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Charles Henry Alston

Charles Henry Alston


Early Days:

Charles Henry Alston (November 28, 1907 – April 27, 1977), born in Charlotte, North Carolina, was an American artist, muralist, and teacher. Alston graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City, then attended Columbia College and Teachers College at Columbia University in 1929 where he obtained his Master of Fine Arts in 1931.


Alston began his art career while still a student, illustrating album covers for jazz musician Duke Ellington and book covers for poet Langston Hughes. He was influenced by Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera, in particular, who tied their murals into early twentieth century social movements. Alston painted murals throughout Harlem, including depression-era murals as part of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. The best known of his mural works is one of a series of murals created by Alston and other Harlem artists for the Harlem Hospital Center. They can be viewed online at The sketches proposed for the murals raised the objections of two of the hospital's leaders, Lawrence T. Dermody and S. S. Goldwater, because of what they considered the excessive numbers of African Americans prominent in the murals. With financial assistance from Louis T. Wright, the first African American physician to serve on the hospital's staff, the matter received enough publicity and support for the murals to allow the artists to go forward with production. Master artists who worked on murals included Georgette Seabrooke, muralist Vertis Hayes, Sicilian-American fresco painter Alfred Crimi; assistants included modernist painter Beauford Delaney, and photographer Morgan Smith.

Alston's artwork often incorporated features of African art. During the Great Depression, he and sculptor Henry Bannarn directed the Harlem Art Workshop where Alston and Bannarn were mentors to African American painter Jacob Lawrence, among others. Alston was the first African-American instructor at the Art Students League of New York (1950-1971) and the Museum of Modern Art (1956).

Work done by Charles Henry Alston

He became a full professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1973. In addition to the murals, some of his paintings, sculptures, and illustrations are held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.