Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named James W. Washington, Jr. who followed his dream and became a famous artist and sculptor in the United States of America.
Born on November 10, 1909 in Mississippi, James W. Washington, Jr. was the son of Reverend James W. Washington Sr. and Lizzie Howard. He was one of six siblings. He was gifted in art from a very young age, being self taught, so his artistic ability would show throughout his adventurous childhood when he hunted rabbits and picked muscadines, a common fruit that grow in the south of America. It was when he began drawing on sidewalks that he discovered his love for art.
When he was older, he began working various jobs, even shining shoes and working as a deckhand, maintaining the ships as part of the deck crew at the Mississippi river.
At the age of 26, he moved to the state of Arkansas and married a woman named Janie Rogella Miller in 1943. It wasn’t long after their marriage that they moved to Seattle, Washington which was where he worked as an apprenticing electrician at Bremerton Shipyard. He continued to create unique works of art as a cherished pursuit being that he’d gained even more skill in art at the Northwest School in Seattle when he trained with artist Mark Tobey. It was in 1948, only five years after moving to Seattle, that he had his first museum exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum.
It was an exciting moment surely being that art was his passion and it was finally being noticed in a museum. While traveling in Mexico, he decided to study sculpture after stumbling over a stone. The stumbling block steered him into a new life of sculpture spiritually and cross culturally as well as moving beyond ethnicity, starting with the sculpture of small animals in 1956, to be exhibited later in Willard Gallery in NY and Foster-White Gallery. James W. Washington Jr. also addressed head on racism in America with is art.
James W. Washington, Jr’s Art
The art that Dr. James W. Washington shared with the world are in collections around the nation, including:
- Seattle Art Museum
- Whitney Museum of American Art in NY
- Oakland Museum of California
- Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American Art in Washington D.C.
The titles of Dr. James W. Washington, Jr.’s sculptures are as follows, noticing how his Christian rearing, experiences with racism as an African American and even nature influences titles and style of his art:
- Young Queen of Ethiopia – made of limestone on wood base, one of his most famous pieces, in which he dedicated to his family, according to the Smithsonian. Ethiopia is one of the places of the Bible, and was mentioned in many speeches in the civil rights movement.
- Bird With Young – made of wood and andesite
- Raven (1973)
- David (1958)
- Young Gross Sunning (1962)
- Blue Bird (1967) – stone with wood base
- The Chaotic Half (1946) – this piece represented racism, something Washington knew all about being that he grew up in the segregated south of Mississippi. The sculpture was a black hand casting a vote at the ballot box while hatred stands behind it in a KKK hood, a noose and a cross. At that time, it was severely dangerous for Black people to vote because they could be killed and many were killed for simply voting.
- Young Boy of Athens
James W. Washington, Jr. Honors
In 1975, because of all his wonderful work and talent, James W. Washington, Jr. was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Center for Urban Black Studies in Berkeley, California.
In 1994, the state of Mississippi honored James W. Washington, Jr. with the date of May 2nd declared James W. Washington Jr. Day.
James W. Washington, Jr. was also the subject of a book written by author Paul J. Karlstrom titled The Spirit in the Stone: The Visionary Art of James W. Washington, Jr. It was published by the University of Washington Press and Bellevue Art Museum.
The James W. Washington Jr and Janie Rogella Washington Foundation was established by his family three years before his death, created to preserve all his works and studio which was also his home, to later provide scholarships. He was also nominated for Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in Mississippi.
Dr. James W. Washington, Jr. passed away after battling a short illness on June 7th of 2000. His funeral services were held seven days later at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington, the city and state where he passed away.
- Enterprise-Journal (McComb, Mississippi) 20 Apr 1994, Wed Page 1
- Enterprise-Journal (McComb, Mississippi) 25 Jun 2000, Sun Page 4
- Enterprise-Journal (McComb, Mississippi)07 Oct 1993, Thu Page 8