Hale Woodruff

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Hale Aspacio Woodruff
Hale Woodruff.gif
Hale Woodruff in studio
EducationHerron School of Art, Chicago Institute of Art, Harvard Fogg Art Museum, Académie Moderne, Académie Scandinave Maison Watteau
Known forMurals
Notable work
Amistad Mutiny murals (1938-1942)
Spouse(s)Theresa Ada Baker

Hale Aspacio Woodruff (August 26, 1900 - September 6, 1980) was an African-American artist known for his murals, paintings, and prints.

Early life, family and education[edit]

Born in Cairo, Illinois in 1900, Hale Aspacio Woodruff grew up with his family in Nashville, Tennessee,[1] where he attended the local segregated schools. He studied at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, Chicago Institute of Art, and the Harvard Fogg Art Museum.

Woodruff won an award from the Harmon Foundation in 1926,[2] which enabled him to spend four "crucial years studying in Paris from 1927-31."[3] He studied at the Academie Scandinave and the Academie Moderne.[4] He learned in the city's museums as well, while getting to know other expatriates, including Henry Ossawa Tanner, the leading African-American artist. Woodruff met leading figures of the French avant-garde and began collecting African art, which was a source of inspiration for many other modernists, including Pablo Picasso.[5]

He returned to the U.S. in 1931 and married Theresa Ada Baker that year. They had one son, Roy.[6]

Art career[edit]

Woodruff reluctantly returned to the U.S. due to financial strains from the Great Depression. He worked as an art teacher to support himself.[7] Later he became the art director at Atlanta University, a historically black college. He taught classes at the university's Laboratory High School, as well as for students at Morehouse and Spelman, a related college for black women. He founded the annual competition, Atlanta University Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists, which featured many African-American artists. This was conducted from 1942 to 1970.[8]

In 1936 Woodruff went to Mexico to study as an apprentice under the famed muralist Diego Rivera, learning his fresco technique and becoming interested in portrayal of figures.[3] He returned to Atlanta and continued teaching. He began traveling to Talladega College in Alabama to teach and work on a commission for a series of murals.

After his return to the United States in 1936, Woodruff applied his understanding of Post-Impressionism and Cubism to painting for social advocacy. The Great Depression continued, causing struggle from many families.

Woodruff's best-known work is the three-panel Amistad Mutiny murals (1938), which he completed for the Savery Library at Talladega College. The murals are entitled: The Revolt, The Court Scene, and Back to Africa, portraying events related to the 1839 Mende slave revolt on the Spanish Amistad ship. This occurred after the United States and Britain had prohibited the Atlantic slave trade, but Spain continued to take slaves from Africa. The murals depict events on the ship when the captive mutinied, the U.S. Supreme Court trial, and the Mende people's later repatriation to Africa. (The murals were recently restored in the early 21st century in a collaboration between the High Museum in Atlanta and the college. They toured nationally in 2015.)

An image of the ship is embedded in a design in the lobby floor of the library. College tradition prohibits walking "on" the ship, despite its central location. The library has another series of three Woodruff murals exploring events related to the black college's role in African-American history, including freedmen enrolling after the American Civil War and the construction of campus buildings.

Woodruff's two other surviving murals are The Negro in California History (1949), commissioned by the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company in Los Angeles. This work was a collaboration with Charles Alston. Woodruff also completed six panels completed around 1951 called Art of the Negro (1951) at the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.[9]</ref>

In 1942, even with World War II raging, Woodruff initiated the Atlanta University Art Annuals, an exhibit and competition that was conducted until 1970. These 29 national art exhibitions were a key venue for black artists.[9]

In 1946, Woodruff joined the faculty at New York University in Manhattan. He taught there for more than 20 years before retiring in 1968. Malkia Roberts was among his many New York students.[10]


Hale Woodruff Selections from the Atlanta Period 1931-1946[11]

  • Old Church 9 by 6 1/2, Though worn by the hardships of many years, the Old Church, perseveres as the cornerstone and strength of the African-American community.
  • Coming Home 8 by 10, The impact of weighted curves and angles conveys the stark conditions affecting the lives of Southern Blacks. Coming Home and Relics are unsentimental glimpses into this impoverished existence.
  • Relics 11 by 8
  • By Parties Unknown 9 by 12, Woodruff saw a rich cultural treasure in these seemingly desperate images. While Giddap and By Parties Unknown are disturbing images, they present us with an important aspect of American history that must not be forgotten.
  • Giddap 9 by 12
  • Trusty on a Mule 10 by 8, Woodruff's regionalism also focused on the optimistic spirit of African Americans. Trust on a Mule "looks back" onto a difficult past while he "moves forward" toward a more promising future.
  • Sunday Promenade 7 5/8 by 9 3/4, The final image, Sunday Promenade, speaks to the triumphant heritage embodided in the church and community.

Paintings by Hale Woodruff Aparil 16 to May 5, 1945 38 West 57th Street, New York 19, N.Y.[12]


  • Southland
  • Mississippi Wilderness
  • Wood Gatherers
  • Bouquet
  • The Yellow Bird
  • Farm Girl
  • Landscape
  • Peasant
  • Woodland
  • Octogenarian
  • Southern Country
  • School in Georgia
  • Flowers
  • Young Worker
  • Boy with Cotton Sack
  • The South

Water Colors

  • Eorsion in Mississippi
  • Poor Man's Cotton
  • Market at Taxco
  • Pyramid Near Cuernavaca
  • Lost Land
  • Georgia Landscape
  • Erosion Fantasy
  • Rocky Land
  • Children Playing
  • The Big Blow
  • Alabama Forest Fire
  • Southern Landscape

Paintings By Hale Woodruff Bertha Schaefer Gallery[13]

  • Parade
  • Carnival
  • Blue Intrusion
  • Red Landscape
  • Figure
  • Eclipse
  • Green Landscape
  • Cadence
  • Composition in Grey
  • Dragon
  • Accents
  • Yellow Landscape
  • Mood
  • Composition #1
  • Composition #2
  • Composition #3


  1. ^ Tonya., Bolden, (2004). Wake up our souls : a celebration of Black American artists. New York: H.N. Abrams. ISBN 0810945274. OCLC 53020236.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  2. ^ African-American Artists, 1929-1945: Prints, Drawings, and Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  3. ^ a b Roberta Smith, "In Electric Moments, History Transfigured - Hale Woodruff’s Talladega Murals, in ‘Rising Up,’ at N.Y.U.", New York Times, 13 August 2013
  4. ^ "New Oils by Hale Woodruff at Bertha Schaefer's". Bertha Schaeffer Gallery. October 25 – November 13, 1954.
  5. ^ Hale Woodruff: Rising Up, High Art Museum
  6. ^ "Five Decades of Greatness in Art, Hale Woodruff". African American Registry. Retrieved 2016-01-16.
  7. ^ Fraser, Gerlad (May 6, 1979). "Hale Woodruff Looks Back on Lifetime of Painting". New York Times.
  8. ^ Amaki, Amalia (c. 2007). Hale Woodruff, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, and the Academy. Atlanta : Spelman College Museum of Fine Art Seattle: University of Washington Press. pp. 13–14.
  9. ^ a b Dunkley, Tina. "Hale Woodruff 1900-1980", New Georgia Encyclopedia, 06 December 2013. Web. 28 May 2015.
  10. ^ "The Richard A. Long Collection of African-American Art - Sale 2359, Part I". Swann Galleries. October 9, 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  11. ^ "Hale Woodruff Selections from the Atlanta Period 1931-1946". Robert Blackburn & The Prinmaking Workshhop June Kelly & The June Kelly Gallery Thrulow Evans Tibbs, Jr. & The Evans-Tibbs Collection. Limited Edition (Marshall Arts, Ltd.).
  12. ^ "Paintings by Hale Woodruff". International Print Society 38 West 57th Street, New York 19, N.Y. April 16 – May 5, 1945.
  13. ^ "Paintings by Hale Woodruff". Bertha Schaefer Gallery. September 15-October 4. Check date values in: |date= (help)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]