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John Anansa Thomas Biggers

 (1924 - 2001)
John Anansa Thomas Biggers was active/lived in Virginia, Texas.  John Biggers is known for narrative mural painting-African-American subjects.

Biography  
John Anansa Thomas Biggers


Biography from the Archives of askART

Following are excerpts from The New York Times obituary, January 30, 2001, by Holland Cotter:


John Biggers, a painter, printmaker and sculptor known for his meticulous depictions of African and African-American life, died on Thursday at his home in Houston. He was 76.

The cause was a heart attack, said Carl Ards, Mr. Biggers's brother-in- law.

Mr. Biggers's art, often in the form of public murals, was grounded in the humanistic spirit and social realist narrative style of the 1930's and 40's. Over the years it grew increasingly emblematic, with figures and architectural forms arranged in intricate patterns that suggested quilts, African textiles and modernist geometric abstraction.

Mr. Biggers was born in Gastonia, N.C., in 1924, the youngest of seven children, in a house built by his father, a schoolteacher, farmer and Baptist minister.  In 1941 he enrolled at Hampton Institute, later Hampton University, in Virginia,  He intended to study plumbing, and included a boiler room drawing with his application. But in his first year, he enrolled in a class taught by the influential emigre art educator Viktor Lowenfeld, who became his mentor.

Lowenfeld included Mr. Biggers's mural Dying Soldier in "Young Negro Art," an exhibition of work by Hampton students at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943.  Mr. Biggers also studied at Hampton with Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White, who became his close friends.

After two years in the Navy, he entered Pennsylvania State University, where he earned a master's degree in art education in 1948 and a Ph.D. in 1954.  He also created a series of murals for the University.

In 1949 Mr. Biggers joined the faculty of Texas State University for Negroes in Houston, now Texas Southern University, where he established and was chairman of the art department.

He was awarded first prize in 1950 for his painting The Cradle at the annual exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.  Segregationist policies, however, allowed black visitors into the museum only on Thursdays, so he could not attend the show's opening.  Later he completed many public murals in Houston and elsewhere, including two in 1991 for Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.  Most of his murals are still in place.

In 1957 Mr. Biggers and his wife, Hazel, spent six months traveling in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria and Togo on a Unesco grant to study Western African cultural traditions.  Afterward, African design motifs and scenes of African life became important parts of his work.  He returned to Africa in 1969, 1984 and 1987.

He had one-man exhibitions at the Houston museum (1962), the African-American Cultural Center in Dallas (1978), the California Museum of Afro- American History and Culture in Los Angeles (1983) and Hampton University Museum (1990).  In 1995 the Houston and Hampton museums organized a retrospective, "The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room," that traveled to Boston, Hartford and Raleigh, N.C.

Mr. Biggers retired from Texas Southern University in 1983.  He was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree from Hampton University in 1990.


Biography from William Reaves Fine Art
JOHN THOMAS BIGGERS (1924–2001)

Born in Gastonia, North Carolina, John Biggers studied at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) under Viktor Lowenfeld and muralist Charles White. In 1943, Biggers' mural, Dying Soldier, was included in the exhibition curated by Lowenfeld, Young Negro Art, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

After serving in the United States Navy, Biggers transferred to Pennsylvania State University where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as his doctorate in art education. In 1949, Biggers accepted a faculty position at Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University) in Houston, where he founded and chaired the art department until his retirement. In the early 50s, he won prizes for his work at annual exhibitions held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Dallas Museum of Art.

In 1957, he traveled to Africa on a UNESCO fellowship to study Western African cultural traditions, becoming one of the first black artists to study the culture first-hand rather than through library research. His work was profoundly influenced by his experiences in Africa.

Selected Biographical and Career Highlights

1924 Born in Gastonia, North Carolina
1941–43, 1946 Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
1943–45 Served in U.S. Navy
1948 BA and MA, Art Education, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1948 Married Hazel Hales
1949–83 Professor and Chair, Art Department, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
1954 PhD, Art Education, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1957 UNESCO Fellowship to study culture in Western Africa
1962 Author, Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962
1978 Co-Author (with Carroll Sims and John Edward Weems), Black Art in Houston: The Texas Southern University Experience, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978
1981 Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Contributions as Visual Artist, Houston, TX
1988 Texas Artist of the Year, Art League of Houston, Texas
1990 Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
2001 Died Houston, Texas

Selected Prizes, Awards
Houston Annual: Purchase Prize 1950; Cash Prize 1951, 1955 (March)
1950 Purchase Prize, Cradle, drawing (image on catalogue cover)
1951 Cash Prize, Sleeping Boy, carbon drawing
1955 (March) Cash Prize, Grace, drawing
Atlanta University Annual: Purchase Prize for Prints 1951
1952 Purchase Prize for Prints
1953 Purchase Prize for Prints and Purchase Prize for Sculpture
Southwestern Prints and Drawings: Purchase Prize 1952
1952 Purchase Prize, Sleeping Boy, carbon (image on catalogue cover)
Awards for Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa: Excellence of Design 1963 Chicago Book Clinic, Southern Book Competition; Best Texas Book Design 1963 Dallas Museum of Art
1963 Excellence of Design Award, Chicago Book Clinic, Illinois
1963 Excellence of Design Award, Southern Book Competition
1963 Best Texas Book Design, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
Minnie Stevens-Piper Foundation Professor Award for Outstanding Scholarly and Academic Achievement, 1964

Danforth Foundation E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching, 1968

Award for Achievement, Metropolitan Arts Foundation, Inc., 1988

Van Der Zee Award, Brandywine Graphic Workshop of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1992

Margaret Hawkins Arts Award for 1994, The Links

Selected Exhibitions

1943 Young Negro Art: An Exhibition of the Work of Students at Hampton Institute, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
1944 3rd Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia
1944 Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture by Art Departments of Virginia Colleges, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
1945 Tenth Exhibition of the Work of Virginia Artists, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
1945 Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
1947 Sixth Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia

1950 25th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (purchase prize; image on catalogue cover)
1950 12th Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1951, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Witte Museum, San Antonio; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1950 Ninth Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia (purchase prize for prints)
1951 John Biggers, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1951 26th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (cash prize)
1951 Student-Faculty Art Exhibit of Drawings, Ceramics, Sculpture and Paintings, State Capitol Building, Austin, Texas
1952 5th Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas (purchase prize; image on catalogue cover)
1952 Texas Contemporary Artists, M. Knoedler & Company, New York, New York; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Texas (catalogue)
1952–53 27th–28th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1953 Painting Sculpture Ceramics from Texas Southern University, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas
1953 Twelfth Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia (purchase for prints and purchase prize for sculpture)
1953 1st Annual Dallas National Print Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
1953 Integration: The Use of Painting and Sculpture with Architecture in Daily Life, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas
1954 Paintings and Drawings by John Biggers and James Boynton, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1954, 1955 Architectural League, New York, New York
1955 30th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (cash prize)
1955 31st Annual Exhibition Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
1955 Solo, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1955 Old Master and Modern Drawings, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
1956 Howard University Art Museum, Washington, DC
1958, 1959 Ford Foundation Invitational Art Exhibit, Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, Texas

1961 Life in West Africa, City of Philadelphia Commercial Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1962 Paintings by Dr. John Biggers, Jewish Community Center, Houston, Texas
1962 Drawings from West Africa: Dr. John Biggers, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1962 Solo, Illustrations, Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, Texas
1963 Drawings by John Biggers, Dallas Public Library, Dallas, Texas
1963 Solo, Shreveport Public Schools, Shreveport, Louisiana
1963 Solo, Houston Jewish Community Center, Houston, Texas
1963 Solo, Ceremonies and Visions, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas; traveled by U.S. Information Agency to Africa
1963 Solo, Lubbock Museum of Fine Arts, Lubbock, Texas
1965 Drawings from Seventeen States, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1965 Houston Baptist College, Houston, Texas
1965 Architectural League, New York, New York
1965 Creativity and the Negro, Burpee Center, Rockford College, Rockford, IL
1966 New Art Faculty Exhibition, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
1967 Solo, Huston-Tillotson College, Austin, Texas
1968 Sphere of Art in Texas, University of Texas, Instiute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio, Texas
1968 Benin, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1968 Festival of the African Peoples, Los Angeles, California
1969 John Biggers, Graceland College, Lamoni, Iowa
1969 Twelve Black American Artists, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin

1970 An Exhibition of Black American Art from Times of Slavery to the Present, Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio
1970 First Annual Black Arts Festival: Operation Breadbasket, 2413 Dowling Street, Houston, Texas
1971 Home Folk Africa, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts
1971–72 Texas Painting and Sculpture: The 20th Century, Pollack Galleries, Owen Arts Center, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, traveled to: Witte Confluence Museum, HemisFair Plaza, San Antonio; University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; The Museum, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas (catalogue)
1972 Reflections: The Afro-American Artist, Benton Convention Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1975 The Art of John Biggers, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
1975 Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Golden State Mutual Insurance Company, Exhibition of Afro-American Art Collection, California State Museum of Science and Industry, Los Angeles, California
1976 Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750—1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, traveled to: High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Brooklyn Museum, New York (catalogue)
1976 Bearden, Biggers, Gilliam, Hayes, Stovall, Erwin, Hill, Taylor Art Gallery, North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, North Carolina
1978 The Web of Life in Africa: An Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by John Biggers, African-American Cultural Center, Dallas, Texas
1978 Great Kings of Africa, Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
1978 Seventy-five Years of Art in Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
1979 FIRE! An Exhibition of 100 Artists, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas (catalogue)

1980 Ceremonies and Visions: The Art of John Biggers, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas
1980 Houston Area Exhibition: Recapitulation 1928-1960, Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, Texas (catalogue)
1983 John Biggers: Bridges, California Museum of Afro-American History and Culture, Los Angeles, California
1983 Solo, Boats and Bridges, Sutton’s Black Heritage Gallery, Houston, Texas
1983 Images of Texas, Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, Texas, traveled to: Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi; Amarillo Art Center, Amarillo, Texas (catalogue)
1984 Dr. John T. Biggers, Traditional African Art Gallery, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
1985 Fresh Paint: The Houston School, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, traveled to: Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc. (MoMA PS1), Queens, New York; Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (catalogue)
1985 Oklahoma Art Center, Fair Park, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1985 America at Work: Realism Between the World Wars, Transco Energy, Houston, Texas
1986 Artists Select: Contemporary Perspectives by Afro-American Artists, University Art Museum, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
1987 John Biggers: Patchwork Quilts and Shotguns, Transco Gallery, Transco Energy, Houston, Texas
1987 Selected Prints of John Biggers, 1950 to the Present, Balene, Inc., Houston, Texas
1989 John Biggers: Paintings and Drawings: 1949-1988, Delta Fine Arts Center and Sawtooth Center for Visual Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1989 The Private Eye: Selected Works from Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1989 Black History, Black Vision: The Visionary Image in Texas, Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, Texas (catalogue)
1989 Forerunners and Newcomers: Houston’s Leading African-American Artists, Art Gallery, University of Houston at Clearlake, Texas
1989 Messages from the South, Sewall Art Gallery, Rice University, Houston, Texas
1989 Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art, Curator: Alvia Wardlaw, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, traveled to: High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond

1990 Tradition and Innovation: A Museum Celebration of Texas Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1990 John Biggers: Selected Works, Pyramid Gallery, Little Rock, Arkansas
1990 The Blues Aesthetic: Black Culture and Modernism, Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, Texas
1990 Five Decades: John Biggers and the Hampton University Art Tradition, Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia
1991 Black Heritage, Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, Texas
1991 John Biggers: Mural Sketches, Diggs Gallery, Winston Salem University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1991 Newcomers Revisited: Houston’s African-American Artists in the Lead, Dishman Art Gallery, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas
1992 Alone in a Crowd: Prints of the 1930’s and 1940’s by African-American Artists from the Collection of Reba and Dave Williams, American Federation of Arts, New York, New York
1993 John Biggers: A Cultural Legacy, Retrospective 1950-1992, Whatley Center, Northeast Texas Community College, Mount Pleasant, Texas
1993 John Biggers: Paintings and Drawings, Fayetteville Museum of Art, Fayetteville, North Carolina
1994 The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas
1995 The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, Curator: Alvia Wardlaw, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, traveled to: Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; and North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina (catalogue)
1995 Solo, John Biggers: The Artist’s Eye, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1996 The Murals of John Biggers: American Muralist, African American Artist, Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia
1997 Revisiting American Art: Works from the Collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York
1998 Group exhibition (part of Contemporary Texas Artists: Visuals in Black). Artists’ Loft, Galveston, Texas
1999 Five Decades of Drawings by John Biggers, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1999 The Work of John Biggers, Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville, Florida
1999-2000 Transatlantic Dialogue: Contemporary Art In and Out of Africa, Ackland Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC; DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, Illinois (catalogue)

2000 Blackness in Color: Visual Expressions of the Black Arts Movement (1960 to present), Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
2001 Art of the Masters: A Survey of African American Images, 1980-2000, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, New York
2001 Remembering John Biggers (1924-2001): A Memorial Exhibition, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts
2001 Black Print Masters: Past and Present, UFA Gallery, New York, New York
2002 Portraits of African Americans, Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
2003 Painting History: The Making of the Murals of Charles White and John Biggers, Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia
2003 Beyond the Lines: Prints from the Collection, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2004 A Selection of Art Made in Houston 1950-1965, Brazos Projects, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Texas
2004 Embracing the Muse: Africa and African American Art, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York
2004 African-American Art from the MFAH Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
2005 The Artistic Legacy of John Biggers, Mullins Library, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
2004-05 John Biggers: My America, The 1940s and 1950s—Paintings, Sculpture & Drawings, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana (catalogue)
2006 Building Community: The African American Scene, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York 9catalogue)
2006 Houston Art in Houston Collections: Works from 1900 to 1965, Heritage Society Museum, Houston, Texas
2006 In the Hands of African American Collectors: The Personal Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, California; South Side Community Art Center, Chicago; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach Florida (catalogue)
2007 Body Beware: 18 American Artists, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York (catalogue)
2007 Black Artists on Tour: The African American Aesthetic, Riverside Metropolitan Museum, Riverside, California
2007-08 Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art, Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina; University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, Virginia; Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia
2007-2011 The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper, traveling exhibition: Lake Charles, Louisiana; College of Wooster Art Museum, Ohio; Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania; Vero Beach, Florida; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio; Coral Gables, Florida; Lincoln, Nebraska; and other venues (catalogue, text by Regenia Perry)
2008 Art of the United States, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
2008 Founders of Houston Art: Thirty Artists Who Led the Way, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2008 Scene in America: A Contemporary Look at the Black Male Image, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
2008 Houston Collects: African American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
2009 Collaborations: Two Decades of African American Art: Hearne Fine Art 1988-2008, Pyramid/Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, Arkansas (catalogue)
2009 A Texas Sampler: Vintage Paintings by Thirty Texas Artists, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2009 Distinguished Visions, Timeless Tradition, Arts Council of Fayetteville and Cumberland County, Fayetteville, North Carolina

2010 Water Rites: Rivers, Lakes, and Streams in Texas Art, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2010 Color Vision: African-American Masters from the Permanent Collection, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina
2010 Third Anniversary Show: A Tribute to Houston Artists, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2011 Visions of America: A Black Perspective, ACA Galleries, New York, New York
2011 Portrait of Houston: 1900–2011, Alliance Gallery, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston, Texas (catalogue)
2012 The Power of Art: Generational Wealth, Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, AR
2012 African American Art Since 1959: Perspectives from the David C. Driskell Center, Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland (catalogue)
2012 INSite/INChelsea, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York
2012 Full Spectrum: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (catalogue)
2012 African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond, American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia; Mennello Museum of American Art, Orlando, Florida; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Maryland; Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York (catalogue)
2012-13 Highlights from the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at the University of Alabama, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama
2013 In Conversation: Modern African American Art, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
2014 Houston Founders at City Hall Art Exhibition, City Hall, Houston, Texas
2014 Texas Visions of an Earlier Time: An Exhibition of Historic Texas Art, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2015 Bayou City Chic: Progressive Streams of Modern Art in Houston, Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas (catalogue)

Selected Murals, Illustrations

1942 Dying Soldier created

1946 Dying Soldier and Country Preacher acquired and installed by United Transport Service Employees, CIO, Chicago, Illinois

1946 Night of the Poor, Day of the Harvest, and Sharecropper, Pennsylvania State University

1951 Negro Folkways, Eliza Johnson Home for the Aged, Houston, Texas

1953 The Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education, Blue Triangle YWCA, Houston, Texas

1953 Illustrated Vivian Ayers’s Hawk

1955 The History of Negro Education in Morris County, TexasT, Paul Pewitt Elementary School, Naples, Texas

1956 Illustrated J. Mason Brewer’s Aunt Dicy Tales

1956 Began initial studies for Web of Life mural

1957 History of I.L.A. Local 872, International Longshoreman’s Temple, Houston, Texas

1958 Illustrated J. Mason Brewer’s Dog Ghost and Other Texas Negro Folk Tales

1961 Red Barn Farm, Dowling Veterinary Clinic, Houston, Texas

1962 Web of Life completed, Nabrit Science Hall, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas

1966 Birth from the Sea, W.L.D. Jonson Branch, Houston Public Library, Houston, Texas

1966 Illustrated Lorenz Graham’s I, Momolou and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (Reader’s Digest Edition)

1977 Family Unity, Sterling Student Life Center, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas

1981 The Quilting Party, Music Hall, Houston, Texas

1983 Christia Adair, Christia V. Adair Park, Harris County, Texas

1987 East Texas Patchwork, Paris Public Library, Paris, Texas

1987 Song of the Drinking Gourd, Tom Bass Regional Park, Harris County, Texas

1991 Ascension and Origins, 2 murals, Winston-Salem State University Library, North Carolina

1991 House of the Turtle and Tree House, 2 murals, Harvey Library, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia

1994 Illustrated Maya Angelou’s poem Our Grandmothers

Selected Public Collections

Adept New American Museum, Mt. Vernon, New York
African American Museum, Dallas, Texas
African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas
Brandywine Graphic Workshop, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
California African American Museum, Los Angeles, California
Clark-Atlanta University Art Galleries, Atlanta, Georgia
Collection of the City of Houston, Texas
Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, Los Angeles, California
Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
University of Texas at Austin, Texas
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Known for his narrative murals and outstanding draftsmanship, John Biggers dedicated his work to the depiction of the human condition. Born to Paul and Cora Biggers, John was the youngest of seven children, and grew up in segregated Gastonia, North Carolina. After an early death of his father, his mother sent him away to Lincoln Academy to receive the best education possible. The principal at Lincoln, who had been a missionary in West Africa, instilled in his students a greater understanding of the value of African culture, which Biggers would carry with him throughout his career.

In 1941, Biggers entered Hampton Institute (later renamed Hampton University), where he studied art under the guidance of Viktor Lowenfeld. At Hampton, Biggers also met and befriended artists Charles White and Elizabeth Catlett. In 1943, Biggers' mural, Dying Soldier, was featured in the landmark exhibition Young Negro Art, organized by Lowenfeld for the MoMA. That same year, his studies at Hampton were interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy, Biggers enrolled in 1946 at Pennsylvania State University to continue his studies with Lowenfeld, receiving his BS and MS degrees in 1948 and a Ph.D. in 1954.

In 1949, Biggers moved to Houston, Texas where he chaired the nascent art department at Texas State University (later renamed Texas Southern University), and remained a vital member of the faculty until his retirement in 1983. In the 1950s, Biggers won purchase prizes from the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and from the Dallas Museum of Art, but his victories were marred by both museums' segregationist policies which prevented the young African-American artist from attending the receptions. In 1957, Biggers won a UNESCO fellowship and became among the first black American artists to travel to Africa. His trip to West Africa had a profound impact on his worldview that went even beyond the publication of his award-winning illustrated book Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa (1962).

Over the course of his career, Biggers moved from paintings that were overtly critical of racial and economic injustice to more allegorical compositions. Whether sketching an African woman dancing or painting one of his twenty-seven public murals, Biggers drew inspiration from African art and culture, from the injustices of a segregated United States, from the stoic women of his own family and from the heroism of everyday survival. Biggers' work continually evolved over five decades, and in 1995, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Hampton University Art Museum organized his first comprehensive retrospective, exposing the depth of his rich legacy. In 2004, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery presented the artist's first gallery exhibition and the first opportunity to view in New York City more than a singular work.


Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Known for his narrative murals and outstanding draftsmanship, John Biggers dedicated his work to the depiction of the human condition. Born in Gastonia, North Carolina, he studied at Hampton Institute (1941-1946) - later renamed Hampton University - under Victor Lowenfeld and Charles White.

In 1943, Biggers's mural "Dying Soldier" was featured in the Museum of Modern Art's landmark exhibition "Young Negro Art", organized by Lowenfeld.

After serving in the United States Navy (1943-1945), he enrolled in Pennsylvania State University (where Lowenfeld had relocated), earning a B.S. and M.S. (1948), and Ph.D. (1954). In 1949, Biggers moved to Houston, Texas where he founded and then chaired the art department at Texas Southern University.

In 1950, he was awarded first prize at the annual exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston for his painting, "The Cradle". In 1957, he traveled to Africa on a UNESCO grant to study Western African cultural traditions, becoming one of the first black artists to travel to Africa. This opportunity, which he described as "the most significant in my life's experiences," led to the publication of "Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa" (1961), a book of drawings and text based on his journeys in Ghana, Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

Whether drawing African women dancing or creating one of his twenty-seven public murals, Biggers drew inspiration from his ancestral heritage, African art, Southern black culture, nature, and everyday experiences. Often labeled a social realist for his figurative social commentary of the 1940s, Biggers did work continually evolved over five decades, and in 1995, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Hampton University Art Museum organized his first comprehensive retrospective, exposing the depth of his oeuvre.

John Biggers died in 2001, leaving behind a body of work that, as Maya Angelou stated, "leads us through his expressions into the discovery of ourselves at our most intimate level."

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is the exclusive representative of the Estate of John Biggers.


Biography from RoGallery.com
Often labeled as a Social Realist for his figurative social commentary of the 1940s, James Bigger did work that continually evolved over five decades, and in 1995, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Hampton University Art Museum organized his first comprehensive retrospective exposing the depth of his oeuvre.

John Biggers died in 2001, leaving behind a body of work that, as Maya Angelou said, "leads us through his expressions into the discovery of ourselves at our most intimate level."

Master Artist, Educator, Author, and Mentor, John Biggers (b.1924) has been a major contributor to the evolution of American art and culture as well as the changing consciousness of the African American experience.  With a career spanning 50 years, this prolific artist continues to document the human experience with a rich universal visual language.

In 1957, Biggers was one of the first black American artists to visit Africa, sponsored by a UNESCO fellowship. The landmark painting, Jubilee: Ghana Harvest Festival was created by Biggers between 1959 and 1963 and has come to represent the artistic breakthrough of this period as well as Biggers' profound vision and consummate skill.


Biography from The Johnson Collection
One of the most important African American artists of the twentieth century, John Biggers believed "that self-dignity and racial pride could be consciously approached through art," especially his own social realist murals and late career symbolic paintings. Biggers' parents were dedicated to the education of their seven children born and raised in Gastonia, North Carolina. As a boy, Biggers attended Lincoln Academy, an all-black boarding school in nearby Kings Mountain, where pride in the students' African heritage was stressed. In 1941, he matriculated at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia with the intent of studying plumbing. A first semester course with the Jewish émigré artist-educator Viktor Lowenfeld shifted the course of the young man's life. Lowenfeld became a mentor to Biggers and encouraged him to explore themes of racism, as did fellow teachers Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White. White, Hampton's artist-in-residence, engaged Biggers as a studio assistant while the elder artist executed The Contribution of the Negro to American Democracy. While at Hampton, Biggers also met other prominent African Americans, including Hale Woodruff and the writer-philosopher Alain Locke. Lowenfeld included Biggers' powerful mural, Dying Soldier, in the landmark exhibition Young Negro Art, held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943.

Following two years of service in the United States Navy during World War II, Biggers went on to pursue both a master's (1948) and doctoral (1954) degree at Pennsylvania State University, where Lowenfeld was then teaching. During this period, he refined his artistic mission and style. A technically gifted draughtsman and skilled lithographer, Biggers—working primarily in conté crayon and oil paints—created striking images of unidealized figures coping with poverty and despair. In 1949, Biggers moved to Houston, Texas, where he served as founder and chairman of Texas State (now Texas Southern) University's art department, a post he held until 1983.

In the 1950s, Biggers' social realist emphasis evolved, largely as the result of the artist's travel in Africa. A UNESCO fellowship funded study of West African cultural traditions in 1957 and thereafter African themes were at the center of Biggers' work. Published in 1962, Biggers' book Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa featured eighty-nine drawings and text he hoped would "portray what was intrinsically African." A 1969 Danforth Award funded further travel on that continent.

Following his retirement from teaching, Biggers continued to paint murals and increasingly symbolic abstract works grounded in African heritage and black culture; the latter often included everyday objects such as patchwork quilts, cooking pots, gourds, and the shotgun houses so familiar from his Southern childhood. In 1995, he was the subject of a major one-man traveling exhibition, The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, curated by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, a museum that, in 1950, had not allowed Biggers to attend a reception in honor of his prize-winning entry at the then segregated institution.

Biggers' murals may be seen at several public locations in Houston, as well as Hampton University and Winston-Salem State University. His work is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Mint Museum of Art, and Gibbes Museum of Art, among others.


The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina


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About  John Anansa Thomas Biggers

Born:  1924 - Gastonia, North Carolina
Died:   2001 - Houston, Texas
Known for:  narrative mural painting-African-American subjects

Essays referring to
John Anansa Thomas Biggers


Black American Artists