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Posts Tagged ‘George Washington Carver’

Photo: Photoquest/Getty Images.
American scientist and educator George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943) was also an artist. Above, he works on his painting “The Yucca.”

It’s reasonable to ask, Why celebrate women or Black Americans only one month a year each? But one advantage is that there’s an incentive for the media to dig out stories about interesting people we either wouldn’t know about at all or wouldn’t know about in detail. For example, most Americans know that a Black scientist called George Washington Carver did research on peanuts that helped farmers in the South. But I, for one, didn’t know anything about his paintings.

Eva Amsen reports at Forbes, “Last month, the Getty Foundation announced the grant recipients for the 2024 exhibit series ‘Pacific Standard Time 2024: Art x Science x LA.’ This event will include different galleries and institutes in California, which will each focus on the theme of science and art. While some of the planned exhibits focus on current and future science, one grant recipient is featuring an artist from science history. The California African American Museum received $120,000 for their exhibit ‘World Without End: The George Washington Carver Project.’

“Although George Washington Carver is best known for his research on new uses for peanuts, he was also an artist. In 1941, two years before his death, Time Magazine featured a piece about Carver in which they mentioned that 71 of his paintings were being shown at Tuskegee at the time.

“Carver spent most of his career as an agricultural researcher at Tuskegee, but he didn’t start his university career in science. When he initially enrolled in college (after searching for a place that would accept Black students in the 19th century) he studied art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He’d always loved plants and particularly excelled at painting them. …

His art teacher, Etta Budd, encouraged him to enter one of his paintings to a local art exhibit, where it was selected as one of the artworks to represent Iowa at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Carver’s painting, ‘Yucca and Cactus,’ got an honorable mention at the fair.

“Despite his talents, Budd worried that Carver wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist, so she suggested that he take his plant illustration skills to the botany department at Iowa State Agricultural College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree here in 1894 and his master’s in 1896, Carver took on a research position at Tuskegee Institute. 

“One of his initial interests was to help farmers increase the yield of their crops. Besides doing research, he invested a lot of time in talking to farmers and explaining the benefits of fertilization and crop rotation to restore nutrients to the soil.

“Partly thanks to Carver, crop production in the South did indeed increase, but this led to a new problem. Now farmers were stuck with an agricultural surplus of crops they had harvested but could not sell. … Carver invented more than a hundred new uses for sweet potatoes and over three hundred different ways to use peanuts. …

“Unsurprisingly, considering his art background, one of the new uses he found for peanuts was to develop paints.  He didn’t just use peanuts to make dyes, but other natural resources as well. Carver even created a line of household paints using pigments from Alabama soil that he envisioned would be more affordable for poor families.

“Carver used some of his self-created paints for his art as well. In the 1941 profile about his art, Time Magazine noted that he used a series of plant-based earth tones created by his assistant A. W. Curtis Jr.”

Using Alabama soil to make dyes caught my attention because I love the work of natural-dye scarf artist Jamie Bourgeois. Sometimes she augments nature to document the polluted waters of Cancer Alley in order to help the Louisiana cleanup efforts. It’s amazing to see how pollution changes the colors. Read about that work here. And support the pollution cleanup here.

More at Forbes on George Washington Carver, here.

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