Thelma Johnson Streat (African American, 1911-1959)
Medicine Drawing, A Mural Study
Ink and watercolor on paper, 15 3/8 x 15 1/2 in. (39.0 x 39.5 cm), framed.
Condition: Rippling, handling creases, scattered areas of thinning to the paper, paper remnants and glue residue to the reverse.
Provenance: By descent within the family of the artist.
N.B. Thelma Johnson Streat was an African-American artist who achieved critical acclaim in the 1930s and 40s. Her works were collected by notable figures of the day, and in 1942 Alfred Barr selected Streat's gouache "Rabbit Man" for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, making her the first African American woman to have this distinction. (1)
The watercolor at hand, probably from the 1940s, appears from its narrative content to relate to a mural. Streat is known to have done work for the WPA, under whose auspices 2,500 murals were made, however no surviving murals by Streat have yet been located. Streat was one of few documented African-American women artists Diego Rivera permitted to help paint his murals, specifically with regard to the Pan American Unity mural for Art in Action Project in the Palace of Fine Arts at the Golden Gate Exposition in 1940, now in the collection of the City College of San Francisco. Rivera also wrote a highly complementary letter of introduction for Streat, describing her as recapturing the grace and purity of African and American native art. (2)
Among Streat's extant works are several cartoons/studies for murals highlighting the contributions of African Americans to the war effort, industry, and medicine. An undated and unsourced newspaper clipping found in the Streat family archives shows one published mural study, with the caption, "The Negro Woman in Industry, Portland sponsored, and the third in a series of murals which Mrs. Streat is painting as part of a children's visual education program. Color reproductions of the murals, depicting the Negro's contribution to manpower and wealth of the nation, will be circulated throughout schools and libraries of the country." (3)
1. History Detectives (season 7, episode 9). Public Broadcasting System. The watercolor at hand appears at minute 15:33 in the video. The work at MOMA, titled "Rabbit Man," is gouache on board measuring 6 5/8 x 4 7/8 in.
3. Courtesy of Dr. Judy Bullington,Professor of Art History, Chair, Department of Art, Belmont University, Nashville, Tennessee.
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