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Fri, 05.08.1925

LeRoy Foster, Artist born

LeRoy Foster

*LeRoy Foster was born on this date in 1925. He was a Black Gay painting artist.

Foster was born in Detroit and lived there his entire life, except for a brief time when he studied Art in Europe in the 1940s. Foster began drawing at age five or six and was an exceptional art student, recognized by teachers and peers at an early age. "I was nice until I was 12," he recalled, "then all hell broke loose. Demons possessed me, and one way to exorcise those demons was to paint." In 1939, at age 14, he won first prize at the Pen and Palette Club exhibition, a training and studio space for Black artists sponsored by the Detroit Urban League. He was the youngest member.

At the Pen and Palette Club, Foster studied with Hungarian artist Francis de Erdely, who was renowned for his figure drawing skill. He attended Cass Technical High School and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Through the help of his teachers at Cass, he received a scholarship to study at the Society of Arts and Crafts (now the College for Creative Studies), where he studied under painter Sarkis Sarkisian. After that, Foster studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and the Heatherley School of Fine Art in London.

Foster was frank about his sexual persuasion. Several younger artists remember him as a positive role model, and he threw parties at his studio. Also, one of his good friends and patrons was Detroit LGBT activist Ruth Ellis. Foster's art career has been referred to as "Detroit's Own Michelangelo" at the time. He came to be known around the city as an artist with a mastery of human anatomy, an excellent portrait painter, and, perhaps most widely acknowledged, a public muralist committed to African American history and culture. In 1958, Foster helped found, with artists Charles McGee and Henri Umbaji King, the Contemporary Studio on the John C. Lodge Expressway. The popular studio, part of a burgeoning network of local black artists, was the brainchild of the Society of Arts and Crafts alums.

By 1962, the Negro Digest reported that LeRoy Foster had already won four prizes at the annual Michigan Artists Exhibition at the Detroit Art Institute and had sold more than two hundred paintings. In 1968, he was in a traveling exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art alongside other artists such as Ernest G. Alston, sculptor Oscar M. Graves, and Hughie Lee-Smith. 1965, Foster was an Artist-in-Residence at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. In 1972, Foster painted one of his most well-known murals, the 10' x 12' "Life and Times of Frederick Douglass," which was installed the next year in the Frederick Douglass branch of the Detroit Public Library.

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco heavily influenced the mural and features a portrait of Foster himself attending the meeting. Foster went on to paint other prominent murals in Detroit, including "Kaleidoscope," commissioned for the Southwest Detroit Hospital in 1976, and his 18' x 20' "Renaissance City," at Cass Technical High School, made in 1979, which depicts the city rising from the ashes of the 1967 riots. In 1978, Foster made a series of paintings commemorating Paul Robeson's 80th birthday. In 1981, Foster's artwork was included in the "Prominent Black Artists, Past and Present" exhibit at the Karamu House and Renaissance Galleries in Cleveland, Ohio. I

n 1985, "Renaissance City" was vandalized, and only a few months afterward, Foster's home and studio burned down. Friends and fellow artists, spearheaded by Dr. Charles Wright, organized donations and an art auction to support Foster and pay for the restoration of the mural, which was completed in 1986. In 1990, towards the end of Foster's life, Leno Jaxon organized a showing of his work at American Black Artists, Inc. Also in 1990, Foster signed the second-floor beam in the Scarab Club, a longtime institution of Detroit artists. LeRoy Foster died on March 23, 1993.

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