Profile: Elton Fax (1909-1993)

Elton Clay Fax was an American illustrator, cartoonist, and author.

Early life and education

Elton Clay Fax was born in 1909, in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Mark Oakland Fax and Willie Estelle Fax. His father was a stevedore at the Baltimore Railroad Depot; his mother was a seamstress. Elton Fax graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1926, where he was classmates with Cab Calloway. Fax attended Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, but transferred to Syracuse University, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1931. Soon after college he was featured in a solo art show at the offices of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.

Career

Elton Fax taught art at the Harlem Community Art Center in New York beginning in 1934, and was involved with the Works Project Administration Federal Art Project. Fax was an illustrator for magazines such as Weird TalesAstounding Science-FictionComplete CowboyReal WesternStory ParadeChild Life, and All Sports. In 1942 he began a newspaper comic named Susabelle, and later an illustrated history panel, They’ll Never Die, both carried in African-American newspapers. He also created greeting card illustrations for The Links.

Books written and illustrated by Fax included such titles as West African Vignettes (1960), Contemporary Black Leaders (1970), Seventeen Black Artists (1972), Garvey (1972, a biography of Marcus Garvey), Through Black Eyes: Journeys of a Black Artist to East Africa and Russia (1974), Black Artists of the New Generation(1977), and Hashar (1980). In addition, Fax illustrated books by children’s authors such as Georgene Faulkner and Verna Aardema, and created dust jacket art for various publishers, as well as a literacy pamphlet for the Pan American Union.

Fax toured Latin America in 1955, and was a lecturer in East Africa in 1963, both times sponsored by the US State Department. Also in 1963, he toured Nigeria with jazz musician Randy Weston, sponsored by the American Society of African Culture. He was one of the fourteen representatives of the American Society for African Culture at an international writers’ meeting in Rome in 1959, and he reported from the meeting for the New York Age. Fax also attended the Soviet Writers’ Union meetings in 1971 and 1973, and the Bulgarian Writers’ Conference in 1977. From 1949 to 1956, he was a “chalk talk artist” with the New York Times Children’s Book Program. Sue Bailey Thurman donated works by Elton Fax to the “Heritage Hall” at Livingstone College in 1973.

Fax was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in 1968. He received a Rockefeller Foundation Research Grant in 1976 to travel to Italy. Other awards included the Coretta Scott King Award from the American Library Association (1972) and the Chancellor’s Medal from Syracuse University in 1990.

Personal life and legacy

In 1929, Elton Fax married Grace Elizabeth Turner. They had three children together. The Fax family lived in Mexico for several years in the 1950s, and traveled widely. He married as his second wife Elizabeth V. Murrell, a social worker. Elton Fax died in 1993, age 83, in Queens, New York.

Fax was the older brother of music scholar Mark Fax.

The papers of Elton Fax are at the New York Public Library, Boston University, and Syracuse University.

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