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  • Thelma Streat Bio Image
  • Thelma Streat

    United States

    Art Brokerage: Thelma Johnson Streat American Artist: b. 1911-1959. Thelma Johnson Streat (August 12, 1911 – May 1959) was an African American artist, dancer, and educator, who gained prominence in the 1940s for her art, performance and work to foster inter-cultural understanding and appreciation. Streat was a multi-talented artist, seeking to express herself through many creative avenues, including oil and watercolor paintings, pen and ink drawings, charcoal sketches, mixed media murals, and textile design. Streat traveled to Haiti, Mexico and Canada to study the traditional dance and culture of indigenous people. She realized that prejudice and bigotry are learned and usually during childhood. So, throughout the 1940s and 50s, she performed dances, songs, and folk tales from many cultures to thousands of youngsters across Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the United States in an effort to introduce them to the beauty and value of all cultures. With her second husband, John Edgar Kline, Streat founded Children’s City near Honolulu to introduce children to art and to the value of cultural diversity. Her portraits present men, women, girls, and boys of every color, age, shape, and size with dignity. Her work was sometimes controversial. The Los Angeles Times reported that Streat was threatened by the klan for her painting called “Death of a Negro Sailor,” portraying an African American sailor dying after risking his life abroad to protect the democratic rights he was denied at home. The threat only made Streat believe that a program showing, not only the Negro’s tribulations, but also the Negro’s contributions to the nation’s wealth was needed . . . and so, she initiated a visual education program called “The Negro in History.” Through a series of murals depicting the contributions of people of African descent, panels showed black Americans in industry, agriculture, medicine, science, meat packing, and transportation. There was even a panel on the contributions of black women. Streat’s work often portrayed important figures in history. Along with images of well-known Americans like Frank Lloyd Wright, she painted a series of portraits of famous people of African ancestry, including concert singer Marian Anderson, singer/actor/activist Paul Robeson, Toussaint L’Overture, and Harriet Tubman, etc. Streat’s impact on contemporary American art is still being researched and assessed. As a pioneer in modern African American art, her work influenced and was influenced by Jacob Lawrence, Sargent Johnson, Romare Bearden, William H. Johnson, and the other artistic leaders of her time. Her ability to integrate dance, song and folklore from a variety of cultures into a presentation package and utilize it to educate and inspire an appreciation across ethnic lines was revolutionary for her time.

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