BAIA BITS: Robert Neal
Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art
The story goes, according to his widow, that painter Robert Neal “began his studies when he was fifteen, and his lessons cost fifty cents a day. When he was about eighteen, Mr. Woodruff wanted him to enter a big show, but Bob didn’t have the right clothes and couldn’t afford to attend the opening.” Fortunately, that didn’t stop the prominent artist-educator, Hale Woodruff, who instructed and mentored the Atlanta-born Neal in the 1920s and 30s, from renting his promising student a tuxedo and a limousine.
Neal entered the exhibition and took home the top prize.
This productive artistic relationship continued as Neal, upon receiving a scholarship, spent six years on the Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) campus as a student-teacher under Woodruff, who ran the art department. In the late 1930s, Woodruff, heavily influenced by his artistic relationship with legendary muralist Diego Rivera, was commissioned by Talladega College in Alabama to produce a major project. He selected Neal as his chief assistant on the project, and their extraordinary effort was the Amistad Murals at Talladega College covering three massive canvases. The artwork, painted over a two-year period, commemorated the uprising of enslaved Africans aboard the Spanish slave ship, the Amistad, along with devoting panels to the founding of the college, the building of the campus library, and the Underground Railroad.
Woodruff would later point to Neal’s indispensable role in the project. Along with painting all of the backgrounds, Neal “kept my sketches and equipment in order,” recounted Woodruff. “He transferred the cartoons to the actual canvas. He posed for all of the hands and figure gestures that appear in the mural… I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
While working for the Works Progress Administration, and with a style heavily influenced by Woodruff, Neal produced a number of works promoting the achievements of African Americans and African American artists for some of the major exhibitions of the day in cities like Baltimore and Chicago. However, upon relocating to Dayton, Ohio in the 1940s, his work dwindled and he pretty much fell out of the public eye except for a mural he did for a local restaurant.
There is little available information on the life of Robert Neal from his move to Ohio up until his death in 1987.
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Stephanie Robinson, Esq. is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, a national media figure, author, former Chief Counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and former President and CEO of The Jamestown Project, a national think tank focusing on democracy. Ms. Robinson hosted her own national radio show, Roundtable with Stephanie Robinson, a popular weekly 30-minute, talk-radio program focused on culture, politics, and relationships that aired on TSN. For over half a decade, Ms. Robinson was Political and Social Commentator for the Tom Joyner Morning Show where she spoke to between 9 and 10 million people weekly, offering her perspective on the day’s most pressing social and political issues.
Robinson is co-author of Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise, (Atria Books, 2009). She is a nationally recognized expert on issues relating to social policy, women, race, family, and electoral politics. She was featured as one of the 30 Young Leaders of the Future in Ebony Magazine and was profiled in the book As I Am: Young African American Women in a Critical Age, by Julian Okwu. Robinson is a frequent speaker expressing her views in countless media outlets including the Associated Press, The Washington Post, C-Span, Fox News, NewsOne and NPR.
Stephanie was a Member of President Clinton’s first Mission to Africa regarding children orphaned by AIDS. Robinson, a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Maryland and the Harvard Law School, is a native of Steubenville, Ohio. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.
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