Alumni Profile

Allan Rohan Crite, EHS ’29, Captured The Pulse of Boston’s African-American Community

Allan Rohan Crite, EHS ’29

In the top left-hand corner of the EHSA’s 200th Anniversary Brochure is the photo of Allan Rohan Crite, EHS class of 1929, shown here. Perhaps not as recognizable as JP Morgan or other famous English High alums, Crite was an African-American artist whose contributions to the world of art are enormous.
 
Crite was born in New Jersey on March 20, 1910. The family relocated to Massachusetts and from the age of one until his death Crite lived in Boston’s South End.
 
His mother Annamae, was a poet who encouraged her son to draw. Showing promise at a young age, he enrolled in the Children’s Art Centre at United South End Settlements in Boston. His father, Oscar William Crite, was a doctor and an engineer, one of the first African-Americans to earn an engineering license.
 
After Crite’s graduation from English, he was admitted to the Yale School of Art but chose to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and graduated in 1936. Recognition came early as well. Crite’s work was first shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1936. Crite then attended Harvard Extension School where he earned a BA degree in 1968.
 
Crite was among the few African-Americans employed by the Federal Arts Project. In 1940, he took a job as an engineering draftsman with the Boston Naval Shipyard and this supported his work as an artist for 30 years. He later worked part time as a librarian at Harvard.
 

Allan Rohan Crite in the 1980’s

In 1986, Boston named the intersection of Columbus Avenue and West Canton Street, steps from his home, Allan Rohan Crite Square. In 1993, Crite married Jackie Cox-Crite and together they established the Crite House Museum in their home at 410 Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End.

Crite hoped to depict the life of African-Americans living in Boston in a new and different way: as ordinary citizens or the “middle class” rather than stereotypical jazz musicians or sharecroppers. Through his art, he intended to tell the story of African Americans as part of the fabric of American society and its reality. By using representational style rather than modernism, Crite felt that he could more adequately “report” and capture the reality that African Americans were part of but often unaccounted for.
Crite explained his body of work as having a common theme: “I’ve only done one piece of work in my whole life and I am still at it. I wanted to paint people of color as normal humans. I tell the story of man through the black figure.”

 

Madonna of the Subway by Allan Crite, 1946

His paintings fall into two categories: religious themes and general African-American experiences, with some reviewers adding a third category for work depicting Negro Spirituals. Spirituals, Crite believed, expressed a certain humanity. He was a devout Episcopalian and his religion inspired many of his works.
 
His 1946 painting Madonna of the Subway is an example of a blend of genres, depicting a Black Holy Mother and baby Jesus riding Boston’s Orange Line. Other pieces such as School’s Out (1936) reflect on the themes of community, family, society.

School’s Out, 1936

Crite’s works hang in more than a hundred American institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Washington’s Phillips Collection. The Boston Athenaeum holds the largest public collection of his paintings and watercolors, a bequest from Crite in gratitude for his long tenure there as a visiting artist.
 
Suffolk University awarded Allan Crite with an honorary doctorate in 1979. He was also awarded a 350th Harvard University Anniversary Medal. Crite died in his sleep of natural causes on September 6, 2007, at age 97. His widow established the Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute to safeguard his legacy, which Crite never thought important, by authenticating and cataloging his many scattered works.

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