This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.
|Size||4.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 2,700 items)|
|Abstract||African-American artist Charles Henry Alston, nicknamed "Spinky," was born 28 November 1907 in Charlotte, N.C. He was the youngest of five children born to the Reverend Primus Priss Alston, who was born into slavery in Chatham County, N.C., and Anna Miller Alston. After Primus's death, Anna married Harry Pierce Bearden, artist Romare Bearden's uncle, and moved the family to New York in 1913. Charles Alston worked as a painter, sculptor, graphic artist, illustrator, and educator, gaining national and international recognition. His works are found among the holdings of individuals and permanent museum and gallery collections around the world. Alston married Myra Logan, a noted surgeon at Harlem Hospital. The collection includes artwork, photographs, correspondence, exhibition catalogs, and publications documenting the life and work of Charles Alston. Included are materials pertaining to Charles's father, Primus Priss Alston; his wife, surgeon Myra Logan; and other Alston and Logan family members and associates. Also included are letters from Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, and Hubert Humphrey; cartoons Alston created for the United States Office of War Information during World War II; items relating to commissioned mural paintings; and non-commercial photographs featuring James Earl Jones, Joe Louis, and Lena Horne, all at young ages.|
|Creator||Alston, Charles Henry, 1907-1977.|
|Curatorial Unit||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.|
This collection was processed with support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.Back to Top
The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.
Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.
African-American artist Charles Henry Alston, nicknamed "Spinky," was born 28 November 1907 in Charlotte, N.C. He was the youngest of five children born to the Reverend Primus Priss Alston and Anna Miller Alston. Charles Alston gained fame as a painter, sculptor, graphic artist, illustrator, and educator.
Primus Priss Alston was born into slavery in Chatham County, N.C. He later attended Saint Augustine's School (now Saint Augustine's College) in Raleigh, N.C., where he studied for the ministry. Primus Priss Alston attained the rank of deacon in 1883 and was ordained as a priest in 1892. Primus Priss Alston died in 1910; he had served for nearly 30 years as the rector of St. Michaels of All Angels Church in Charlotte, N.C.
Several years after Primus Priss Alston's death, Anna Miller Alston married Harry Pierce Bearden, uncle of artist Romare Bearden. The family relocated to New York in 1913. The children, however, returned to North Carolina to spend summers visiting relatives.
The artistic ability for which Alston became known emerged when he was very young. Among his first drawings were images of trains and cars; his first sculptures were made from the red clay he found around him in North Carolina. As early as his grammar and high school years, his work brought him considerable recognition. At 14, he won his grammar school's art prize. While attending Dewitt Clinton High School in New York, he was elected to the Arista, an honorary society for achievers, and served as art editor for the school magazine. Alston continued his formal study of art at Columbia University's School of Fine Arts, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929. Two years later, he received a Master of Arts degree from Teachers College, Columbia University.
During his professional career, Alston was teacher, mentor, and friend to many, including Langston Hughes. His talent appealed to Hughes and other writers of the Harlem Renaissance era, as well as to Duke Ellington. For these individuals and for a number of major magazines, including Redbook, Mademoiselle, and the New Yorker , he created artwork for illustrations, dust jackets, and album covers. Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, both of whom became critically acclaimed artists, were among Alston's students.
Alston held an appointment as artist for the Office of War Information and Public Relations, 1940-1941, and served in the United States Army during World War II. He also served on the boards of the National Society of Mural Painters, the National Council of the Arts, and other organizations. His academic endeavors included positions at several institutions, among them the Art Students League and the City College of New York. He was named full professor at CCNY in 1973. Alston supervised the painting of a mural for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project Commission and won many prestigious awards, including the Rosenwald Fellowship and the First Annual Distinguished Alumnus Award from Teachers College, Columbia University. He gained national and international recognition through the sale and exhibition of his works, which are among the holdings of individuals and permanent collections at museums and galleries around the world.
Alston married Myra Logan, a noted surgeon at Harlem Hospital. She died in January 1977 at the age of 68. He died in April of that same year at age 69.Back to Top
Artwork, photographs, correspondence, exhibition catalogs, and publications documenting the life and work of Charles Alston. Included are materials pertaining to Charles's father, Primus Priss Alston; his wife, surgeon Myra Logan; and other Alston and Logan family members and associates. Also included are letters from Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, and Hubert Humphrey; cartoons Alston created for the United States Office of War Information during World War II; items relating to commissioned mural paintings; and non-commercial photographs featuring James Earl Jones, Joe Louis, and Lena Horne, all at young ages.Back to Top
Correspondence of Charles Alston, including letters of congratulation about the purchase of paintings and the selection of work for inclusion in exhibitions. Included are letters from theater personality Lloyd Richards and President Lyndon Johnson. Letters from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Department at Howard University, and the University of California at Los Angeles provide evidence of the national attention that Alston's talent attracted. There are also letters from Myra Logan Alston and Romare Bearden. Included in folder 1 is a photocopy of a letter from Paul Robeson, addressed to "Larry."
Also included are numerous Christmas cards from Alston's friends and associates. Many of the Christmas cards feature watercolor and block print designs, created by Alston's friends and associates who were also painters.
|Separated Folder SEP-4931/1|
Arrangement: By type.
Materials pertaining to Charles Alston's professional career. Included are chronologies of his life, educational accomplishments, awards, and artistic endeavors. Among these are a copy of his curriculum vitae, materials completed for re-appointment to the faculty of the City College of New York, and miscellaneous memoranda from CCNY.
Included in folder 13 are copies of Alston's World War II cartoons created for the Office of War Information. These cartoons portray American political thought and feature personalities such as Joe Louis, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and Mary McLeod Bethune.
In folder 15, there are copies of the NAACP publication, The Crisis, featuring Alston's artwork on the covers. One issue contains an article entitled "Alston: American Artist." Also in this folder is a copy of 48: The Magazine of the Year and a poster for Magpie, the magazine for which Alston served as art editor at Dewitt Clinton High School in New York City. Each features Alston's illustrations. In folder 17, there are newspaper clippings and other materials relating to Alston's commission for the Golden State Mural Project, which portrayed the contributions of African Americans in the colonization and exploration of California, and for other mural projects. There are also items relating to Alston's appointment to the New York City Art Commission and lists with descriptions, including prices, of his paintings.
|Oversize Paper Folder OPF-4931/1||
Cover features several works of art, including Alston's Black Man and Woman-USA. The cover promotes the article, "Evolution of Afro-American Art: 1800-1950."
Materials chronicling much of Alston's career and documenting his influence on the art world. Included are clippings about exhibitions of Alston's work and expressing his views as an artist and teacher. The bulk of these materials come from the New York Times , the New York Amsterdam News , and the New York Herald Tribune . There are also several clippings from newspapers in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, N.C. folder 51 contains copies of newsletters from the Art Students League, where Alston taught. In addition, there are clippings from the Art Students League Catalog, which featured Alston's artwork and provided information about his professional credentials.
Arrangement: by type.
Mostly Alston's handwritten notes. Included are lists of equipment and materials for drawing and painting classes and some notes concerning painting concepts and terminology. Also included are course descriptions, photocopies of materials from art texts, and general notes concerning black artists in the United States.
Primarily materials pertaining to the lives and careers of some of Alston's friends and family members. Included are copies of Alston's eulogy and several sketches of his life. There is a bibliography of Myra Logan's publications, her certificate of registration as a physician and surgeon in New York County, and a copy of remarks from her memorial service.
In folder 40a, there is a photocopy of The Carolina Churchman , dated November 1910, featuring an announcement of the death and eulogistic services for the Reverend Primus Priss Alston. This folder also includes a transcript of the sermon that Reverend Alston delivered in Charlotte, N.C., a quarter of a century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (original filed in folder 40b).
Also included are articles about Romare Bearden and his career. There is a copy of The Art Gallery (April 1968), containing Jay Jacobs's interview with Bearden and Hughie Lee-Smith, as well as a copy of Critique: A Review of Contemporary Art (November 1946), which contains Bearden's article, "The Negro Artist's Dilemma." folder 45 contains a 1959 Atlanta University exhibit catalog inscribed to Alston by Langston Hughes, along with photocopies of Hughes's "Eight Poems on Harlem," also inscribed to Alston. There are also clippings, 1950-1995, pertaining to the career of Jacob Lawrence.
|Separated Folder SEP-4931/2|
Arrangement: by subject.
Primarily materials concerning Charles Alston, although there are several daybooks and address lists pertaining to his older brother, Wendell Alston, and his sister, Aida Winters. Included are notes and correspondence of the Charles Alston Committee, formed after Alston's death to address the conservation and preservation of his Harlem Hospital murals. There is also correspondence addressed to Alston's sisters in 1994, following the completion of the Harlem Hospital Mural Restoration Project.
Other items include a citation for the Distinguished Alumnus Award that Alston received from Teachers College, Columbia University; a certificate for his appointment to the faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York; a 1962 Picasso exhibition brochure; a copy of "A Negro History Bee: Containing Questions and Answers on Negro History"; a copy of Eugene Grigsby's book, Art and Ethnics, inscribed to Alston; and a souvenir program from the 1958 Brussels World Exposition, which Alston attended as a representative of the United States.
Materials providing information about exhibits of Alston's works over a period of more than 50 years. Included are catalogs and brochures from the Dorsey Gallery in Chicago, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Atlanta University Center, and Randall Galleries in New York City. In addition to biographical information, these materials provide brief descriptions of Alston's works and identify other artists who participated in exhibitions with him.
Arrangement: by subject and chronologically.
Photographs of Charles Alston and his family, friends, and associates. Included are individual and group photographs taken of Alston as an infant, during his youth, and as an adult. There are snapshots documenting his travels in the United States and Europe and a significant number of photographs of his artwork.
Included in image folder PF-4931/1 is a group photograph that includes boxer Joe Louis. Among the items in image folder PF-4931/2 are a commercial photograph of Josephine Baker and three photographs of Fanny Ellison, wife of author Ralph Ellison. Included in image folder PF-4931/4 is a group photograph of Alston with James Earl Jones and others attending a formal affair. There are photographs of Reverend Primus Priss Alston, some of which were taken when he was an infant, and photographs of Anna Miller Alston, taken in her youth and as an adult. There are also miscellaneous landscape negatives and several color transparencies of Alston's sculptures.
Also included are several three-ring binders of slides depicting Alston's artwork and travels. "Spinky's Life Slides, Book 1," 1958-1967, contains about 800 slides of scenes with family members and friends, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Alston's travels in Europe, and his artwork and sculpture. "Spinky's Life Slides, Book 2," 1969-1974, contains about 800 slides of scenes with family members, travels in Europe and the United States, Alston's artwork, and various cruise ships and other sailing vessels. "Spinky's Art Slides," undated, contains about 400 slides depicting Alston's paintings and sculptures. Materials in this binder are arranged in the following categories: Blues, Family, Protest, Abstract, Figurative, Murals, Sculpture, and Exhibitions. There are also two sleeves of undated slides labeled "Teaching Slides: The Russian Collection," containing about 40 glass slides of still-life scenes, groups of people, nature scenes, and other subjects.
|Image Folder PF-4931/1|
Image Folder PF-4931/2-3
Image Folder PF-4931/4-6
|Image Folder PF-4931/7|
|Image Folder PF-4931/8|
|Image Folder PF-4931/9|
Image Folder PF-4931/10-11
|Image Folder PF-4931/12|
|Image Folder PF-4931/13|
|Image Folder PF-4931/14|
|Image Folder PF-4931/15|
Image Folder PF-4931/16-17
|Image Folder PF-4931/18|
|Image Folder PF-4931/19|
|Image Folder PF-4931/20|
|Image Folder PF-4931/21|
Image Folder PF-4931/22-24
|Image Folder PF-4931/25|
|Image Folder PF-4931/26|
|Image Folder PF-4931/27|
Image Folder PF-4931/28-29
|Image Folder PF-4931/30|
|Image Folder PF-4931/31|
|Oversize Image Folder OP-PF-04931/1|