BAIA BITS: Allen Stringfellow


Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art

Champaign, Illinois. The early 1930s. A curious boy being raised on the Southside by his deeply religious great-grandmother experiences the power and spirit of the African American tradition of open-air baptisms. The impact of this then-popular tradition upon the artistically-inclined youth was indelible. Allen Stringfellow would carry it with him throughout his life, expressing it through his extraordinary art.


“In the Park” by Allen Stringfellow


Born July 9, 1923 to a Chicago jazz musician and a nightclub manager, Stringfellow did not grow up in his parents’ house but with his churchgoing great-grandmother in Champaign. Displaying a talent for art at a young age, he eventually enrolled in art classes at the University of Illinois in Champaign before completing his training at the Art Institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Upon graduating, Stringfellow relocated to Chicago and began teaching print techniques at the South Side Community Arts Center as part of the National Youth Administration program. Several years later, he was hired as general manager for a popular framing company, enabling him to meet and work with some of the most prestigious designers in the nation. 

All of these rich experiences, from his Christian upbringing to his daily adult life on the Southside of Chicago, manifested in his art as Stringfellow commonly explored such relevant themes as jazz music, Black culture, and religion. Signature works like All That Jazz, Ladies Day, and Party on the Grass After Baptism would ultimately represent such lived experiences. 

His art commonly combined  multiple types of media in a single work, particularly collage and watercolor which, according to Kathryn Koca Polite of Krannert Art Museum, emanated from “a desire to explore the depth and movement that could be uniquely achieved by combining these two mediums.” Consistently, Stringfellow recognized the fullness and complexity of the African American experience could not be adequately captured in one medium.


“You Must Be Born Of Water” by Allen Stringfellow


Given his increasing prominence in the art world, Stringfellow opened and managed an original art gallery in Chicago’s Old Town community in the 1960s. He would remain relevant and active as an artist up until his death in 2004, winning numerous awards and exhibiting his colorful art. 

Stringfellow’s works have been shown in galleries and institutions across the country including the Chicago Historical Society, the DuSable Museum of African American History, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

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