recognition by the Harmon Foundation and a gold medal for distinctive achievement in fine art which was presented in a ceremony at Olivet Baptist church in Chicago.[xviii] Scott received the award letter dated January 6, 1928, at his apartment in Chicago, it read:
“It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the judges of the William E. Harmon Awards for Distinguished Achievement among Negroes voted you a special award in Fine Arts consisting of a gold medal. The judges stated that this was done because of the high character and excellence of your work. They regarded you as a finished artist who has had excellent training and years of practice, and so far matured in your work as to be beyond the purpose of the awards. They wished, however, to accord with you the distinction and recognition which a special medial of the Harmon Foundation gives.
“This Award will be presented to you on February 12, 1928 - Lincoln’s Birthday - at a public meeting in your home city. You will receive full information about this presentation ceremony later.
“We have sent an official statement to the newspapers about this and the other Awards for publication on January 9. We request especially, therefore, that the matter be kept strictly confidential until after that date. After our public announcement, should you have any requests for information for publication in your local newspapers, please limit your information to facts about your own life and work, and refer to me inquiries about the awards other than the facts published in our official bulletin, copy of which is enclosed.
“On behalf of the Harmon Foundation and the Commission on the Church and Race Relations, I congratulate you heartily upon the achievement you have already made and sincerely trust that this public recognition may encourage you to greater efforts and may stimulate others.”[xix]
The Harmon Foundation Committee felt the special recognition area that was bestowed upon Scott met all of the Foundation’s award criteria. Scott’s sentiments toward the award decision, however, were reflected in his response to Dr. Haynes, secretary of the Harmon Award Foundation, dated January 17, 1928:
“Your letter of January 6th at hand and I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Harmon Award Foundation through you for their kind consideration in awarding me the special gold medal. I assure you that it will be highly appreciated and greatly cherished.
“Mr. Haynes, I have read and reread your letter a number of times and it is utterly impossible for me to understand the jury’s point of view. You state that I was considered ineligible for the cash prizes. Of course, if I had known that I would not have competed. It is true that I have had training and experience, but I am as far from my ideal as the most modest exhibitor is from his. There is no such thing as a finished artist. If he is alive, his ideals are advanced and he slaves to progress and advance to make the world better for his having contributed toward its cultural development.
“I hope that you will not consider me ungrateful, but I am truly at a loss to understand the point. If it is because I have had too much training, I remember that Mr. Clarence C. White returned from Europe only a month or two before I did and Mrs. Waring has also studied abroad. If it is because I have apparently made money at mural painting, let me tell you, confidentially, the positive truth: I painted eleven portraits (30” x 40”) for thirty-five dollars each last year and have been compelled to paint signs and campaign banners to keep body and soul together between mural decoration commissions. Then I read on your list, Mr. Anthony Overton as having received the first award in business. He is rated as a millionaire in Dunn and Bradstreet and still he is not considered beyond the purpose of the award and receives cash prize also - a banker given four hundred dollars and an artist considered beyond the need of it.
“Therefore, Mr. Haynes, I am writing to ask that you interpret the viewpoint of the judges and to enlighten me as to my position in the general aspect of the awards.[xx]
We see from his letter that the period of the late 1920s was difficult for him financially. Up until this point he had not exhibited paintings from his easel (between 1914 and 1925) and by then painted more portraits and “campaign banners” pointing to a drop-off in the mural work which had kept him so busy during the years before 1925. In 1927, his works were included in Primitive African Sculpture and Modern Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute as well as the Annual Exhibition of Artists of Chicago & Vicinity.
The Chicago Art League for Black artists had been founded in 1921, and Scott became the first president. He exhibited in 1928, winning the Frederick Magnus Brand Prize, named after the same Brand who had supported the prize Scott won as a student at the Art Institute. He won both the Jesse Binga and Eames McVeagh prizes at the league’s 1931 annual exhibition.[xxi]
The Inter-racial Committee of San Diego in cooperation with the Fine Arts Society sponsored the Second Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Negro Art. The exhibit was held from October 17 to November 15, 1929, at the Fine arts Gallery at Balboa Park. Scott had been asked by the committee to assemble works of art by Black American artists from the Eastern United States. The works were collected from artists in New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Tanner who was in Etaples France. The purpose of the exhibition, was stated in the exhibition catalogue: “To create wider interest in the work of the Negro artist as a contribution to American culture; to stimulate him to aim for the highest standards of achievement.”[xxii] His striking painting High-powered Salesman, Hollowe’en (The Maker of Goblins, Williams American Art Galleries), was reproduced in the San Diego Union.[xxiii]
The Senate Avenue Y.M.C.A. Education Department in Indianapolis held an exhibition of thirteen professional and seven student artists from April 20-30, 1930. Featured in the exhibit were three artists with Indianapolis ties, John Wesley Hardick, Hale A. Woodruff and Scott who displayed two paintings which were described by a critic in an Indianapolis newspaper:
“One, a three-paneled mural design, ‘Desert Scene,’ is an imaginative poetic landscape. The other is a humorous bit of realism that sparkles with fun and the sheer joy of living. In ‘The Maker of Goblins,’ Mr. Scott pictures a down-South little black boy, seated on the back steps of his cabin home and carving jack-o-lanterns from a big yellow pumpkin.”[xxiv]
Scott was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1931, at which time he closed his studio at 5812 Michigan Avenue and sent his wife and three month old baby to Mrs. Scott’s childhood home in Charleston, West Virginia, while he was away in Haiti.[xxv]
He was able to obtain an apartment on the top floor of the Hotel Excelsior on the Champ-De-Mars. This location was attractive with its favorable lighting which Scott found agreeable as he documented what he saw around him.[xxvi] His exhibition in November, 1931, was reviewed to critical acclaim in Haiti. Critics related that he had traveled throughout the country painting scenes with his “rich palette.” Critic Charles F. Pressoir, found a number of Scott’s works to be unique in his interpretation of the Haitian peasant life. His comments included phraseology such as, “strikingly harmonious,” and “full of color,” or “The powerful painter… has understood our Haiti with all his soul.”[xxvii]
During his stay, at least twenty-seven of his paintings were sold including twelve purchased by the Haitian president Stenio Vincent. Scott’s exhibition of local scenes and people demonstrated to Haitian artists they had subject matter aplenty. Later it could be seen that Haitian genre produced by many artists from the Center d’Art School, founded in 1944, was similar in subject matter Scott had earlier chosen to depict. Scott’s work has been attributed to greatly influencing the direction of art by the youth who were the predecessors of the Haitian Art Movement.[xxviii]
In July 1936, Scott received a letter and parcel from Charles B. Vincent, counsul general of Haiti, in the name of Yrech Chatelain, minister of foreign affairs. Scott was the recipient of a fully engraved certificate bearing the coat of arms of Haiti and the seal and signature of President Stenio Vincent who had awarded him the highest honor to be achieved, “Honneur et Merite,” equivalent to the French Legion of Honor.
When Scott returned from Haiti, America was still in the Great Depression. Congress approved public help programs including the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). Scott began work as a PWAP artist on December 27, 1933. He was required to begin preliminary sketches for a work with the theme “The American Scene,” and his first sketches for his project were due to be shown to the PWAP office on January 2, 1934.[xxix] His mural Abraham Lincoln and His Son was completed for the Cook County Juvenile Court and he finished religious murals at St. Paul’s A. M. E. Church in Glencoe, a suburb north of Chicago. By 1935, he was painting murals as part of the newly formed Federal Art Project for the Chicago Park District field houses as well as working in the easel painting division.[xxx]
Dr. Maurice E. Herbert, an Indianapolis resident, commissioned Scott to paint a mural at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, depicting the history of the school. The mural was completed in 1938, and installed in a newly built building. The president of the school, John J Mullowny, unveiled the mural in a ceremony at the building. The multi-illustrative concept was considered an excellent visual history for the hopes of the medical founders of the school.[xxxi]
Under a program to inspire artwork among Negro schools of West Virginia, Scott was invited to the state in November, 1938, to collaborate with high schools and colleges, under the direction of the Division of Negro Schools, State Department of Education. He toured these schools while encouraging and stimulating art among the students.[xxxii] Dr. Della Hardman was a student at Garnet High School in Charleston, West Virginia, on the day Scott delivered a demonstration to the entire student body. She remembered him as:
“a tall, handsome mulatto gentleman who presented a spectacle unlike anything or anyone ever seen in the area. A dark beret, topping rather long almost completely straight hair, a goatee in the form of a ‘van dyke’, and an artist’s smock with full long sleeves, completed the unusual attire.”[xxxiii]
In 1940, Scott created the murals decorating the Tanner Art Gallery for the American Negro Exposition at the Coliseum in Chicago, celebrating seventy-five years of progress since the Emancipation. He spent three months working sixteen hours a day on twenty-four murals depicting important events involving African Americans over the past seventy-five years.[xxxiv] Included in the Exposition was The Art of the American Negro 1885 to 1940. The national committee on art was chaired by Alain Locke. Among the committee members selected: from New York were, sculptor, Richmond Barthe, cartoonist and illustrator Elmer Sims Campbell; from Chicago, painters William Edouard Scott and Archibald J. Motley, Jr.; Washington, DC, painters James V. Herring and James A. Porter and Atlanta painter, Hale Woodruff.[xxxv]
Later in 1940, the South Side Community Art Center was established by the federally sponsored Illinois Art Project to foster a “Negro” art. They held fairly regular exhibitions and Scott participated in at least one in 1941.[xxxvi] Black arts were progressing across the East and in 1942, Hale Woodruff initiated an annual exhibition under the umbrella of Atlanta University. The show attracted the major Black American artists in the United States; the second year, Scott’s work was among forty-six oil paintings shown. The importance of these exhibitions was in the cash awards for outstanding work and purchase prizes which formed the foundation of the permanent collection of Black artists at Atlanta University.[xxxvii]
Fort Huachuca was a place in the 1940s for the training of the Black males entering the military. Sensing the soldiers would greatly appreciated a facility for recreation and relaxation along with the rigors of training, a group of Black businessmen donated approximately $80,000 for a new structure. The post commander decided to decorate the interior with original artwork. Scott said he was commissioned to paint eight ten-foot murals for the recreation center. A newspaper article described the installed works:[xxxviii]
“The back bar is made up of seven eye-arresting murals, bearing the theme of ‘New Peace with Victory.’ Encased in frames of Bamboo and with indirect lighting, bringing out every minute detail, the efficaciousness of the artist, William E. Scott of Chicago Ill., is indisputable.[xxxix]
The work, New Peace With Victory, was a little over four feet tall by about nine feet wide. Among other details, Miss Victory is shown draped in a robe, carrying an olive branch in her left hand and a torch high above her head in the right hand. A second mural was entitled America’s Army, about five and a half feet by four feet, featuring a giant Uncle Sam figure, rolling up his sleeves, rising up in the background, his figure framed by a cloud-littered sky.
In 1942, the Section of Fine Arts, Public Building Administration, Federal Works Agency in Washington, DC, announced a competition for seven mural paintings depicting the Negro’s contribution to life in America. The murals were to carry a total award of $5,600 and would decorate the Public Lobby and Library of the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington. Each of the seven murals was to illustrate a heroic act or deed performed by a Negro during the past two hundred years. The competition was open to all American artists and submitted designs could cover one or all of the murals. The paintings would be judged anonymously at the Section of Fine Arts by a jury of artists. This competition received an astounding 360 entries. Scott’s winning mural depicted Frederick Douglas appealing to President Lincoln and his cabinet to enlist Negro soldiers in the Civil War.[xl] The Commission was not only impressed by Scott’s mural design but also his insight and advice on how to alter other artist’s compositions to benefit the space reserved for the paintings. Because of this involvement, Scott received a commission to produce a mural painting depicting portraits of twenty-five government officials. A letter dated June 26, 1943, from the Board of Commissioners read:
“The Commissioners of the District of Columbia direct me to inform you that you have been commissioned to execute the easel painting, ‘Ground - Breaking Ceremony’ for the Office of the Recorder of Deeds, Washington, D.C.
The compensation for your services will be $500.00. A form of agreement covering your services will be prepared by the Chairman, Contract Board, D.C., and forwarded to you for execution.[xli]
The Albany Institute of History and Art, held an exhibition of thirty-eight works from Black American artists. The exhibit entitled The Negro Artist Comes of Age, ran from January 3, through February 11, 1945. Part of the purpose of the exhibition as stated in the catalog was:
We believe the group should no longer be judged by special standards as a group, but as individuals among the greater body of creative artists of our country.
Scott had two paintings accepted for the exhibition. A photograph of Scott working on a mural as well as a reproduction of The Lord Will Provide (location unknown), were included in the printed catalog.[xlii]
In fall, 1946, Scott was commissioned to illustrate the birthplace of Madame C. J. Walker, a Black businesswoman who was the country’s first self-made female millionaire. On November 3, 1946, Scott wrote a letter describing the work:
“One oil painting in full color on canvas of ‘Cabin at Delta, La.’ Birthplace of Mme. Walker. Size of painting 30” x 42.”… All details depicting the dilapidation of the building and its surrounding will be carefully worked out with the possible insertion of a chicken, a razor back hog, or yoke of skinny oxen in the background.
In the foreground will be the figure of a poorly dressed girl (about 13) smoothing the hair of a rag-doll. The face of the figure will be one that is easy to recognize as Mme. Walker in her youth.”[xliii]
Dr. William Weier Stuart, an Indianapolis dentist, was one of Scott’s patrons during his early years as a professional artist. The Stuarts and Scotts became very friendly and Scott became almost like another son to Dr. Stuart. When the family decided to enter the mortuary business, Scott offered to paint murals for their offices and viewing rooms. He executed six religious scenes in 1948 in time for the mortuary opening. Finished in his Chicago studio, Scott secured them to the top of his automobile, drove to Indianapolis and installed them. Some of the figures in the murals were members of the Stuart family. In addition to the murals, Scott completed a portrait of Mrs. William Stuart, a life-sized portrait of Dr. Stuart with his dog and gave the family one of his Haitian paintings from 1931.[xliv]
Beginning June 9, 1949, and ending August 17, 1949, Scott was artist in residence at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College in Tallahassee, Florida, invited by William H. Gray, Jr., President of the college:
“We would like very much to have you serve at Florida Agriculture and Mechanical College as visiting professor of art. We would be able to pay you at the rate of $100.00 a week for a ten week period, covering our summer school term.”[xlv]
During this period he taught art classes, gave lectures and demonstrations and completed a number of works for the college. These projects included an oil mural planning sketch, two pencil drawings for the plaque “Teacher of the Year,” oil sketch for mural in the teacher’s lounge of Dr. Gray, a portrait of Mr. Gurney, a four by six foot mural for Lucy Moten School and a portrait of Mr. Lee’s daughter. Because of a lack of funds, Scott’s plans to paint portraits of the school board could not be completed.[xlvi]
In 1940, Scott’s family had traveled to Mexico on vacation but he could not join them due to his work load. It was fifteen years later in 1955, he arrived there at the age of seventy, to observe many of the great Mexican mural paintings and to complete some of his own work with fresh subject matter. Unfortunately, the trip was shorter than he planned as he was forced to return to Chicago due to illness; he was diagnosed with diabetes.[xlvii]
Indianapolis and Chicago gave William Edouard Scott his artistic spark, but it was France that engulfed him in the artistic flame which warmed everyone coming in contact with him and his works. With these overpowering paintings, his kindness and artistic skills, this giant of a man left behind a legacy for all. Due to his diabetes, Scott had a leg amputated in 1957 at the age of 73. The operation did not stop him from producing work and he continued to lecture. “I have always painted with my hands, not my feet.”[xlviii] A few years after that, his second leg was amputated. William Edouard Scott died May 16, 1964. He was eighty.
One of the greatest compliments given his work was in 1913. The “Colored citizens” of Indianapolis came together and purchased his work painted in France, Rainy Night Etaples, and presented it to the Herron Art Institute making it the first work by an African American to become part of the permanent collection.[xlix]
In the foreword of a 1970 exhibition catalogue entitled, William Edouard Scott: An artist of the Negro Renaissance, from Beloit College, Scott was aptly characterized as:
“A painter who came out of the American tradition of Eakins and Homer, Scott nevertheless often devoted his skills to express his pride and dignity as a Negro. His pride and self-identification were as great as that of any contemporary Black absorbed into the mainstream and might have built a personal reputation; he chose, however, to commit himself to the establishment of pride, dignity and self-realization for all Negroes. He strove to stir the Black community from resignation to awareness.”[l]
In the years between 1914 and 1930, Scott could well be considered the second most important Black artist, after Henry Ossawa Tanner. His outstanding ability as a painter was described in French newspapers while he was studying in that country. Scott was as comfortable painting an impressionistic landscape as he was in creating work which displayed his racial pride. He was one of very few Black professional full-time artists. His success influenced and gave courage to many other Black artists in America and overseas. Although his murals are found in several large cities, many people may not know the name of the artist or that the artist was a Black man. But we characterize him simply as, an outstanding artist.
[i]A painting with the same title by Tanner is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Art.
[ii]Crisis, March 1919, p.253.
[iii]Worth Tuttle, The Freeman, 1/25/1921, p.472.
[iv]Ester was a 1907 graduate of Garnett High School. She taught school while obtaining a college education from several schools. After sitting for the juvenile officer examination and working in temporary care with children, she became a social worker and later head of the Temporary Care Division, Cook County department of Welfare.
[v]Information regarding Scott’s personal life is the result of a personal interview with the artists’ daughter, Wallace-Dawkins, 5/21/1997. Mrs. Dawkins was born on November 8, 1930.
[vi]Op. cit., Wallace-Dawkins, personal interview, 5/21/1997. By their tenth year of marriage, Ester had a job at the Family Court of Cook County. Beginning as a probation officer, she became the first black person to be head of a department. Her profession permitted Scott to continue his work as an artist during difficult periods in the artist’s career.
[vii]Harriet G. Warkel, “Image and Identity: The Art of William E. Scott...,” A Shared Heritage: Art by Four African Americans, (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1996), p.27.
[viii]Later that year he exhibited in an American watercolor exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum.
[ix]There were annual oil painting and watercolor exhibitions.
[x]His work was illustrated in the June, 1925, issue as well. Information from this period of his career was compiled from, Peter J. Roberts, “William Edouard Scott: Some Aspects of His Life and Work,” Honors Paper, Emory University, 1980. Use of this paper in the past as a citation source refers to it as an unpublished thesis. Peter J. Roberts, in a letter dated 6/10/1997 to Harriet G. Warkel curator, Indianapolis Museum of Art, stated that the thesis title attached to his paper is in error, the work was an honors paper to fulfill an honors graduation requirement.
[xi]The work was illustrated in The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 12/31/1929, p.14. The materials for the mural were supplied by the public school art society. Scott donated his time and effort on the mural to the school which was comprised of all Negro children. Kate L. Brewster, “A Correction,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 1/14/1930, p.15.
[xii]Judith Vale Newton and Carol Weiss, A Grand Transition: The Art and Artists of the Hoosier Salon 1925-1990, (Indianapolis: Salon Patrons Association, 1993), p.293.
[xiii]“Scott’s Picture Attracts Crowds At Field’s Salon,” no source, 2/11/1928, n.p., Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.
[xiv]A copy of the catalogue is in the Ryerson Library, Art Institute of Chicago.
[xv]African American Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 1997, p.75, 76-79.
[xvi]Gary A. Reynolds and Beryl J. Wright, Against the Odds: African-American artists and the Harmon Foundation, (Newark: The Newark Museum, 1989), p.29.
[xvii]Op. cit., Roberts, Honors Paper Emory University, 1980.
[xviii]“Present Harmon Awards,” Chicago Defender, 2/18/1928, part 2, p.14. Critic Lena M. McCauley praised Scott’s efforts in her “Point of View,” The Chicago Evening Post Magazine of the Art World, 3/6/1928, p.8.
[xix]Letter from George E. Hayes to Scott, 1927 Harmon Award collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
[xx]Letter from William E. Scott to George E. Haynes, 1927 Harmon Award collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
[xxi]We do not know how early Scott was exhibiting with the League, nor at what date the League began annual exhibitions, as their exhibition records, through extensive searches by the Illinois Historical Art Project, have not been located.
[xxii]Second Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Negro Art, (San Diego: San Diego Fine Arts Association, 1929).
[xxiii]“Racial Art Expression,” San Diego Union, 10/20/1929, San Diego Museum of Art Library archives.
[xxiv]Lucille E.Morehouse, “In The World of Art,” Indianapolis Sunday Star, 4/27/1930, p.10.
[xxv]Letter from William E. Scott to Mabel Brady, 2/17/1931, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
[xxvi]Op. cit., Brown, “William Edouard Scott Remembered…,” Ph. D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1994, p.196.
[xxvii]Charles F.Pressoir, “Exhibition of Work by The Black Painter William E. Scott,” Haiti-Journal, 11/24/1931, p.1; translated by Harriet Warkel, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1999
[xxviii]Op. cit., Brown, “William Edouard Scott Remembered…,” Ph. D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1994, p.196.
[xxix]Letter from Increase Robinson to William E. Scott, 12/23/1933, Wallace-Dawkins archives.
[xxx]George J. Mavigliano and Richard A. Lawson, The Federal Art Project in Illinois 1935-1943, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990), p.133. A recently discovered depression era Chicago mural from the Wabash Avenue Y.M.C.A. was featured in Mary Beth Klatt, “Life Choices: YMCA’s updated housing concept includes rooms with a view beyond the residential,” Chicago Tribune, 7/23/2000, Section 16, pp.1, 4.
[xxxi]“Mural At Meharry,” no source, no date, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.
[xxxii]“Renowned Negro Artist to Come,” The West Virginian, Fairmount, WV, 11/14/1938, n.p., Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.
[xxxiii]Op. cit., Brown “William Edouard Scott Remembered…,” Ph. D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1994, pp.145 ff.
[xxxiv]Paul Healy, “Negro Exhibit Coming to Life in Oil, Colors,” Chicago Sunday Tribune 6/23/1940, part 3, p.3.
[xxxv] American Negro Exposition Official Program and Guide Book 1863-1940, Wallace-Dawkins archives.
[xxxvi]Information courtesy of the Illinois Historical Art Project. Still located on Chicago’s South side in a converted mansion, almost all of the support for the building and organization came from the African-American population of Chicago. Eleanor Roosevelt was the keynote speaker upon the opening of the building.
[xxxvii]“Negro Artists Open Atlanta Exhibition,” New York Times, 4/6/1943, p.18.
[xxxviii]Accounts vary as to whether there were seven or eight murals completed.
[xxxix]“Fort Huachuca Gets Recreation Center,” Sunday Chicago Bee, 3/28/1943, p.6.
[xl]Lucille E. Morehouse, “New Interest Develops In work of William Edouard Scott,” Indianapolis Star, 5/2/1943, p.19. The mural hangs in the Lobby of the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, DC, it is five feet ten inches wide and five feet eight inches high. Although the Federal Agency had a list of twenty-three “Negro” mural painters to whom applications were to be sent, Scott was not one of them. Scott received $650 for his share of the commission.
[xli]Letter from G. M. Thornett to W. Scott, collection of Wallace-Dawkins archives. After researching the sequence by Scott in producing the artwork, this writer discovered the artist never saw President Roosevelt or any of his cabinet in person. He had requested photographs of the President and his cabinet along with the height of each individual. From these photographs and measurements, Scott produced the painting in which the relative height of each individual was correct.
[xlii]The Negro Artist Comes of Age, (Albany, NY: Albany Institute of History and Art, 1945).
[xliii]Unclosed M399 – Walker Collection, box 9, folder 8, Indiana Historical Society Archives.
[xliv]Interview with Mary Kathalyn Stuart-Mance, February, 1994.
[xlv]Letter from Dr. William H. Gray, Jr., President, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College, Tallahassee, FL, May 1949 in: op. cit., Brown, “William Edouard Scott Remembered…,” Ph.D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1994, p.153.
[xlvi]Letter to H. Manning Efferson from Scott, 8/13/19149, Wallace-Dawkins archives.
[xlvii]Op. cit., Brown, “William Edouard Scott Remembered…,” Ph.D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1994, p.153.
[xlviii]“What Ever Became of...,” Chicago Daily News, 7/15/1958.
[xlix]This researcher’s sources, as early as 1924, all indicate the year 1918, as when it donated to John Herron Art Institute. However, The Art Association of Indianapolis, John Herron Art Institute Annual Report 1912-1913, lists “Rainy Day Etaples” under Accessions and a photograph of the painting is included in the report.
[l]Foreword, William Edouard Scott: An artist of the Negro Renaissance, (Beloit, WI: Beloit College, 1970).