Today's Articles

People, Locations, Episodes

Mon, 09.02.1895

Allan Freelon Sr., Impressionist born


*Allan Freelon Sr. was born on this date in 1895. He was a Black artist (Impressionist), educator, and civil rights, activist.   

Allan Randall Freelon Sr was born in Philadelphia to Douglas Freelon and Laura E. (Goodwin) Freelon, a "middle-class family, the oldest of three children.  He attended the South Philadelphia High School for Boys, followed by a four-year scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, now the University of the Arts (Philadelphia), from which he graduated in 1916. From there, he attended the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy, an upper-division Central High School created to prepare men for teaching careers.  

He married Marie J. Cuyjetin in 1918, and they had one child, Allan Randall Freelon Jr. After their divorce, Freelon Sr. married Mary Kouzmanoff.   Following a stint in the Army from 1917 to 1919 as a second lieutenant, he attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in February 1924 with a BS in education.  Following his 1919 graduation from the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy, Freelon became an art teacher in the Philadelphia public school system.

In 1921 he was appointed as assistant director of art education, the first black to be appointed to the district's Department of Superintendence. He studied at the Barnes Foundation (1927 through 1929), followed by private studies with Emile Gruppe, modernist Earl Horter (1881–1940), neo-Impressionist Hugh Breckenridge (1870–1937), and printmaker Dox Thrash (1892–1965). Freelonearnedan MFA in 1943 from Tyler School of Art of Temple University.  

One of his earliest documented exhibitions was the first exhibition of African American art in Harlem, at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, now part of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He later exhibited from 1928 to 1932 and in 1934 with the William E. Harmon Foundation.

Other exhibition venues included the Albright-Knox Gallery (Buffalo, NY), the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), Howard University Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), New Jersey State Museum (Trenton, NJ), Arthur U. Newton Gallery (New York, NY), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), Lincoln University and Lehigh Art Alliance (Lehigh, PA). Freelon was one of seven black artists who participated in the exhibition Art Commentary on Lynching, organized by the NAACP in response to deaths such as that of Claude Neal. The exhibition was held in New York from February 15 to March 2, 1935. Freelon's work, Barbecue American Style, portrays a naked man, tortured and in flames, encircled by spectators' feet. He wrote: “I have not attempted to portray any particular lynching, but merely to record the horror of what has come to be a major sports event.”  

Freelon was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Philadelphia Art Teachers Association, Philadelphia Art Week Association, Artists' Equity, Tra Club, Pyramid Club, Society of New Jersey Artists, North Shore Art Association of Gloucester, Massachusetts, American Federation of Arts, and was the first non-white person elected to the Print Club of Philadelphia. He served as an editor and contributor to the literary and art magazine Black Opals.  From March 2–16, 1941, the Pyramid Club sponsored the first of its annual invitational art exhibits, 20th Century Negro Contemporary Artists and Memorial Paintings of Henry O. Tanner.  Freelon was asked to speak at the inaugural event and discussed the role of the black artist and his influence in current events.  Formed in 1937, the Pyramid Club provided prominent blacks, excluded from most clubs, opportunities to meet and network. 

Coming of artistic age during the time of the "New Negro", Freelon found himself in aesthetic disagreement with fellow Philadelphian Alain LeRoy Locke, who urged African American artists to take up African themes as the source for their art in The New Negro (NY: Boni, 1925). Freelon "vigorously defended the artist's right to freedom of expression," writing in a 1944 review of James A. Porter's book, Modern Negro Art:  In his chapter on the "New Negro" movement, Mr. Porter analyzes that most interesting and fecund period of the late twenties, when opposite schools of thought were attempting to direct the Negro artist into this "African background," or insisting that he be accorded the same freedom of choice as that granted any other artist as regards subject matter and means of expression. The author dispassionately evaluates both theories, and his conclusions are valid and sound. He brands the "African background" theory for what it was: propaganda.  

In 1939 he was named "special assistant to Theodore M. Dilliway, director of art in the Philadelphia public schools. Deeply interested in printmaking, Freelon taught etching and lithography at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1940 to 1946.  In addition to his public-schoolteaching career, Freelon taught classes at the Telford, Pennsylvania, studio he called Windy Crest. Freelon ran for the Pennsylvania state legislature 1949 on the Progressive Party (the United States, 1948) ticket. He lost.  He is best known as a Black Impressionist-style painter during the Harlem Renaissance and as his appointed art supervisor of the Philadelphia School District.  Allan Freelon Sr. died at his art studio in Telford, Pennsylvania, on August 6, 1960.  

Architect Philip Freelon is his grandson.

To be an Artist

New Poem Each Day

Poetry Corner

Mahogany men with massive hands and broad mustaches who outlived wars and married feisty oak-imaged women be tight with money tender of heart and close to me a gallery of... UNCLES by Nikki Finney
Read More