Edwin Augustus Harleston: African American Master of the Charleston Renaissance Arts Movement and Vanguard Civil Rights Leader

We who know the history of the Arts in Charleston are
aware of Charleston Renaissance Artists such as Alfred Hutty, Elizabeth O’Neill
Verner and Alice Smith.

Boone Hall, by Edwin Harleston

 But today is the Birthday of the greatest and perhaps
only African American member of that movement. His name is Edwin Harleston  Born March 14,1882, in Charleston, SC. Edwin
Augustus Harleston was one of eight children. His father was a rice planter, a
sea captain, and owned a funeral home.

Harleston received a scholarship to study at the Avery
Normal Institute in Charleston and graduated valedictorian in 1900. For four
years he attended Atlanta University where he played football and sang in a
quartet. He relocated to Boston in 1905 to attend the art school of the Boston
Museum of Fine Art where he studied under William Paxton and Frank Benson
until 1913.

The seven year course was formed under the Beaux Arts
tradition and formed the foundation of his style. With a passion for his art, he reluctantly returned to South Carolina to help in his father’s funeral home. It was during
this time that he became active in local civil rights groups and eventually
became president of the newly formed Charleston branch of the N.A.A.C.P. He led
an effort that soon forced the public school system to hire Black teachers.He married Elise Forrest in 1920. She was a photographer , and two years later they
opened a studio, which featured both of their works.

Influenced by of much of her work, he developed a highly
realistic and academic technique of portraiture; many of his works were
commissioned. His patrons included prominent national figures including the president of Atlanta University,
philanthropist-Pierre S. Dupont, and the president of the Atlanta Life
Insurance Co. Harleston’s character studies include The Bible Student (1924),
and Miss Bailey with the African Shawl (1930)..

At the request of Aaron Douglass, he assisted in painting
murals for Fisk University that depicted a panoramic view of Black history from
slavery onward. This work was completed in 1931 the year that he died. Shortly
before his death Edwin Harleston received the Alain Locke Prize for portrait
painting for his work The Old Servant at an exhibition of the Harmon

Edwin Augustus Harleston,self portrait

Source: African American Registry

Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers themed tours od Historic Charleston including the Old Walled City Tour, the Home and Garden Tour, the Slavery and Freedom Tour, and the Charleston Ghost Walk. Go to www.walledcitytours.come to learn more!



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