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Birth of Spring

Birth of Spring
Charles White
(American; 1918-1979)
Birth of Spring
Charcoal drawing
Gift of the Childe Hassam Fund of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York

A Chicago native, Charles White was born in 1918, the son of working class parents. He participated in the “Chicago Renaissance,” a mid-western movement of the 1930s, 40s and 50s that, like the earlier “Harlem Renaissance,” was characterized by socially critical, cultural expressions by African Americans. In the late 1940s, White began to devote his attention to the creation of monumental finished drawings in charcoal, wash, and ink. His large drawings often took months to complete, and his imagery focused on the social and spiritual lives of African Americans.

The Birth of Spring was created in 1961, during the early years of the American Civil Rights movement. White did not use models, so the figure represents no specific individual. Instead, the drawing reflects the artist’s interest in images that appeal to the viewer’s spiritual and social consciousness. The woman’s somber face and weathered hands testify to a life of physical and emotional pain, yet she rises out of the darkness into the open space above. Historian Peter Clothier described the figure as an “ancestral presence” removed from time and place, existing somewhere between America and Africa.” White published a reproduction of Birth of Spring in a limited edition portfolio entitled Portfolio 10 (distributed in 1961 by Pro-Artis Publishing Company, Los Angeles). All the drawings reproduced in this portfolio represent optimistic images of African Americans. Titles in the series such as the Birth of Spring, Let the Light Enter, Awaken from the Unknowing, and Move on Up a Little Higher reflect the artist’s interest in the social progress of black people in America.

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