Visual arts

Allan Rohan Crite has produced an extensive body of religiously themed works, a new exhibition connects his artistic expression to his faith

A PROLIFIC ARTIST, Allan Rohan Crite (1910-2007) was a lifelong Episcopalian who described himself as a storyteller. He made paintings of African-American life in the Roxbury neighborhood of South Boston before devoting himself mainly to works with religious themes.

Crite illustrated hymns, biblical stories and liturgical scenes, populating his stories with black characters, including Black Jesus. He created a large body of work through painting, watercolor, drawing, and printmaking, providing a broad visual interpretation of Christianity from an African American perspective.


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “The Choir Singer,” 1941 (oil on canvas, 35 x 30 x 3/4 inches). | Courtesy of St. Augustine and St. Martin’s Church, Boston. Reproduced with permission © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

“Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism” at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute connects Crite’s faith with his artistic expression. The works on display also explore the role of the church as a source of spiritual strength and bond for community gathering in the period immediately prior to the modern civil rights movement and the campaign for racial justice for black Americans.

The exhibition is the first museum exhibition devoted to the spiritual production of Crite. More than 60 paintings, watercolors and works on paper, dating from 1934 to 1977 are presented. Almost all of the works are on loan from Boston museums and parishes.

In another first, two complete sets of Crite’s Stations of the Cross are on display in “Unchained.” Both made in 1947, the 14-part works in the collections of St. John St. James’s Episcopal Church in Roxbury, Mass., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston depict milestones marking Christ’s journey on Good Friday. “Were You There” (1939), a series of India ink on paper depicting the crucifixion of Jesus from the collection of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, is also on view.

The exhibition connects Crite’s faith to his artistic expression and explores the role of the church as a source of spiritual strength and a bond for community gathering.

Crite was born in Plainfield, NJ, and raised in Boston. He graduated from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School in 1936 and decades later received a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University Extension School (1968). In the meantime, in 1940, he began working as a technical draftsman, making illustrations in the planning department of the Boston Navel shipyard, until his retirement in 1976.

A few years later, in a 1980 oral history interview with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, Crite discussed his depictions of religious subjects. The artist said in part, “Many people have asked me why I use black figures in the depiction of people in the Bible. I specify here that I work on several levels. One level is to paint black life in the city, just ordinary people as I see them, neighborhood paints. Then another level illustrated the spiritual, so I used the black figures. In this case, I was just telling black history and using black figures because spirituals naturally relate to black people.

Crite continued, “Then there is another area where I used black figures, like in these particular liturgical designs and similar things. There, I was using the black figure to tell the man’s story. So the black figure in this particular sense goes beyond, one might say, the parochial and racial idea. It’s just the man’s story told with the black figure. These are the three levels on which I worked. CT

“Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism” is presented at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY, from February 19 to May 8, 2022


February 19, 2022: Visitors attend the opening of ‘Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism’, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY | © Michael Forster Rothbart Photography. Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Harriet and Léon”, 1941 (oil on canvas). | Courtesy of Boston Athenaeum. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

    Allan Rohan Crite’s images of his Boston neighborhood and its people project shared values ​​of family, hard work, education and faith. In this painting, Harriet Jackson and Leon Bailey are smartly dressed and marching purposefully, setting an example for the children who watch. Elsewhere, other children are playing and a man is unloading blocks of ice. Crite includes the People’s Baptist Church in the distance; in almost all of his neighborhood scenes, a church is present somewhere to underscore the foundations of religion in building community and togetherness (Allan Rohan Crite: Artist-Reporter of the African-American Community, Frye Art Museum, 2001).


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Cambridge, Sunday Morning,” 1939 (oil on panel, 22 5/8 x 26 9/16 inches. | Courtesy Boston Athenaeum. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library All rights reserved


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Stations of the Cross IV: Jesus Meets His Mother,” 1947 (linoleum cut in watercolor, 16 9/16 x 12 3/16 inches). | Courtesy of St. John St. James Episcopal Church, Roxbury, Massachusetts. Reproduced with permission © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Stations of the Cross: Untitled (Jesus Dies on the Cross),” 1935 (brush and India ink drawing, 17 x 13 inches). | Courtesy of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved


February 19, 2022: Visitors attend the opening of ‘Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism’, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY | © Michael Forster Rothbart Photography. Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart


February 19, 2022: Visitors attend the opening of ‘Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism’, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY | © Michael Forster Rothbart Photography. Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “The Children’s Mass,” 1936 (oil on canvas, 90 x 76 x 3/4 inches). | Courtesy of St. Augustine & St. Martin’s Church, Boston. Reproduced with permission, © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Marble Players,” 1938 (oil on canvas). | Courtesy of Boston Athenaeum. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

BOOKSHELF
“Allan Rohan Crite: Artist-Reporter of the African American Community” was published ten years ago in conjunction with the artist’s exhibition at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington. Allan Rohan Crite has written and illustrated a few religious-themed publications, including “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord”, which is described as a Negro spiritual in the illustrations, “Three Spirituals From Earth to Heaven” and “All Glory : Brush Drawing Meditations On The Prayer Of Consecration” (a facsimile reprint).

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