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Artist - Charles Henry Alston

Charles Henry Alston

Born in Charlotte, NC, Charles Henry Alston (1907-1977) showed a strong interest in art as early as age five, creating clay sculpture and copying sketches from his older brother’s drawings. After moving to Harlem with his family in 1915, Alston began drawing cartoons and became the art editor for his high school magazine. After graduation with a Master’s from Columbia University, Alston’s career soared. In the 1930s and 40s, he illustrated for magazines such as Fortune, The New Yorker, and Melody Maker and designed album covers and book covers for stars such as Duke Ellington and Langston Hughes. 

In 1935, Alston became the first African-American supervisor to work for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. While there, Alston co-founded the Harlem Artists Guild with fellow artist, Augusta Savage, aiming to increase equality in WPA art programs and fund more black artists. Throughout his career he remained dedicated to teaching and to the cultural enrichment, improved education, and equality in his beloved Harlem community.

Also a talented painter and sculptor, Alston designed murals for Harlem Hospital, Golden State Mutual, and the American Museum of Natural History, and in 1990 his bronze bust of Martin Luther King Jr. became the first image of an African-American to be displayed in the White House.