John Biggers

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John Biggers

JOHN THOMAS BIGGERS (1924–2001)

Born in Gastonia, North Carolina, John Biggers studied at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) under Viktor Lowenfeld and muralist Charles White. In 1943, Biggers' mural, Dying Soldier, was included in the exhibition curated by Lowenfeld, Young Negro Art, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  After serving in the United States Navy, Biggers transferred to Pennsylvania State University where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as his doctorate in art education. In 1949, Biggers accepted a faculty position at Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University) in Houston, where he founded and chaired the art department until his retirement. In the early 50s, he won prizes for his work at annual exhibitions held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Dallas Museum of Art.  In 1957, he traveled to Africa on a UNESCO fellowship to study Western African cultural traditions, becoming one of the first black artists to study the culture first-hand rather than through library research. His work was profoundly influenced by his experiences in Africa.

Selected Biographical and Career Highlights
1924 Born in Gastonia, North Carolina
1941–43, 1946 Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
1943–45 Served in U.S. Navy
1948 BA and MA, Art Education, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1948 Married Hazel Hales
1949–83 Professor and Chair, Art Department, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
1954 PhD, Art Education, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1957 UNESCO Fellowship to study culture in Western Africa
1962 Author, Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962
1978 Co-Author (with Carroll Sims and John Edward Weems), Black Art in Houston: The Texas Southern University Experience, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978
1981 Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Contributions as Visual Artist, Houston, TX
1988 Texas Artist of the Year, Art League of Houston, Texas
1990 Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
2001 Died Houston, Texas

Selected Prizes, Awards
Houston Annual: Purchase Prize 1950; Cash Prize 1951, 1955 (March)
1950 Purchase Prize, Cradle, drawing (image on catalogue cover)
1951 Cash Prize, Sleeping Boy, carbon drawing
1955 (March) Cash Prize, Grace, drawing
Atlanta University Annual: Purchase Prize for Prints 1951
1952 Purchase Prize for Prints
1953 Purchase Prize for Prints and Purchase Prize for Sculpture
Southwestern Prints and Drawings: Purchase Prize 1952
1952 Purchase Prize, Sleeping Boy, carbon (image on catalogue cover)
Awards for Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa: Excellence of Design 1963 Chicago Book Clinic, Southern Book Competition; Best Texas Book Design 1963 Dallas Museum of Art
1963 Excellence of Design Award, Chicago Book Clinic, Illinois
1963 Excellence of Design Award, Southern Book Competition
1963 Best Texas Book Design, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
Minnie Stevens-Piper Foundation Professor Award for Outstanding Scholarly and Academic Achievement, 1964
Danforth Foundation E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching, 1968
Award for Achievement, Metropolitan Arts Foundation, Inc., 1988
Van Der Zee Award, Brandywine Graphic Workshop of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1992
Margaret Hawkins Arts Award for 1994, The Links

Selected Exhibitions
1943 Young Negro Art: An Exhibition of the Work of Students at Hampton Institute, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
1944 3rd Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia
1944 Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture by Art Departments of Virginia Colleges, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
1945 Tenth Exhibition of the Work of Virginia Artists, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
1945 Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
1947 Sixth Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia
1950 25th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (purchase prize; image on catalogue cover)
1950 12th Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1951, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Witte Museum, San Antonio; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1950 Ninth Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia (purchase prize for prints)
1951 John Biggers, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1951 26th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (cash prize)
1951 Student-Faculty Art Exhibit of Drawings, Ceramics, Sculpture and Paintings, State Capitol Building, Austin, Texas
1952 5th Southwestern Exhibition of Prints and Drawings, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas (purchase prize; image on catalogue cover)
1952 Texas Contemporary Artists, M. Knoedler & Company, New York, New York; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Texas (catalogue)
1952–53 27th–28th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1953 Painting Sculpture Ceramics from Texas Southern University, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas
1953 Twelfth Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Prints by Negro Artists, Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia (purchase for prints and purchase prize for sculpture)
1953 1st Annual Dallas National Print Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
1953 Integration: The Use of Painting and Sculpture with Architecture in Daily Life, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas
1954 Paintings and Drawings by John Biggers and James Boynton, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1954, 1955 Architectural League, New York, New York
1955 30th Annual Exhibition of Work by Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (cash prize)
1955 31st Annual Exhibition Houston Artists, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
1955 Solo, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1955 Old Master and Modern Drawings, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
1956 Howard University Art Museum, Washington, DC
1958, 1959 Ford Foundation Invitational Art Exhibit, Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, Texas
1961 Life in West Africa, City of Philadelphia Commercial Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1962 Paintings by Dr. John Biggers, Jewish Community Center, Houston, Texas
1962 Drawings from West Africa: Dr. John Biggers, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1962 Solo, Illustrations, Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, Texas
1963 Drawings by John Biggers, Dallas Public Library, Dallas, Texas
1963 Solo, Shreveport Public Schools, Shreveport, Louisiana
1963 Solo, Houston Jewish Community Center, Houston, Texas
1963 Solo, Ceremonies and Visions, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas; traveled by U.S. Information Agency to Africa
1963 Solo, Lubbock Museum of Fine Arts, Lubbock, Texas
1965 Drawings from Seventeen States, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1965 Houston Baptist College, Houston, Texas
1965 Architectural League, New York, New York
1965 Creativity and the Negro, Burpee Center, Rockford College, Rockford, IL
1966 New Art Faculty Exhibition, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
1967 Solo, Huston-Tillotson College, Austin, Texas
1968 Sphere of Art in Texas, University of Texas, Instiute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio, Texas
1968 Benin, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1968 Festival of the African Peoples, Los Angeles, California
1969 John Biggers, Graceland College, Lamoni, Iowa
1969 Twelve Black American Artists, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
1970 An Exhibition of Black American Art from Times of Slavery to the Present, Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio
1970 First Annual Black Arts Festival: Operation Breadbasket, 2413 Dowling Street, Houston, Texas
1971 Home Folk Africa, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts
1971–72 Texas Painting and Sculpture: The 20th Century, Pollack Galleries, Owen Arts Center, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, traveled to: Witte Confluence Museum, HemisFair Plaza, San Antonio; University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; The Museum, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas (catalogue)
1972 Reflections: The Afro-American Artist, Benton Convention Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1975 The Art of John Biggers, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
1975 Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Golden State Mutual Insurance Company, Exhibition of Afro-American Art Collection, California State Museum of Science and Industry, Los Angeles, California
1976 Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750—1950, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, traveled to: High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Brooklyn Museum, New York (catalogue)
1976 Bearden, Biggers, Gilliam, Hayes, Stovall, Erwin, Hill, Taylor Art Gallery, North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, North Carolina
1978 The Web of Life in Africa: An Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by John Biggers, African-American Cultural Center, Dallas, Texas
1978 Great Kings of Africa, Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
1978 Seventy-five Years of Art in Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
1979 FIRE! An Exhibition of 100 Artists, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas (catalogue)
1980 Ceremonies and Visions: The Art of John Biggers, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas
1980 Houston Area Exhibition: Recapitulation 1928-1960, Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, Texas (catalogue)
1983 John Biggers: Bridges, California Museum of Afro-American History and Culture, Los Angeles, California
1983 Solo, Boats and Bridges, Sutton’s Black Heritage Gallery, Houston, Texas
1983 Images of Texas, Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, Texas, traveled to: Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi; Amarillo Art Center, Amarillo, Texas (catalogue)
1984 Dr. John T. Biggers, Traditional African Art Gallery, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
1985 Fresh Paint: The Houston School, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, traveled to: Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc. (MoMA PS1), Queens, New York; Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (catalogue)
1985 Oklahoma Art Center, Fair Park, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1985 America at Work: Realism Between the World Wars, Transco Energy, Houston, Texas
1986 Artists Select: Contemporary Perspectives by Afro-American Artists, University Art Museum, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
1987 John Biggers: Patchwork Quilts and Shotguns, Transco Gallery, Transco Energy, Houston, Texas
1987 Selected Prints of John Biggers, 1950 to the Present, Balene, Inc., Houston, Texas
1989 John Biggers: Paintings and Drawings: 1949-1988, Delta Fine Arts Center and Sawtooth Center for Visual Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1989 The Private Eye: Selected Works from Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1989 Black History, Black Vision: The Visionary Image in Texas, Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, Texas (catalogue)
1989 Forerunners and Newcomers: Houston’s Leading African-American Artists, Art Gallery, University of Houston at Clearlake, Texas
1989 Messages from the South, Sewall Art Gallery, Rice University, Houston, Texas
1989 Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art, Curator: Alvia Wardlaw, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, traveled to: High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond
1990 Tradition and Innovation: A Museum Celebration of Texas Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1990 John Biggers: Selected Works, Pyramid Gallery, Little Rock, Arkansas
1990 The Blues Aesthetic: Black Culture and Modernism, Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston, Texas
1990 Five Decades: John Biggers and the Hampton University Art Tradition, Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia
1991 Black Heritage, Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, Texas
1991 John Biggers: Mural Sketches, Diggs Gallery, Winston Salem University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
1991 Newcomers Revisited: Houston’s African-American Artists in the Lead, Dishman Art Gallery, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas
1992 Alone in a Crowd: Prints of the 1930’s and 1940’s by African-American Artists from the Collection of Reba and Dave Williams, American Federation of Arts, New York, New York
1993 John Biggers: A Cultural Legacy, Retrospective 1950-1992, Whatley Center, Northeast Texas Community College, Mount Pleasant, Texas
1993 John Biggers: Paintings and Drawings, Fayetteville Museum of Art, Fayetteville, North Carolina
1994 The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas
1995 The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room, Curator: Alvia Wardlaw, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, traveled to: Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; and North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina (catalogue)
1995 Solo, John Biggers: The Artist’s Eye, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1996 The Murals of John Biggers: American Muralist, African American Artist, Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia
1997 Revisiting American Art: Works from the Collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York
1998 Group exhibition (part of Contemporary Texas Artists: Visuals in Black). Artists’ Loft, Galveston, Texas
1999 Five Decades of Drawings by John Biggers, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
1999 The Work of John Biggers, Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville, Florida
1999-2000 Transatlantic Dialogue: Contemporary Art In and Out of Africa, Ackland Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC; DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, Illinois (catalogue)
2000 Blackness in Color: Visual Expressions of the Black Arts Movement (1960 to present), Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
2001 Art of the Masters: A Survey of African American Images, 1980-2000, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, New York
2001 Remembering John Biggers (1924-2001): A Memorial Exhibition, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts
2001 Black Print Masters: Past and Present, UFA Gallery, New York, New York
2002 Portraits of African Americans, Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
2003 Painting History: The Making of the Murals of Charles White and John Biggers, Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia
2003 Beyond the Lines: Prints from the Collection, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2004 A Selection of Art Made in Houston 1950-1965, Brazos Projects, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Texas
2004 Embracing the Muse: Africa and African American Art, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York
2004 African-American Art from the MFAH Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
2005 The Artistic Legacy of John Biggers, Mullins Library, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
2004-05 John Biggers: My America, The 1940s and 1950s—Paintings, Sculpture & Drawings, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana (catalogue)
2006 Building Community: The African American Scene, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York 9catalogue)
2006 Houston Art in Houston Collections: Works from 1900 to 1965, Heritage Society Museum, Houston, Texas
2006 In the Hands of African American Collectors: The Personal Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, California; South Side Community Art Center, Chicago; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach Florida (catalogue)
2007 Body Beware: 18 American Artists, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York (catalogue)
2007 Black Artists on Tour: The African American Aesthetic, Riverside Metropolitan Museum, Riverside, California
2007-08 Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art, Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina; University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, Virginia; Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia
2007-2011 The Harmon & Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art: Works on Paper, traveling exhibition: Lake Charles, Louisiana; College of Wooster Art Museum, Ohio; Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania; Vero Beach, Florida; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio; Coral Gables, Florida; Lincoln, Nebraska; and other venues (catalogue, text by Regenia Perry)
2008 Art of the United States, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
2008 Founders of Houston Art: Thirty Artists Who Led the Way, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2008 Scene in America: A Contemporary Look at the Black Male Image, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
2008 Houston Collects: African American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
2009 Collaborations: Two Decades of African American Art: Hearne Fine Art 1988-2008, Pyramid/Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, Arkansas (catalogue)
2009 A Texas Sampler: Vintage Paintings by Thirty Texas Artists, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2009 Distinguished Visions, Timeless Tradition, Arts Council of Fayetteville and Cumberland County, Fayetteville, North Carolina

2010 Water Rites: Rivers, Lakes, and Streams in Texas Art, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2010 Color Vision: African-American Masters from the Permanent Collection, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina
2010 Third Anniversary Show: A Tribute to Houston Artists, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2011 Visions of America: A Black Perspective, ACA Galleries, New York, New York
2011 Portrait of Houston: 1900–2011, Alliance Gallery, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston, Texas (catalogue)
2012 The Power of Art: Generational Wealth, Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, AR
2012 African American Art Since 1959: Perspectives from the David C. Driskell Center, Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland (catalogue)
2012 INSite/INChelsea, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York
2012 Full Spectrum: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (catalogue)
2012 African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond, American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia; Mennello Museum of American Art, Orlando, Florida; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Maryland; Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York (catalogue)
2012-13 Highlights from the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at the University of Alabama, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama
2013 In Conversation: Modern African American Art, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
2014 Houston Founders at City Hall Art Exhibition, City Hall, Houston, Texas
2014 Texas Visions of an Earlier Time: An Exhibition of Historic Texas Art, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas
2015 Bayou City Chic: Progressive Streams of Modern Art in Houston, Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas (catalogue)

Selected Murals, Illustrations
1942 Dying Soldier created
1946 Dying Soldier and Country Preacher acquired and installed by United Transport Service Employees, CIO, Chicago, Illinois
1946 Night of the Poor, Day of the Harvest, and Sharecropper, Pennsylvania State University
1951 Negro Folkways, Eliza Johnson Home for the Aged, Houston, Texas
1953 The Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education, Blue Triangle YWCA, Houston, Texas
1953 Illustrated Vivian Ayers’s Hawk
1955 The History of Negro Education in Morris County, TexasT, Paul Pewitt Elementary School, Naples, Texas
1956 Illustrated J. Mason Brewer’s Aunt Dicy Tales
1956 Began initial studies for Web of Life mural
1957 History of I.L.A. Local 872, International Longshoreman’s Temple, Houston, Texas
1958 Illustrated J. Mason Brewer’s Dog Ghost and Other Texas Negro Folk Tales
1961 Red Barn Farm, Dowling Veterinary Clinic, Houston, Texas
1962 Web of Life completed, Nabrit Science Hall, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
1966 Birth from the Sea, W.L.D. Jonson Branch, Houston Public Library, Houston, Texas
1966 Illustrated Lorenz Graham’s I, Momolou and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (Reader’s Digest Edition)
1977 Family Unity, Sterling Student Life Center, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
1981 The Quilting Party, Music Hall, Houston, Texas
1983 Christia Adair, Christia V. Adair Park, Harris County, Texas
1987 East Texas Patchwork, Paris Public Library, Paris, Texas
1987 Song of the Drinking Gourd, Tom Bass Regional Park, Harris County, Texas
1991 Ascension and Origins, 2 murals, Winston-Salem State University Library, North Carolina
1991 House of the Turtle and Tree House, 2 murals, Harvey Library, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
1994 Illustrated Maya Angelou’s poem Our Grandmothers

Selected Public Collections
Adept New American Museum, Mt. Vernon, New York
African American Museum, Dallas, Texas
African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas
Brandywine Graphic Workshop, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
California African American Museum, Los Angeles, California
Clark-Atlanta University Art Galleries, Atlanta, Georgia
Collection of the City of Houston, Texas
Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, Los Angeles, California
Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas
University of Texas at Austin, Texas
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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