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 William Ellsworth Artis  (1914 - 1977)

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Lived/Active: Nebraska/Minnesota/North Carolina      Known for: ceramics, terra cotta pottery, portrait and elongated figure sculpture, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Washington, North Carolina, William Artis became a prominent Black-American ceramist, sculptor and teacher.  He was best known for a series of terra cotta* and stoneware* heads of black youths, which he created in the 1930s and 1940s such as Head of a Girl, 1933, exhibited at the Harmon Foundation*, and Weariness, 1934, exhibited at the Salon of America* at Radio City Music Hall.  Of these types of work, it was written that they are Art Deco in style and "typically have an introverted impassivity and a spiritual appeal." (James, 23)

In 1933, Artis studied at the Art Students League* in New York City, where he won the Harmon Foundation Prize in 1933. He then served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and after the war, studied on the G.I. Bill at Syracuse University with Ivan Mestrovic, Yugoslavian expatriate sculptor.  Artis earned a B.F.A. from Syracuse University in 1950 and an M.F.A. in 1951, and was a student at the Harlem Community Art Center with Selma Burke and with Augusta Savage at the College of Ceramics at the State University of New York in Alfred from 1946 to 1947. 

In the late 1940s, having focused on realistic figurative sculpture, Artis changed his style and direction significantly by creating elongated abstract figurative forms with special glazes.  He also produced functional ceramic objects such as ceramic tile room dividers, ceramic jars, vases and jugs, which "seemed to reach upward, from stem-like bases to bulbous bodies with conical lids." (James, 23).

From 1954 to 1965, William Artist was an associate professor at Chadron State Teachers College in Chadron, Nebraska, and from 1966 to 1975, was an associate professor at Mankato State College in Mankato, Minnesota.  In 1970, he was named Outstanding Afro-American Educator of America.

Exhibitions include the following: Whitney Museum of American Art; New York City Art Center, 1933; Art Students League, 1933; Salons of America, 1934; Harlem Art Committee, 1935; Texas Centennial, 1936; National Arts Club, New York City, 1940; American Negro Exposition, Chicago, 1940; Syracuse Museum Fine Arts, 1940, 1947-51; Grace Horne Galleries, Boston, 1942; Atlanta University, 1944, 1951; USO Exhibition, New York City, 1944; New York State Museum, Trenton; Albany Institute History and Art; National Portrait Gallery; Walker Art Center; Chadron State College; Pennsylvania State College; IBM; Hetzel Union Building 1956-61; Scripps College, California; Joslyn Art Museum, 1962; Xavier University, 1963; Great Hall, City New York, 1967; Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska , 1969; Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich, Connecticut; Howard University; Goodall Art Gallery, Doane College, Crete, Nebraska ; Fisk University; Johnson Public Co., Chicago; National Sculpture Society; James Art Porter Gallery, 1970.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Theresa Leininger-Miller, William Ellsworth Artis, St. James Guide to Black Artists, p. 23

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William Artis is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Black American Artists

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