William E. Artis (1914-1977)

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William Artis, Portrait of an African American Man, signed and dated on the back of the base

“Spirituality, temperament, the fleeting but revealing thought that molds a face, are sometimes the artist’s only reason for painting or carving a head,” said James Porter in his 1940 book Modern Negro Art. “This may be the best approach to the modeling of Wiliam E. Artis…his portraits are based on the sure designer’s instinct that lives in every good ceramist.”

William E. Artis studied art under Augusta Savage, then later earned a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from Syracuse State University. In 1933, at age 19, he won the John Hope Prize for Sculpture from the Harmon Foundation. In the early 1970s he was honored with a membership in the National Sculpture Society, founded in 1893 and the first organization of professional sculptors formed in the United States.

In 1971 one art critic wrote, “The modeling and the quality of facial planes that make Ife bronzes so marvously expressive, are echoed in Artis’s recent work.”

David Driskell commented on Artis’s work in an exhibition catalogue for a show at Fisk University in the early 1970s. He said, “[Artis] has showed the beauty of his people, modeled and shaped in bronze, clay; black and beautiful.” He continued, “He has not attempted to solve problems with his art but has seen beyond those obstacles often binding the human spirit. He has encountered through his art the meaning of a universal world.”

Artis’s work is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, New York City; Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich, Connecticut; Howard University, Washington, DC; Atlanta University Museum, Atlanta, Georgia; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; and the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.