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 Robert L. Neal  (1916 - 1989)

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Lived/Active: Georgia/Ohio      Known for: painting, mural painting

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Ad Code: 4
Robert L. Neal
An example of work by Robert L. Neal
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Foothills Fine Art:
The following is quoted from a 1998 article by Virginia Burroughs in the Dayton Voice:

Another local artist who worked with one of the WPA's most famous artists and who also had ties to the DAI's recent exhibition is the late Robert Neal. Neal, a well-known African-American Dayton painter until his death in 1989, did not live in Dayton when he was involved with the WPA.  A native of Atlanta, he started painting under the guidance of the famous African-American muralist Hale Woodruff - represented in the DAI exhibition - in Atlanta in the 1930's. "He began his studies when he was 15, and his lessons cost 50 cents a day," said Neal's widow, Alberta Smith Neal. "When he was about 18, Mr. Woodruff wanted him to enter a big show, but Bob didn't have the right clothes and couldn't afford to attend the opening. "Mr. Woodruff rented him a limousine and a tuxedo so he could go, and Bob ended up taking first place in the show - his painting was judged to be better than his teacher's (Woodruff).

Neal moved to Dayton in the early 1940's, after the WPA program had ended, but many local artists recall his stories of Woodruff and his own work with the WPA murals.  "Bob was Woodruff's understudy for the Amistad murals at Talladega College in Alabama," said Michael Sampson, local artist and coordinator for public communication at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center at Wilberforce University.  The murals were painted in 1939, just before Neal came to Dayton, and Sampson has a copy of a letter written by Woodruff to his biographers that clearly establishes that "Bob actually did the cartoons (under drawings) for the murals, and he posed for all the hand drawings and some of the figures done in the mural." Photographs of the mural series, titled The Mutiny Aboard the Amistad 1839, were on display in the DAI exhibition, and those who knew Neal could recognize his long expressive hands on the men in the paintings; in addition, many of the figures - and even some of the faces - share the same features of Neal's self-portraits.

In Dayton, Neal continued to paint, and some recall his mural that decorated the Lakeside Grill (now the Crescendo) on Germantown St.  The club is still operating, but the mural has been painted over.  None of the local WPA artists in this article are with us today, and, unfortunately, neither is most of their WPA work.  Undoubtedly, not all of the work produced under the auspices of the WPA could be labeled as "great," but the WPA and the art that it spawned is part of America's - and Dayton's - history, and its goal to integrate art into daily life played an important role in our public art legacy.  It is ironic that, in just half a century, so much work that was intended to preserve local heritage has been destroyed and forgotten by the "future generations" which it was intended to inspire. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from such devastation is that it is imperative to preserve and document public art.  After all, it is our public art that, in part, documents and preserves our times, our history, and our heritage. Copyright 1998 Virginia Burroughs.

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