Palmer Hayden (1890-1973)

Palmer Hayden, Schoolchild with Cat, 1966, oil on canvas, 34 x 24 inches, signed lower right

Palmer Hayden is one of the most influential artists of the Harlem Renaissance. He is best known for his depictions of African American folk life and for his paintings of marine scenes. However, some of his most compelling work also includes scenes reflecting his personal experiences as a soldier in the U. S. Army.

Born in a small town along the Potomac River called Widewater, Virginia, about forty miles south of Washington, DC, Hayden joined the army in 1914. In fact, as Hayden explains, his birth name was Peyton Hedgeman but an army recruiter called him Palmer Hayden by mistake and Hayden adopted that name from that time forward.

He became a Private and was stationed at the United States Military Academy Detachment of Calvary at West Point, New York and was honorably discharged in 1920. He was not a cadet at West Point. Rather, his job was primarily to take care of the stables and the grounds.

In 1926 Hayden won first prize in the Harmon Foundation’s first-ever arts contest and exhibition, which catapulted his career and enabled him to travel to Paris, France to continue studying art.

At the time of his death, he started to create a series of paintings depicting various aspects of the lives of black soldiers in the U. S. Army.

Hayden’s work is in the collections of the Museum of African American Art, Los Angeles, California; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City.