- Thomas Hunster
- oil on canvas
- 25 3/16 × 35 3/16 in. (64 × 89.4 cm)
- Frame: 28 1/2 × 38 11/16 × 2 1/8 in. (72.4 × 98.2 × 5.4 cm)
- Thomas Hunster completed this painting while in the process of designing and building a house in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The wooded lot might have inspired his depiction of mature trees whose roots hug hillsides while mist circulates among flowering undergrowth and spring leaves replenish barren branches. The thickest trunk stands in the foreground, a large knot marking the site of a rift repaired. Textured brushwork and a technique called impasto, in which layers of paint thicken into texture, lend a third-dimension to the painting.
- Although Hunster (1851-1929) exhibited landscapes, still life paintings, and portraits to acclaim in Washington, DC and beyond, many of his works are unsigned, as he painted for his own edification and enjoyment. Born free in Cincinnati in 1851, the African American artist grew up in nearby Yellow Springs, Ohio, home to Antioch College. The area’s natural beauty, plus Cincinnati’s proximity as a regional art center where landscape painting thrived, likely influenced his lifelong love of landscapes. In Yellow Springs, Professor Hunster attended Antioch’s preparatory school and then college, whose pioneering curriculum combined traditional academics with hands-on learning. The college, whose first president, Horace Mann, advocated early for public education, was coeducational and racially integrated, both rare at the time. Professor Hunster brought all of this to bear in his artwork, teaching, and advocacy of art for all.
- Known as the “Father of Art” in early twentieth-century Washington, the innovative art educator taught for 48 years in the city’s then-segregated Black public schools. As Director of Drawing, he developed an interdisciplinary art curriculum for every grade level, which he constantly refined. His visionary leadership resulted in the city’s Black public schools offering industrial and manual arts classes eight years before its white public schools. Further, as most art galleries and museums banned Black visitors at the time, he created a museum within Miner Normal School, which trained African American teachers, and elevated the work of pupils and peers alike through well-received annual art shows.
- Upon retirement in 1922, Professor Hunster was succeeded by Hilda Wilkinson Brown (1894-1981), a notable educator and artist in her own right. The prolific painter continued to create and exhibit artwork until his death on August 24, 1929. A decade later, the Thomas W. Hunster Art Gallery was dedicated at the renowned Dunbar High School (formerly M Street), where Professor Hunster taught for many years.
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