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Sam Gilliam

The career of painter Sam Gilliam has spanned decades and mediums, using paint, draped canvas and plastics to help influence numerous schools of art. Sam Gilliam, Jr., was born on November 30, 1933, in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Sam, a railroad worker and Estery, a maternal engineer. The seventh of eight children, Gilliam and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, shortly after he was born. As a child, Gilliam always enjoyed painting and was actively encouraged by his teachers.

In 1951, Gilliam graduated from Central High School and attended the University of Louisville. In 1955, he received his B.A. degree in fine art, and also held his first solo art exhibition. Gilliam entered the U.S. Army in 1956 and served for two years. Following his discharge, he returned to the University of Louisville. After three years of graduate school, Gilliam received his M.A. degree in painting in 1961. On September 1, 1962, Gilliam married Washington Post reporter Dorothy Butler in Louisville, and shortly thereafter moved to Washington, D.C.

In 1963, artist Thomas Downing introduced Gilliam to the Washington Color School, which was defined by bold colors. Two years later, Gilliam contributed his own innovation to the school by displaying unframed painted canvases, which allowed the work to flow naturally with the architecture of the display space. In 1971, Gilliam boycotted a show at the Whitney Art Museum in New York City in solidarity with the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, in criticism that the museum did not consult black art experts in the selection of artists.

In 1973, Gilliam created for the San Francisco Museum of Art the free-standing piece Autumn Surf , which consisted of acrylic sheeting hung over wooden support beams to give the impression of waves. By 1975, he had moved away from draped canvases to geometric collages, most notably the Black Paintings and the White Collage Paintings. Also, in 1975, Gilliam created Seahorses, his first outdoor piece, for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1983, Gilliam was featured in his first major retrospective at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. In the new millennium, Gilliam has continued to work with birch plywood and metal forms as structural elements. Though his work is featured in galleries throughout the world and he is a self-sustaining artist, Gilliam is committed to teaching youth the foundations of art and has worked in numerous facilities including Washington, D.C., Public Schools, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland.

Gilliam has received honorary degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Louisville; a Norman W. Harris Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago; two National Endowment of the Arts Awards; and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Gilliam’s studio is located in the historic Shaw neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He and his ex-wife have three daughters (Stephanie, Melissa and Leah) and three grandchildren.

Accession Number

A2008.099

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/28/2008

Last Name

Gilliam

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Louisville Central High School Magnet Career Academy

Virginia Avenue School

Madison Street Junior High School

University of Louisville

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Weekends

First Name

Sam

Birth City, State, Country

Tupelo

HM ID

GIL05

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Specifics: Teens or adults. Why art?

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - Negotiable

Favorite Season

November

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience Specifics: Teens or adults. Why art?

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Yes.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/30/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Sardines

Short Description

Painter Sam Gilliam (1933 - ) emerged from the Washington Color School to work in various painting styles and influence numerous schools of art. He created works for the San Francisco and Philadelphia Museums of Art, and won two National Endowment of the Arts Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sam Gilliam's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam talks about his parents' move to Tupelo, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam remembers his home in Louisville, Kentucky

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sam Gilliam describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sam Gilliam describes the sights, smells and sounds of his childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sam Gilliam describes the sights, smells and sounds of his childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam remembers his early exposure to jazz music

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam recalls his early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam remembers his aspiration to become a cartoonist

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam talks about his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam recalls his experiences at Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his extracurricular activities at Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam recalls his decision to attend the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam remembers Muhammad Ali and his family, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam remembers Muhammad Ali and his family, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his experiences at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam remembers majoring in art and education at the University of Louisville

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam describes his experiences in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his experiences in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam remembers his graduate studies at the University of Louisville

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam talks about the art of African American slaves

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam recalls his M.F.A. degree program at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his favorite cartoonists and comic strips

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam describes the early African American artists

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam talks about his disinterest in representational art

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his favorite figurative artists

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon the value of figurative art

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon the value of black art

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam describes the beginning of his career as a painter

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his early success

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam describes his creative process

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam talks about his favorite landscape painters

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his art career in Paris, France

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon his artwork

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sam Gilliam describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam talks about the limitations of history and geography education

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon his teaching career

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his children

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam talks about the role of women in the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

4$6

DATitle
Sam Gilliam describes his creative process
Sam Gilliam describes his art career in Paris, France
Transcript
Tell me about your philosophy of art and what you're trying to do with your, your work and what, you know, what mediums do you use and, and what are you trying to achieve with, with what you're doing?$$I don't know if I--I don't have a philosophy. I do know that, that, that--let's talk about the mediums first. I use--I use acrylic. I use acrylic and acrylic mediums, which is to say that I use gel medium, acrysol. Acrysol's a concrete hardener. I, I, I use painting as an idea, not as a subject. By that, I mean that I use an idea of painting immediately and then after. I mean I find out what I'm actually going to do next by what I've done now. I keep it very, very open. I think that it's like the first Miles Davis record I had, 'Sketches of Spain,' is that I know the icon and I have the icon. The icon is painting. And that I make it, I make it freely, and then I make it again as another issue after I've done it. And which makes a very pleasant time now, because I'm not showing, I'm just painting. But one of the things that's essential is that what, what happened in college [University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky] that was very stimulating was that working on paper. And since then is that I've--I think the idea first formed on paper, not as a sketch, but as a finish, become a finished painting. The one thing in paper is that you don't have to gesso paper. Paper has a hard surface and isn't absorbent, so therefore you would say the paint stays up. It doesn't take a very long time to dry. So it's just a matter of using that surface to go to another surface, and that surface can be either a glazed surface or it can be an opaque surface. So this becomes a painting. And I think that in looking at painting I see this. I mean I see how in Bearden [Romare Bearden], it is paintings with the lady in the door. I see an open surface of paper has the door as a frame, the woman in the door and things like this. It makes the painting. The painting is sort of, it moves and it's transitional. I don't think that--I collect African sculpture. I notice how the sculptures are actually put together. It's not a single carving from the tree. It's very interesting that some of the carvings from the Sepik and the coast of Australia are single carved things. But our carving is made and made to work and it probably comes from the law of wax process, or some process that comes from material of casting. So actually is that I think more about how something is made, you know, and that, that making.$So that the thing is that mostly I remember painting in an alley down here in 1968, the day that--or the time that King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] was assassinated. And that I think that the first painting I made I named 'April 4th' [Sam Gilliam]. But one thing that I realize is walking through that alley among all those garage shops, I used to see how those people actually struggled just to fix cars and things like this, the chances they take. And that the chances that you want to take in life are precise chances. If it's a stroke that you're putting against a tree to knock it down, that's what you want to do. You don't have time to talk about someone else's subject, you know? You have to concentrate on what you're doing and what the purpose is. So that's what I do. And that's the art. I mean that, that is, that is totally the art. Sometimes, sometimes the real things that you want to do may take twenty years, thirty years, long time. And that you, you just play back and forth. But I think the one thing that is more important is having a place where I can sit, you know, and think about what I want to do next or what it is. I also have a lot of associates. These are my buddies who live very close to me, architects and things like this. It is surprising how smart they are, you know? But what we don't talk about is that why did you get to here or why did you get to there. Of course there's those kind of circumstances that you have to think about. I've shown--I've shown--proudest thing--I've shown in, in Paris [France] for forty years. I got to know Beauford Delaney. I got to know a number of artists that showed in Paris. I showed a lot with French artists in this sense so that--or even with artists from the Dominican Republican--Republic. And when you go in and out you see them so that you see at least the, the sacrifice that's made to art and what it really means. And you see the way that they change. Many of the French artists are now doing conceptual art. And because the museum is being built for them by, by (Unclear), they've been off--out of the limelight for a long time. I mean really things haven't gone so well and that's because that people don't appreciate who they are and that there's been a lot of tension in a sense between them. In the meantime, is that I've had a chance to teach at a French university and that it's interesting to see their facilities. But one of the reasons why that they haven't made it is that the limelight became based on socialism or the Russian town for art, (Unclear) de Paris, grew more. Their freedom was actually stole, you know? So that you see is that if, if you begin to part something, an idea next to my studio and things like this and I can't fill it, I don't like it, you know? Because artists, artists don't grow from any artists, or from any art. I know that one of the things that was great about being an abstract artist here was that a lot of those artists, white artists grew from jazz. They grew from the blues. When we went to see the March on Washington 1963, a buddy, a friend who was white called me, said, "You better take me with you tomorrow morning," he says, "because I know Reverend King is going to say a lot of things that I need." So that in a sense is that in trouble you only need, you know, one sense or one message or one sort of feeling. So that's where, where I'm coming from.

Dale Clinton

Community volunteer and community resource specialist Dale E. Clinton was born June 10, 1927, in Tupelo, Mississippi. She attended George Washington Carver School in segregated Tupelo. Her family moved to Chicago when she was fourteen years old. Clinton graduated from Chicago's Wendell Phillips High School in June 1944. She enrolled in Wilson Junior College, Cortez Typing School, and studied commercial law and nursing while working for Spiegel, International Harvester and other manufacturing companies. Clinton received a political education organizing youth volunteers for Chicago's black congressman, William L. Dawson.

In 1959 Clinton moved to California. By the mid 1960s, she was a struggling single mother of five children living on a monthly $333 welfare check. However, local Head Start officials urged her involvement in the Neighborhood Adult Participation Program. When Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty called for the eradication of federal welfare programs, Clinton wrote a letter to President Lyndon Johnson defending the plight of poor mothers. The letter was soon published in the major dailies nationwide and featured in Parade. Congressman Augustus F. Hawkins read the letter into the Congressional Record. The letter impressed Sargent Shriver and trickled down to local human services officials. Soon, Clinton was sought for her advice and was appointed to the board of the local Community Action Agency. She accepted an offer for postgraduate training in community relations and eventually worked on the executive staff of the Office of Community and Human Relations for the city of Long Beach.

Clinton is the recipient of numerous awards and plaques for championing welfare rights, fair housing and economic development. Now retired, she still lives in Long Beach where she is helping to raise her grandchildren.

Accession Number

A2002.213

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/21/2002

Last Name

Clinton

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Wendell Phillips Academy High School

Speakers Bureau

No

First Name

Dale

Birth City, State, Country

Tupelo

HM ID

CLI01

Favorite Season

Summer

Speaker Bureau Notes

Possibly willing to participate in future.

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Chicago, Illinois

Favorite Quote

A Stitch In Time Saves Nine.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/10/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Greens

Short Description

Community activist and community resource specialist Dale Clinton (1927 - ) wrote what became a widely publicized and influential letter to President Lyndon Johnson, defending welfare and the plight of poor mothers. This prompted her appointment to professional work in service for her local community of Long Beach, California.

Employment

Spiegel, Inc.

International Harvester Company of America

Los Angeles Community Action Agency

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:74039,679:74395,691:78468,871:79892,1024:84392,1105:84802,1111:104980,1363$0,0:2666,47:7780,166:12455,274:42458,686:55061,880:60223,1022:95800,1404:112161,1558:142514,2056:177340,2444:184483,2590:186620,2602
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dale Clinton's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dale Clinton lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dale Clinton talks about her paternal grandparents, the Heads, and her maternal grandparents, the Wards

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dale Clinton talks about her family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dale Clinton describes her parents and what her father, Benny A. Head, did for a living

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dale Clinton describes her mother's, Sally Elizabeth Ward Head, and father's, Benny A. Head, jobs

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dale Clinton talks about her parents and brothers attending the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, now Christian Methodist Episcopal

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dale Clinton describes the sights, smells, and sounds of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dale Clinton describes experiencing racism growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dale Clinton talks about attending George Washington Carver High School in Tupelo, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dale Clinton describes herself as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dale Clinton talks about the food her family ate growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dale Clinton talks about misbehaving as a girl in Tupelo, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dale Clinton describes her teachers in elementary school in Tupelo, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dale Clinton describes her father being forced to flee Tupelo, Mississippi after stabbing his racist supervisor

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dale Clinton talks about how Chicago, Illinois differed from Tupelo, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dale Clinton talks about attending Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dale Clinton talks about opting not to pursue nursing after graduating from Wendell Phillips Academy High School in 1944

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Dale Clinton talks about trying different training programs in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Dale Clinton describes working at International Harvest, Chicago Mail Order, and RR Donnelly in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dale Clinton talks about attending Antioch Baptist Church and New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dale Clinton talks about meeting gospel singers, the Roberta Martin Singers and Albertina Walker, Ozella Weber, and Mahalia Jackson at her church

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dale Clinton talks about her husband, James Clinton, and their children

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dale Clinton talks about moving to Los Angeles, California in 1959

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dale Clinton describes her rocky marriage to James Clinton

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dale Clinton talks about working for the Lafayette Hotel and Packard Bell and moving to Long Beach, California in 1961

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dale Clinton describes volunteering for Congressman William L. Dawson in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dale Clinton talks about going on welfare in 1965

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dale Clinton describes her involvement with Head Start and the Neighborhood Adult Participation Program (NAPP) in 1965

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Dale Clinton talks about writing to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 defending mothers on welfare

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dale Clinton talks about her post-graduate training program in community relations at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dale Clinton describes when Senator Robert Kennedy was killed in 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dale Clinton talks about the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dale Clinton describes her hopes and concerns for the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dale Clinton reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dale Clinton talks about how her letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson defending welfare went into the Congressional Record in 1968

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dale Clinton talks about her hopes for the next generation of the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dale Clinton talks about her lack of political aspirations

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dale Clinton talks about her family

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dale Clinton describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dale Clinton talks about her desire for companionship

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dale Clinton describes taking care of her family and grandchildren

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dale Clinton talks about the problems caused by cocaine

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dale Clinton narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

9$10

DATitle
Dale Clinton describes her involvement with Head Start and the Neighborhood Adult Participation Program (NAPP) in 1965
Dale Clinton talks about writing to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 defending mothers on welfare
Transcript
But, anyhow after that was over and we all talked about this Head Start program, and I didn't know what Head Start was about, but anyway that was what I was there for and I--after it was over they said "we need to talk to you" and I said why, you know. They said "anybody that's brave enough to say that they belong to AFDC belongs in this program." So, they told me about the programs, and I told them I was not gonna work no more. I was gonna raise my kids. I was gonna stay home and be on AFDC like everybody else 'cause I wanted to raise my kids. So, they kept bothering me and I kept running from them. Finally, one day somebody from the city came and said "we really need you in this program." So, I went down to the community improvement league and met with the people and became a part of NAPP. It was the Neighborhood Participation Program, Neighborhood Adult Participation Program. Head Start was the number one program and then for children and then this was the program for the adults and you know what that was all about. It was getting people, you know, to start thinking work and start thinking education and all the rest of this stuff.$$An unfortunate acronym isn't it, NAPP.$$Yeah, neighborhood adult participation program.$$It sounds like we're going to go to sleep-$$(Laughing) But that's what it was. And from there I just took off.$I just--in fact in September or something like that of 1965 I was so involved in the program, and they was talking about cutting it out and all of that in 1966 I sat down and wrote a 32-page letter to [President Lyndon B.] Johnson, the president. It wasn't long after that that my daddy [Benny A. Head] called me from Chicago [Illinois] and said, "What the hell have you done?" And I said, "What do you mean?" He says, "I got somebody came to see me today from the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] asking about you." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "I don't know what did you do?" I said, "I wrote a letter to the president [Lyndon B. Johnson]." "What hell you do that for?" I said, "Because I felt like I had some information that he needed to know." And, you know, that was my fifteen minutes of fame and I went on from there.$$Was it publicized? Did it-$$Oh yeah, I have it. It's over there somewhere, you can see it.$$What happened, did they talk about it in the news or?$$They put it in the Congressional Record. They put it in all, most of the major newspapers across this country. They put it in the Stars and Stripes overseas. That's what they did. So, I guess you don't write to the president [Lyndon B. Johnson].$$Was it an impressive letter?$$I guess it was.$$Anything that's-$$I guess it was because I heard from a lot of congress people and senators.$$And the core of it was that he shouldn't discontinue those programs, right?$$Right, right and after that Head Start along with some other programs it was given like millions of dollars across this country.$$Increased instead of decreased.$$Yes.$$All right.$$Yes it did.$$Okay.$$Brought on another work type program and the whole bit. I guess it did what it was supposed to do. I was sitting on the beach in San Pedro [California] and I was just thinking, you know, we can't do without these programs. We were only making $333 a month. That was all we was making. But, you know, that was $333 more than I was making, you know, 'cause I was sitting home before that. And what they did was that's--it wasn't welfare to work, but that's when they incorporated a part of, you know, you can go to work as a welfare mother and they would do thirty-three and a third percent or something like that. They balanced it out some kind of way and they gave you some help. So, that, that was pretty nice, you know. And from there--plus I was on the, the board. By, by that time we--they had brought in down here it was called the CAP [CAA], the Community Action Agency and I was one of the members that was on the board and--.