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FORT WAYNE, IND. (WPTA21)-In the depths of the Great Depression when one fourth of the country was out of work, the U. S. Government under Franklin Roosevelt hired millions of jobless Americans to build roads, state parks, schools and hospitals. Hired ten thousand out of work artists to paint murals and other artwork still seen in post offices and public buildings around the country. And one of the best of those Depression Era artists has paid a visit to 21 Country.

This was a different era,” says curator Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, “and things that I think are very ordinary images, very everyday images, were very revolutionary at that time.

The Fort Wayne Museum of Art is hosting work by African American artist Dox Thrash. Thrash grew up in rural Georgia at the turn of the last century, at age fifteen moved to Chicago to study art and spent his career creating images of his rural childhood and the ordinary, everyday lives of African Americans; a street sweeper dwarfed by grimy tenements with fresh, clean laundry on the clothesline. A young woman getting ready for a date on a Saturday night. A middle aged woman going for a Sunday morning stroll. All these works done at a time when black people were usually portrayed as pickaninny’s, mammies or servants.

Having images that were really positive images of Black subjects is really important at that time period,” says Yanari-Rizzo, “because you didn’t have a lot of that. People working hard very determined…just a lot of dignity.”

Thrash developed a new printmaking technique called carborundum mezzotint, a process that created muted scenes with soft, blurred lines. This is called ‘Cabin with a Star in the Window’, a dream-like image of a share croppers cabin whose star in the window means someone who lives there is in the army fighting overseas. This dignified portrait is called ‘Woman in a Green Hat’. Religion played a major role in Thrash’s rural Georgia childhood, this watercolor of a Sunday service is called ‘Satisfying the Soul’, this etching of a revival meeting called ‘Fanaticism’. Dox Thrash died in 1965 but left behind a visual diary of ordinary people doing ordinary things, strengthened by family, friendship and Faith and refusing against all odds, to surrender to the powers that worked so hard to keep them down. Eric Olson reporting out in 21 Country.

Eric Olson

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