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Ellis Wilson: So Much To Paint
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Ellis Wilson Timeline

  In the Life of Ellis Wilson In African-American Culture and the World

1899 Ellis Wilson born on April 20 in Mayfield, KY. Night riders terrorize blacks in Western Kentucky.

1906 Begins school, attending six months a year. 10,000 turn out to see a black man hanged in Mayfield.

1910   Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (forerunner of the National Urban League) formed in New York, reflecting the first great population shift of African Americans from rural South to urban North.

1912-1915 Ellis’ drawings on the windows of the dress shop where he works attract attention from passersby. World War I begins.

1916 Attends Kentucky State College. D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation

1918   World War I ends.

1919 Moves to Chicago to attend Art Institute. 38 killed in Chicago race riots.

1920-23 While attending the Art Institute, Ellis works in a YMCA cafeteria, tries to lose his Southern accent, and meets sculptor Richmond Barté.  

1925   Alain Locke publishes The New Negro.

1927 Participates in The Negro in Art Week exhibit; meets poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Louis Armstrong brings New Orleans jazz to Chicago.
Lindbergh flies across the Atlantic.

1928 Moves to Harlem, NY; meets Aaron Douglas. Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche”; Paul Robeson in Show Boat

1929 Paints cover illustration for the NAACP’s The Crisis. Becomes affiliated with the Harlem Artists Guild; meets Alain Locke. Works at a brokerage house. Stock market crashes.

1932   Langston Hughes’ The Dream Keeper

1933 Wins honorable mention in Harmon Foundation exhibit; moves to Greenwich Village. Studies at Mechanic Institute, where he wins the Hoe Prize. Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” and “Do Your Duty”

1934 Exhibits in Augusta Savage’s Salon of Contemporary Negro Art; has first solo show at Vendome Gallery. Studies with painter Xavier Barille. Bessie Smith in the revue Hot from Harlem

1935 Works for the WPA on a project to map New York City’s boroughs; meets painters Joe and Beauford Delaney and Palmer Hayden. Porgy & Bess premieres on Broadway.

1937 Exhibits at Vendome Gallery. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

1939 Has two paintings in the American Negro Exposition in Chicago; applies for Guggenheim Fellowship. Augusta Savage creates The Harp for New York World’s Fair.
World War II begins in Europe.

1940 Work featured in Chicago’s American Negro Exposition. Richard Wright’s Native Son

1941-44 Works in an aircraft engine factory. Commissioned to do triptychs for U.S. Army and Navy chaplains. Wins Guggenheim Fellowship. The lure of wartime jobs brings another wave of rural Southerners, black and white, north to the cities.
Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration” series

1945 Travels to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina to sketch and paint blacks at work; takes part in an exhibit sponsored by the CIO labor union. Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; war ends.
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie collaborate on KoKo.

1946 Wins prize at Atlanta University for his portrait Allen; exhibits at galleries in New York and Washington, DC and at a one-man show mounted by the Southside Community Art Center in Chicago.  

1947 Mayfield Public Library shows Wilson’s paintings—his first exhibit in his hometown. Jackie Robinson breaks major league baseball’s color barrier.

1948-49 Exhibits at the J.B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville; the Louisville Courier-Journal reproduces some of the paintings in color. Exhibits at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York. Paul Robeson is called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer charges of Communism.

1951 The Speed Museum changes the bylaws of its annual Kentucky-Southern Indiana show, allowing submissions by black artists for the first time, in order to include a Wilson painting.  

1952 Wins $3,000 in Miami’s Terry Art Competition for The Fisherwoman. Murray State University in Kentucky, though not yet admitting black students, exhibits Wilson’s work. Ellis travels to Haiti in what will become the first of four extended tours. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

1953   James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain

1954 Shows Haitian paintings in New York and is reviewed in Art News and Art Digest. Supreme Court declares “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

1960 Exhibits a second series of Haitian paintings at New York’s Contemporary Arts Gallery. Supreme Court declares segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional.

1961-63 Works as a guide and guard at Riverside Museum. CORE organizes Freedom Rides and lunch counter sit-ins.

1963   Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington.
President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.

1964   Congress passes the Civil Rights Act.

1966   Kentucky General Assembly passes a state Civil Rights Act banning racial discrimination in employment and most public services.

1967-68   The Black Panther movement emerges. King is assassinated, sparking riots in Washington, Los Angeles, and other cities.

1971 Exhibits with sculptor William Artis at Fisk University in Nashville and as part of the North Carolina Museum of Art’s “Three Negro Artists” show.  

1974-75 Ellis is interviewed by Camille Billops for Artist and Influence and by Harry Henderson for History of Afro-American Artists. Facing impeachment over the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon resigns the presidency.
America ends its involvement in the Vietnam War; Saigon falls to the Communist North Vietnamese forces.

1977 Ellis Wilson dies on January 1 or 2 and is buried in a pauper’s grave. The exact date of his death and the location of his grave are unknown. Alex Haley’s Roots becomes a television phenomenon.

1985 Wilson’s Funeral Procession is the subject of an episode of TV’s The Cosby Show.  

1990-93 Wilson is featured in Against All Odds, a history of the Harmon Foundation, and in Bearden and Henderson’s History of African-American Artists.  

2000 Murray State University hosts a major retrospective of Wilson’s work; University Press of Kentucky publishes the accompanying catalogue, The Art of Ellis Wilson.  

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