Tribute to Allan Rohan Crite (1910-2007)

Written by Caroline Browne

Pictured: Ted A. Charron, Allan Rohan Crite, 2010, oil, 20 x 24”

Massachusetts Hall of Black Achievement at Bridgewater State Library

The Copley Society of Art has a long and illustrious history of famous artists that have displayed their artwork here. Famous artists include Allan Rohan Crite who was born on March 20th in North Plainfield, New Jersey in 1910. Crite’s family relocated to Massachusetts and from the age of one until his death, Crite lived in Boston’s South End.

The artist 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.

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 African-Americans. He resisted the stereotypical views prevalent in the 1920s and 1930 and sought to “paint people of color as normal human beings.”[1] He would remain true to his vision for the rest of his long life; his commitment resulted in an extraordinary visual and historical record of life in urban America.

In Sunlight and Shadow, three generations of neighbors gather in Madison Park in Boston’s South End to spend a pleasant afternoon beneath the shady trees.

 

Pictured: Allan Rohan Crite, Sunlight and Shadow, 1941, oil on board, 25 1⁄4 x 39”

Smithsonian American Art Museum

During the Depression years and into the 1940’s when many artists were engaged in mural projects, Crite developed a series of “neighborhood paintings” that were inspired by his Boston community. Crite has made the following statement concerning his neighborhood paintings:

“My intention in the neighborhood paintings and some drawings was to show aspects of life in the city with special reference to the use of the terminology ‘black’ people and to present them in an ordinary light, persons enjoying the usual pleasures of life with its mixtures of both sorrow and joys … I was an artist-reporter, recording what I saw.”[2]

 

Pictured: Allan Rohan Crite, Douglass Square, 1936, oil on canvas-covered artist's board, 23 1/2 x 27”

Saint Louis Art Museum

In 1979, the artist Alan Rohan Crite explained his preference for the kind of everyday neighborhood scene like Douglass Square. He said, “I was living here [Boston] in the South End with a lot of black people around me. I was painting them as I saw them as human beings, just ordinary human beings, having ordinary lives. In the twenties and thirties, the image of black people was distorted, to put it mildly. . . . But the ordinary human being who goes to the store, comes home, washes dishes, all the homely things—he just wasn’t registering. I felt it important for me to present that life of black people as part of the Christian dignity of man.”[3] 

Works by Allan Crite were shown at the Copley Society of Art in 1989 in an exhibition that also included works by Robert Freeman, Paul Goodnight, and Lois Mailou Jones.

Today Crite's works hang in more than a hundred American institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Chicago Art Institute, Washington’s Phillips Collection, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

He won several honors, such as the 350th Harvard University Anniversary Medal. His widow, Jackie Cox Crite, established the Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute to safeguard his legacy. Crite Park, located on Columbus Avenue at the intersection of West Canton and Appleton Streets, is currently being developed as a South End landmark and tribute to a Boston cultural and artistic icon and to memorialize his life and work.

 

Pictured: Allan Rohan Crite, Harriet and Leon, 1941, oil on canvas, 36 x 26”

Collection of the Boston Athenaeum

To view Allan Rohan Crite’s work, you can visit the Boston Athenaeum which has the largest holdings of his works on paper (prints and watercolors) and 16 oil paintings. The Athenaeum will have 6 watercolors and 3 paintings by Crite on display on their building’s first floor this Spring.

Additionally the late artist’s wife, Jackie Cox Crite, will be giving a virtual talk hosted by the Boston Athenaeum on March 25.




[1] Julie Levin Caro, Allan Rohan Crite: Artist-Reporter of the African American Community (Seattle: Frye Art Museum, 2001), p. 5.

[2] Allan Crite, The Artist Craftsman’s Work on the Church, Commentary on the 1950s, Vertical File, Library, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

[3] “Douglass Square.” Saint Louis Art Museum, www.slam.org/collection/objects/36107/.