Charles Alston, a painter who is famous for illustrating Black contributions to medicine through a mural in the Harlem Hospital in New York, died in New York on April 27,1972.
Fusing modern art styles with non-Western influences to create a new and distinctive African-American idiom, Charles Henry Alston was among the most important figures of the Harlem (New York) creative community in the field of the visual arts. Alston was also a pioneering educator whose students included several of the most prominent African-American artists of the twentieth century. All through his long career, Alston remained a student of art himself, responding to contemporary artistic and historical developments and incorporating new approaches into his work.
Alston, nicknamed “Spinky,” was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, on November 28, 1907. His father, the Rev. Primus Priss Alston, was born into slavery and attended divinity school after emancipation, he died when Alston was three years old. Alston’s mother then married Harry Pierce Bearden, an uncle of the artist Romare Bearden–who later became one of Alston’s own students. The family moved to New York in 1913, but the five Alston children (of which Charles Henry was the youngest) often returned to North Carolina to visit relatives. Alston showed artistic ability from a young age, making sculptures out of the red clay found everywhere in North Carolina.