Profile: Charles C. Dawson (1889-1981)

Charles C. Dawson was an American painter, printmaker, and illustrator. He studied art at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the Art Students League of New York, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In order to afford to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Charles C. Dawson worked as a waiter in an art and literary club called the Cliff Dwellers Club.

Artistic Career

Charles C. Dawson wrote an unpublished autobiography titled “Touching the Fringes of Greatness.” In this autobiographical work, Dawson discusses his experiences as a student at the Tuskegee Institute, the Art Students League of New York, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as his artistic career and pursuits.

The “New Negro” Movement in Chicago

The Negro in Art Week Exhibition was an active agent of Chicago’s “New Negro” movement. Alain Locke hoped that the exhibition would showcase a “racial art” that expressed an individual identity for African Americans in both style and subject matter. Charles C. Dawson designed the cover of the 1927 catalog for the Negro in Art Week Exhibition. The cover included a full-length figurative representation of an Egyptian pharaoh as well as a West African sculpture juxtaposed with contemporary male and female figures in formal dress.

Exhibited Artwork

In 1927, three paintings by Dawson were included in an exhibition of Modern Paintings and Sculpture hosted by the Chicago Art Institute as part of “The Negro in Art Week” in Chicago. As listed in the show’s catalog, the three paintings were The Quadroon Madonna, Brother and Sister, and Searchlights. The exhibition ran from November 16 to December 1, 1927. Two commercial designs by Dawson were displayed in a related “Negro in Art Week” exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Applied Arts hosted by the Chicago Women’s Club from November 16 to November 23 of that same year. These commercial designs include a design for a poster and a design for an insurance policy heading.

In 1940, Dawson exhibited a watercolor painting titled The Crisis in “The Art of the American Negro (1851 to 1940),” an exhibition held at the Tanner Art Galleries in conjunction with the historic American Negro Exposition in Chicago.

Exhibition Organizer

Charles C. Dawson worked not only to promote his own artwork, but also worked to promote the work of his fellow African American artists by organizing and curating exhibitions of their work. In 1927, Dawson acted as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Fine Arts for the Exhibition of Primitive African Sculpture, Modern Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings, Applied Arts and Books. In 1940, he was on the Western Jury of the Jury of Selections, identified as a painter from Chicago, for the Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro at the Tanner Art Galleries in Chicago, Illinois.For the same exhibition, he also served on the Jury on Awards and the National Committee on Art.

Published Art Work

In 1933, Dawson published a children’s book that he both wrote and illustrated, titled ABC’s of Great Negroes. The book consists of 26 linoleum prints portraying major figures in black history. Each print is accompanied by a brief text describing major accomplishments and some biographical information on the depicted individual. Frederick Douglass, Dr. George W. Carver, and Meta Warrick Fuller are three notable African Americans included in the book. Some historical figures include Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu Cheops, Egyptian Princess Nefert, and Empress of Ethiopia Zaudita (Zewditu). Each print included in the text consists of a portrait, the individual’s name, a title or accomplishment, and usually the letters “CCD” for “Charles C. Dawson”.

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