Palmer Hayden, born on November 9, 1890 in Wide Water, Virginia, was a self-trained African-American painter whose work became known during the Harlem Renaissance for his depiction of African American life, painting in both oils and watercolors.
Hayden was one of the first in America to depict African subjects in his paintings and his paintings conveyed the experiences of black men in the United States, including elements of his own life. He was a painter of the black American scene who explored material he knew firsthand in a nostalgic style which connected him to the common people, though his work was more stylistically conservative than that of artists who commented more explicitly on social and economic inequities facing the black community.
Hayden studied at the Cooper Union in New York City and also practiced independent studies at Boothbay Art Colony in Maine. He won the esteemed Harmon Foundation’s first prize and a gold medal in painting at the first Harmon Foundation exhibition of black artists twice: first for a seascape entitled “Schooners” in 1926, then for one of his most famous pieces was made in 1931–32, a still life called “Fetiche et Fleurs”. This prompted his patrons to support him so he could live and study in France. Over the next five years in Paris, Hayden worked very hard to capture elements of Parisian society.
Palmer Hayden, Schooners
Much of Hayden's influences came from the environment around him. He enjoyed painting, and used his time in Paris for inspiration. Over his next five years in Paris, Hayden was very productive, working hard to capture elements of Parisian society. On his return to America, Hayden began working for the United States government. He worked for the U.S. Treasury Art Project as well as the Depression-era government-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA). Much of his work after Paris focused on the African American experience. Hayden took his inspiration from the environment around him, focusing on the African American experience. He tried to capture both rural life in the South, as well as urban backgrounds in New York City. Many of these urban paintings were centered in Harlem. The inspiration for "The Janitor Who Paints" came from Cloyd Boykin, a friend of Palmer's. Boykin was also a painter who supported himself through janitorial work. Hayden once said, “I painted it because no one called Cloyd a painter; they called him a janitor.”
Palmer Hayden, Fetiche et Fleurs
Palmer Hayden created a painting series on African-American folk hero John Henry. This series consisted of 12 works and took 10 years to complete. John Henry was said to be a strong, heroic man who used a hammer to create railroads and tunnel through mountains. His works were exhibited at the New Jersey State Museum and the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.
Palmer Hayden, The Janitor Who Paints
Palmer Hayden continued to make contributions to the artistic community throughout his whole life until his death on February 18, 1973.
Great African American painters brought to you by Paris-based ethnic artist Ealy Mays
REFERENCES / SOURCES / LINKS
- §Wintz & Finkelman, pp. 50–1.
- §Hanks, Eric. Journey From the Crossroads: Palmer Hayden’s Right Turn. 2002. International Review of African American Art. 10/12/06.
- §Riggs, Thomas. Palmer Hayden, Harlem Renaissance Artist. 1997. 10/12/06. The African American Registry.
- §Palmer Hayden. 2003. Drop Me Off in Harlem, exploring the intersections. 10/12/06. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
- §“Palmer Hayden”. The Harlem Renaissance. 10/12/06.
- §The Harlem Renaissance. 2002. Palmer Hayden. 10/12/06. Education Broadcasting Corporation.
- §Wintz, Cary D. & Finkelman, Paul. (2004). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Volume 1. Routledge ISBN 978-1-57958-389-7