Profile: Betty Blayton-Taylor (1937-2016)

Betty Blayton-Taylor was an American activist, advocate, artist, arts administrator and educator, and lecturer. As an artist, Blanton-Taylor was an illustrator, painter, printmaker, and sculptor. She is best known for her works often described as “spiritual abstractions”. Blayton was a founding member of the Studio Museum in Harlem and board secretary., co-founder and executive director of Harlem Children’s Art Carnival (CAC), and a co-founder of Harlem Textile Works. She was also an advisor, consultant, and board member to a variety of other arts and community-based service organizations and programs. Her abstract methods created a space for the viewer to insert themselves into the piece, allowing for self-reflection, a central aspect of Blayton-Taylor’s work.

Early life and education

Betty Blayton-Taylor was born in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1937. Her parents were Alleyne Houser Blayton and Dr. James Blaine “Jimmy” Blayton, and she was the second oldest of their four children. Her parents were also active in the African American community. Her father opened the first hospital for black people in his district and her mother constantly fought for education for all. Blayton studied at Bruton Heights until 8th grade and then continued her education at Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina until 1955.

Blayton received Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University and continued her education at the Art Students League and the Brooklyn Museum School. In 1955 when Betty set off for college, Virginia did not allow African Americans to attend any of its segregated all-white universities due to its Jim Crow laws and no public black college in the state offered an accredited degree her chosen major, so Virginia had to pay her full tuition throughout the four years of her college career in order to comply with the federally mandated “separate but equal” requirements for education. This allowed her to attend the school of her choice tuition-free. She graduated in 1959 with a BFA degree in painting and illustration with honors. She then taught at St. Thomas in 1960 for a short period of time before moving to New York

Career and contribution

Blayton made a major impact on the art museum and foundation world of New York City, working as a museum art educator and co-founding a number of organizations. From 1968 to 1994, she was a consultant to the City of New York Board of Education where she helped develop arts education in public schools and programs.  She served as supervisor for the Museum of Modern Art’s outreach program to inner-city youth. As a co-founder, with Victor D’Amico, and later as executive director, she developed and lead the Children’s Art Carnival at the Harlem School of Arts. One of her most successful students was Jean-Michel Basquiat, who is thought to have learned his appreciation of adolescent creativity from Blayton-Taylor’s philosophy that spirit is more important than technique when it comes to your artwork.

She was also a co-founder and board member of Harlem Textile Works. Blayton was a founding member of the Studio Museum in Harlem and served on its board from 1965 to 1977. She also served on the board of the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop.

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