Eldzier Cortor (b. 1916)

Born in Richmond, Virginia to educated middle class parents who then moved to Chicago in 1917, Eldzier Cortor became a member of the “Chicago Renaissance of Black Art” in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  In 1936, he attended the School of Art Institute of Chicago and later studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design under Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.  He worked for the WPA Federal Arts Project in the 1930’s, and in 1941 co-founded the South Side Community Art Center. 

After winning two successive Rosenwald Grants, he traveled to the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas.  It was here that he began to paint the women of the Gullah community as the archetype of African American culture, with their long, elegant necks and colorful head scarves.  He focused on “classical composition”, making his figures resemble African sculpture. In 1946, Life magazine published one of these semi-nude female figures.  

In 1949, Cortor received a Guggenheim Fellowship and traveled to the West Indies to paint in Jamaica and Cuba before settling in Haiti for two years where he taught classes at the Centre d’Art in Port au Prince.  

In 1950, Cortor was selected as one of the top 19 American artists under 36 by Life magazine and his work was featured in an exhibition of these artists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.