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*On this date in 1882, Edwin Harleston was born. He was a Black painter. From Charleston, S.C., Edwin Augustus Harleston was one of eight children, his father was a rice planter, a sea captain, and owned a funeral home.
Harleston received a scholarship to study at the Avery Normal Institute in Charleston and graduated valedictorian in 1900. For four years he attended Atlanta University where he played football and sang in a quartet. In 1905, he relocated to Boston to attend the art school of the Boston Museum of Fine Art. There he studied under William Paxton and Frank Benson until 1913.
The seven year course was formed under the Beaux Arts tradition and formed the foundation of his style. Harleston reluctantly returned to South Carolina to help in his father’s funeral home. It was during this time that he became active in local American Civil Rights and eventually became president of the newly formed Charleston branch of the NAACP. He led an effort that soon forced the public school system to hire Black teachers. In 1920 Harleston married Elise Forrest, a photographer and two years later they opened a studio, which featured both of their works.
Influenced by of much of her work, he developed a highly realistic and academic technique of portraiture; many of his works were commissioned. A few of his subjects were, the president of Atlanta University, philanthropist-Pierre S. Dupont, and the president of the Atlanta Life Insurance Co. Harleston other painting include The Bible Student 1924, and Miss Bailey with the African Shawl 1930.
At the request of Aaron Douglas, he assisted in painting murals for Fisk University that depicted a panoramic view of Black history from slavery onward. This work was completed in 1931 the year that he died. Shortly before his death Edwin Harleston received the Alain Locke Prize for portrait painting for his work The Old Servant at an exhibition of the Harmon foundation.
Edwin Harleston died on May 10, 1931.
The St. James Guide to Black Artist
Edited by Thomas Riggs
Copyright 1997, St. James Press, Detroit, MI