Born in New Jersey, but raised and educated in Boston, Allan Rohan Crite (1910-2007) spent his life observing and chronicling the city’s South End and Roxbury neighborhoods. He was drawn to art at an early age, studying first at the Children’s Art Center with Charles Woodbury and later at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School (1929 to 1936) with Philip Hale and others. Crite became one of the most prolific artists of his generation, creating a vast body of work in a variety of media, from oil paintings and watercolors, to lithographs and drawings. Early in his career he exhibited with members of the Harlem Renaissance as he developed what would become one of the great themes of his work: the daily life of ordinary African-Americans. He resisted the stereotypical views of African-Americans prevalent in the 1920s and 1930 and sought to “paint people of color as normal human beings.”* He would remain true to this radical vision for the rest of his long life; his commitment resulted in an extraordinary visual and historical record of African-American life in twentieth-century urban America.
An equally important theme in Crite’s art was Christianity. A devout Episcopalian, he often used the “black figure” to tell “the story of the Lord . . . and the suffering of the Cross.”* Angels and Madonnas occur frequently in his work, appearing not only in churches but in ordinary settings such as street cars and busy street corners.
Crite had a particularly close association with the Boston Athenæum for many decades. His work was exhibited here in 1948, 1951, and 1968. In 1971, Crite made a large donation of his art to the Athenæum, including 16 oil paintings, 39 watercolors, and 15 ink drawings and prints. This donation formed the nucleus of the Athenæum’s Crite collection and reflects the artist’s two major themes of African-American and religious life in the twentieth century. The watercolors and drawings on digital display here show the African-American citizens of Boston going about their daily life, listening to music, bicycling, waiting for buses with an occasional Christ-figure or angel hovering in their midst.
Curator of Prints & Photographs, Boston Athenæum
* As quoted in Julie Levin Caro, Allan Rohan Crite: Artist-Reporter of the African American Community (Seattle: Frye Art Museum, 2001), p. 5, 20.