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Fri, 09.07.1877

May Howard Jackson, Sculptor born

May H. Jackson

On this date in 1877, we celebrate the birth of May Jackson, a Black sculptor.

May Howard was born in Philadelphia, PA., the daughter of Florida Howard and Sallie Durham.  She attended public schools and then entered Todd’s Art School. In 1895, she became the first Black student to receive a scholarship to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied for four years with William Merritt Chase, Charles Grafly, and John Joseph Boyle.  She graduated in 1899 and married William Sherman Jackson, a mathematics teacher.

Jackson did not travel to Europe for further training, unlike many of her peers, and thus remained somewhat isolated. Yet her growth and style freed her from becoming another artist with such influence and thus gave her a style all her own.  In her portrait busts, Jackson went far beyond the realistic traditions of the day and, at first, was not well received.  Her fascination and conveyance of the complex and varied physiognomy of Black people as a result of race-mixing after slavery are strong points in her work.

Some of the many portrait busts she did in her lifetime are Paul Laurence Dunbar 1919, W.E.B. DuBois, Rev. Francis J. Grimke,” Kelly Miller 1929, and W. H. Lewis. Jackson also rendered abstract portraits, such as Head of Negro Child 1929, Mulatto Mother and Her Child 1929, and Shell-Baby in Bronze 1929. In her active years, her exhibitions included the Corcoran Gallery, Washington D. C. 1915; the Veerhoff Gallery, New York City, 1919; and the National Academy of Design, 1916, 1928.

Though she met rebuff in her attempt to exhibit her chosen method of portraying the American mulatto, Jackson accomplished enough to put her firmly in the annals of great American sculptors.  May Jackson died in 1931.

To be an Artist


May Howard Jackson

Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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