Charles Henry Alston began establishing himself as a talent to be reckoned with while still a student at Columbia University, where he majored in fine arts and history. Alston, who died on April 27, 1972, in New York City, was an integral figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
Alston was first drawn to art after discovering the illustrated love letters his father had written to his mother during their courtship. Later, when his widowed mother remarried and moved the family from Charlotte, North Carolina, to New York, Alston served as the art editor for his high school's literary magazine. After graduating from Columbia, Alston earned a master's degree from the university's Teachers College. During his student years, he also began establishing himself as an artist by illustrating album covers for jazz great Duke Ellington and book covers for poet Langston Hughes.
He was the first African-American to serve as a supervisor for the Federal Art Project, through which he oversaw the creation of the Harlem Hospital Center's murals. In addition, he taught and mentored the extraordinary talents Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and other major African-American painters. Alston also was the first African-American to teach at New York's famed Museum of Modern Art and the Art Students League and to be appointed to the Art Commission of the City of New York.
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