Lecture, Drawing “The Color Line”: The Art of Ollie Harrington

Ollie Harrington, No, it don’t make sense to me neither, Bootsie.

Ollie Harrington, No, it don’t make sense to me neither, Bootsie. But white folks jus’ won’t buy nothin’ if it makes sense!, originally published in the syndicated cartoon series Bootsie, Pittsburgh Courier, October 17, 1959. Charcoal drawing. Collection of Dr. Walter O. Evans, Savannah, Georgia. The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art

The American cartoonist and satirist Oliver “Ollie” Wendell Harrington, B.F.A. 1940, is rarely, if ever, included among America’s most noteworthy visual artists. Yet in a career that spanned 60 years, he created hundreds of cartoons on the subjects of racial discrimination, political corruption, and class divisions in American society. Harrington’s comical captioned drawings—many that included recurring black characters—regularly appeared in major American black newspapers, leftist periodicals, books, print portfolios, and satirical magazines. Since the 1990s, there has been renewed interest in Harrington’s life and remarkable career, which has coincided with a burgeoning admiration for comic book arts. Scholarly attention has also begun to be paid to Harrington’s friendships with such 20th-century artists and social activists as Richard Wright, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, and W. E. B. Du Bois.

In this talk, Richard J. Powell, the John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, attempts to elucidate a greater understanding of how Ollie Harrington’s editorial art transmitted its satirical meaning. Powell pays special attention to Harrington’s marriage of the drawn line and printed caption text, which encourages a performative reading where the object of satire—African American life under segregation—is thoroughly sized up and creatively adjudicated in a stylistically rich, humorous manner.

Generously sponsored by the Andrew Carnduff Ritchie Fund. Established to honor the memory of Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, director of the Yale University Art Gallery from 1957 to 1971, the annual Ritchie Lectures, which are jointly sponsored by the Yale Center for British Art and the Gallery, bring distinguished members of the international visual arts community to Yale University. These lectures are free and open to the public, honoring Ritchie’s belief that the art museum serves as a gathering place for all members of the community.