The paintings of Archibald Motley, Jr. chronicle the experience of Black Chicagoans from the 1920s into the 1940s and beyond. Considered a part of the Chicago Black Renaissance, Motley’s work also pays homage to the age of jazz. Despite early successes, Motley struggled to find his focus as a Black artist, spent time painting shower curtains, but survived to receive White House honors and a doctorate from the Art Institute of Chicago. The sound of jazz is alive in the work of Archibald Motley.
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Archibald Motley, Jr.: A Timeline
1891: Archibald Motley, Jr. is born in New Orleans, LA to Mary Huff Motley, a school teacher until her marriage, and Archibald Motley Sr.
1894: Archibald Motley, Sr. begins working as a Pullman porter, and the family moves to a predominantly white neighborhood on Chicago’s south side. Motley Jr. graduates from Englewood High school and is offered a scholarship to study architecture, but declines it in order to study at the Art Institute of Chicago.
1914: Begins studies at the Art Institute of Chicago.
1918: Graduates from the Art Institute. Despite the school’s conservative culture, Motely responds to the sensibilities of the Harlem Renaissance and the impact of the jazz age is apparent in his work.
Motley Intends to become a portrait painter and to adapt the formal, European aesthetic he had studied in order to picture black faces and forms.
1918-1925: Motley works periodically as a railroad “buffet car” waiter on trains with his father.
1921: Shows work at the Art Institute’s 25th Annual Exhibition of Chicago-area artists.
1924: Motley marries Edith Granzo, his high school sweetheart. Her German immigrant parents oppose the relationship and disown her after she and Motley are married.
1925: Motley wins the Frank G. Logan prize for his painting, A Mulattress. He wins the Joseph N. Eisendrath Award from the Art Institute of Chicago for the painting, Syncopation.
1927: Motley’s painting, Mending Socks, receives accolades during an exhibition at the Newark Museum in New Jersey.
1928: Motley shows 26 paintings at the New Gallery in New York. His was the first one-man exhibit by an African American in New York City. That year he receives the Harmon Foundation Award for outstanding contributions of the field of art.
1929: Motley wins a Guggenheim Fellowship that permits him to study in France. He is influenced by the formality of Dutch painters like Hals and Rembrandt and the genre work of painters like Delacroix.
1930s: Motley Jr. is employed by the Works Progress Administration to paint a series of murals depicting scenes from black history at Nichols Middle School in Evanston, IL. Work by Motley is part of an exhibition of American painting that travels through Europe.
1933: Motley’s paintings shown at a solo exhibition at the Chicago Women’s Club.
A son, Archibald J. Motley III is born. Paintings are exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and at the Art Institute. Motley is appointed a visiting instructor at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
1939: Paintings are included in the exhibit “Contemporary Negro Art” at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
1948: the death of Motley’s wife leaves the artist in financial difficulty. He begins working as a shower curtain painter at the Styletone Corp.
1968: Work included in the “Invisible Americans: Black Artists of the ‘30s” exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY.
1971: The artist is featured in a television documentary, “The Last Leaf: A Profile of Archibald Motely,” broadcast on WMAQ, Chicago.
1977-78: Paintings by Motley travel around the U.S. as part of the exhibit, “Two Centuries of Black American Art.”
1980: Motley receives an honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute. Along with nine other African-American artists, Motley is honored by President Jimmy Carter at the White House.
1981: On January 16 Motley dies in Chicago, IL.
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