Artist and educator, Charles Alston played a significant role in the Harlem Renaissance paving the way for many important African American artists in Harlem. Alston established the Harlem Art Workshop for aspiring artists, and a youth program called Utopia House, where Alston mentored Jacob Lawrence.
Alston was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and moved to Harlem when he was seven years old. At a young age, Alston lost his father, and his mother later married Harry P. Bearden, the uncle of Romare Bearden. Alston was concerned with social issues from an early age, and as a teenager he drew political cartoons dealing with issues of race. Alston attended Columbia University and was awarded the Arthur Wesley Dow Fellowship as funding for graduate work at Columbia’s Teachers College.
Alston established the Harlem Art Workshop and Utopia House while he was still a graduate student. His studio at 306 West 141st Street became a hub for African American artists to meet and exchange ideas. In 1935, Alston was appointed the first African American supervisor in the Federal Arts Project. In this position Alston formed the Harlem Artists Guild. Alston went on to become the first black instructor at the Art Students League and at the Museum of Modern Art.
Charles Alston’s work is represented in many important collections including The Whitney Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.