Hale Woodruff was a black artist who sought to express his heritage in his abstract painting. Of his artwork he said: "I think abstraction is just another kind of reality. And although you may see a realistic subject like a glass or a table or a chair, you have to transpose or transform that into a picture, and my whole feeling is that to get the specatator involved it has to extend that vision" . . ." (Herskovic 358)
Hale Woodruff was born in 1900 in Cairo, Illinois. After high school he drew political cartoons part-time for the black newspaper, the "Indianapolis Ledger". His art studies included the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis; Art Institute of Chicago;, Harvard's Fogg Museum School; and Académie Moderne in Paris with Herny Ossawa Tanner in 1927.
Tanner was a black American living in France where discrimination was not as pronounced as in the United States. Woodruff, like most young painters, was an artist in search of himself. In Paris, he painted landscapes, black genre and Cubist pictures. As he matured, Woodruff, after a period of history painting, would ultimately end up an abstractionist emphasizing African symbolism.
The artist returned to America in 1931. He established the art department at Atlanta University in the depths of the Depression, beginning a forty-year teaching career. He created the Atlanta Annuals, exhibitions for black artists. In the late 1930s, he painted black history murals for Atlanta's Talledega College Slavery Library that reflect the influences of the great mural painters of the age, Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. Woodruff had recently studied in Mexico with Rivera. Woodruff may be best known for these works, but the artist also produced, at this time, prints of black lynchings and poverty.
In 1943, Woodruff went to New York City for two years on a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation. Though he would return for a year to his Atlanta teaching position, this essentially marked the end of that experience and the start of his life in New York as an abstract painter and member of the faculty at New York University. He would retire from NYU in 1967.
Hale Woodruff died in New York City in 1980. He was a member of the New Jersey Society of Artists, New York State Council on the Arts and the Society of Mural Painters.
Woodruff's paintings can be seen at Atlanta University and
Talledega College, Atlanta, Georgia; Detroit Institute of Arts;
Newark Museum, New Jersey; Howard University and Library of
Congress, Washington, D.C; New York University and New York
Public Library, New York City.