Profile: Palmer Hayden


Palmer Hayden was an African American painter whose work became known during the Harlem Renaissance.

Born Peyton Cole Hedgeman in Wide Water, Virginia, he was a prolific artist of his era. He depicted African American life, painting in both oils and watercolors.

As a young man, Hayden studied at the Cooper Union in New York City and also practiced independent studies at Boothbay Art Colony in Maine. He created one of his first famous pieces in 1926, a still life called “Fetiche et Fleurs,” which won the esteemed Harmon Foundation’s Gold Award, prompting his patrons to support him so he could live and study in France.Over the next five years in Paris, Hayden was very productive, trying 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).

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 Cloyde 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 Cloyde a painter; they called him a janitor.” Many people consider this painting to be an expression of the tough times Palmer was having.

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 had other exhibitions, including at the New Jersey State Museum and the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.

Palmer Hayden was a great artist who made many visual contributions to this country. He died on February 18, 1973.


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