Profile: Charles Searles (1937-2004)

Charles Robert Searles was an African American artist born in Philadelphia in 1937. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and was active from the 1960s until he died in 2004 from complications from a stroke.

Education and career

Searles received the Cresson Traveling Scholarship and the Ware Traveling Memorial Scholarships which allowed him to travel to Nigeria, Ghana, and Morocco in 1972. Upon his return, he created a series of works titled Nigerian Impressions. One notable work painted in 1972 was Filas for Sale which depicted colorful images of masks and patterns that fill the frame of the painting.  He received his first commission when he was asked to paint a mural at the William H. Green Federal Building in Philadelphia in 1974. The work Celebration, a study for that mural, is owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum but is not currently on view. It is a 27 1/2 x 81 3/4 in acrylic on canvas work that depicts masked dancers and colorful figures. Charles Searles was often inspired by music, and his Dancers series in 1975 showcased his ability to portray movement in his work. His piece Dance of the Twin Souls is on display at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum. He lived in Philadelphia until 1978, when he moved to New York City. In the 1980s he began working on a series of large sculptures including Warrior (1987) and Freedom’s Gate (2000) which were between 8 and 10 feet tall. He died in 2004 and is survived by his wife, Kathleen Spicer.

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