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Samuel J. Brown Jr.; An Artist And Teacher
October 26, 1994|by Jim Nicholson, Daily News Staff Writer
Samuel Joseph Brown Jr., an artist whose work issued powerful statements of the African-American experience and were included in collections from the White House to the museums of major American cities, died Sunday of heart failure. He was 87 and lived in West Philadelphia. An art teacher in the city school system for more than 30 years, Brown came to flower as an artist, as did so many others, during the Depression when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) sponsored artists through the Public Works of Art Project.
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His watercolor portrait, "So Tired," depicting a black woman scrubbing a floor, was exhibited in 1934 at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.
At the time, some public reaction to his work was negative. Art historian James Porter noted, "Many judged the work shockingly amateurish and grotesque."
However, others felt the strength of his social statement. One of those was Eleanor Roosevelt, who later visited Brown in Philadelphia.
In 1946, Roosevelt, who wrote a syndicated newspaper column called "My Day," recalled her Philadelphia visit with Brown and the painting she always called "The Scrub Woman."
"Friday I spent in Philadelphia . . . between lunch and dinner, I was called for by Samuel Brown, the Negro artist whose painting, 'The Scrub Woman,' had appealed to me many years ago in a WPA exhibition in the Corcoran Art Gallery. He has come a long way since those days, and a series of watercolors done in Mexico last summer have real charm."
The watercolors the former first lady referred to were included in a one- man show by Brown at the Art Alliance in December 1946.
The Inquirer called the work "noteworthy" and wrote, "He has looked upon (Mexico) through his own sensitive eyes and the resultant pictures are by no means conventional treatments of scenery and people now running the grave risk of being too frequently painted."
His portrait of a Philadelphian called "Mrs. Simmons," executed during his WPA period, was obtained by the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Four watercolors, including the self-portrait, "Smoking My Pipe," and ''The Lynching," were chosen for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, even though the museum was only supposed to select one painting per WPA artist. At the time, then museum director Fiske Kimball said, "He was the only man from whom they took more than one."
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