An African-American post-impressionist known for his imaginative use of color in his renderings of the ports of Gloucester, Allan Randall Freelon was born in Philadelphia on 2 September 1895. He studied at the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art, then at the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated with a B.S. in Education. His art teachers were Earle Horter (1881-1940), Emile Gruppe (1896-1978), and Hugh Breckenridge (1870-1937), whose classes in Gloucester attracted Freelon for many summers. The Breckenridge School of Art at Rocky Neck opened in 1920, at which point Breckenridge was turning to abstraction. For instance, his painting The Mills, of 1916, might best be described as neo-impressionistic with its unified surface texture of uniform brushstrokes, while The Lake, painted in the same year, looks forward to his Kandinsky-like abstractions of the 1930s. Meanwhile, his student Freelon received an MFA degree from Temple University.
Breckenridge sought to bring out each student’s inherent talent and did not wish to promote a standardized style. In his Saturday Morning Reviews the artist led an open forum. These were “. . . the occasions when students old and young, colored and white, talented and dilettantes, were forced into tolerance by the all-pervasive enthusiasm of their teacher.” This quote, from the Art Alliance Bulletin (1938), indicates that Freelon was not the only African-American to attend the liberal summer school. Freelon had an assimilationist attitude and he believed that African-American artists would be led astray: “into attempting to create an African art in America. The American Negro has no more actual knowledge of his ‘tribal background’ and ‘jungle ways’ than has the Anglo-American of ancient Druidic Rites. . . his contribution will be evaluated solely on its intrinsic merit. . . .” (Quoted by Reynolds and Wright, 1989).
Freelon largely focused on aesthetic concerns, rendering the effects of light at different times of the day in familiar locations in Gloucester. In Boat at Harbor (1928) and Late Afternoon (1929), both in private collections, the artist used highly saturated pigments throughout, even in the reflections in the water. The resulting effect is more abstract and decorative than illusionistic. One might even say that Freelon had a Fauve sense of bold color – certainly, it was more subjective than objective. Breckenridge would have encouraged such an attitude. Freelon exhibited his works at the Harmon Foundation’s Exhibit of Fine Arts Productions of American Negro Artists between 1928 and 1931, mostly all views of Gloucester, including Gloucester Harbor (The School District of Philadelphia). His Our Lady of Good Voyage (Collection of Allan R. Freelon, Jr.) shows the Portuguese church from a very novel viewpoint: we are elevated somewhere behind the structure, so that we see the harbor and the distant horizon from the perspective of the statue of the Virgin between the twin towers.
Freelon also participated in regional exhibitions and was honored with three one-man shows in 1934, 1935, and 1940. In the 1940s, he made Windy Crest in Telford, Pennsylvania his summer residence. Freelon taught at the Philadelphia Public Schools, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and at the Philadelphia Print Club. He became the first African-American to serve as Assistant Director of Art in the Philadelphia Public School System and was probably the first African-American member of the Gloucester Society of Artists and the North Shore Arts Association. Freelon died in 1960 in Telford, Pennsylvania.
Holbrook, Francis C. “Allan Randall Freelon: Artist-Teacher.” The Southern Workman (April 1924): 225-226; Freelon, Allan Randall. “The Negro in Art.” Philadelphia Independent, 22 December 1935; Idem, “The Negro as Artist.” New Aspects 1 (Spring 1952): 23-26; Locke, Alain. The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artist and the Negro Theme in Art. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1979, pp. 45, 132; Reynolds, Gary A. and Beryl J. Wright, Against All Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation. Newark, NJ: The Newark Museum, 1989, pp. 188-192; Lori Verderame, “The Rediscovery of Allan Randall Freelon.” American Art Review 12 (January-February 2000): 124-127.
Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.
R.H. Love Galleries, Chicago