Kathleen Blackshear

Early Kathleen Blackshear- Portrait of Woman in Purple Dress 1920s



Oil Paint


Early Kathleen Blackshear oil painting of an African American woman in a purple dress and hat on a dark blue background.

Artist Biography

Kathleen Blackshear was born in the Texas cotton belt in 1897 in Navasota, TX. She grew up spending summers on the nearby cotton plantations of both her maternal and paternal families close to Navasota, a town founded by her grandfather. It was there that she became friends with the children of the African Americans who picked cotton for her family; this experience would have great significance in her later career, both as an artist and teacher. She began art lessons at age 12, copying magazine illustrations, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in modern languages from Baylor University in Waco in 1917. She studied at the Art Students League in New York, where her teachers included Solon Borglum, George Bridgeman, and Frank Vincent DuMond. In 1918, she left New York and spent the next six years travelling and exploring career options in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Europe, and Mexico, continuing to produce photographs, prints, paintings, and sculpture Blackshear moved to Chicago in 1924, where she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to study painting and graphic arts. The art history class taught by Helen Gardner that she took in 1925 proved pivotal. Gardner became a mentor and inspiration to Blackshear, who began teaching art history the following year, continuing until her retirement in 1961. Like Gardner—whose widely used textbooks, Art Through the Ages (1926) and Understanding the Arts (1932), she illustrated—Blackshear introduced modernist ideas in her courses. She did not teach the standard history of classical through Renaissance art, but included a wide variety of non-western, pre-Renaissance, and progressive, twentieth-century art in her classes. Blackshear frequently depicted African Americans, often inspired by her summer visits to Texas and her childhood memories but also by her experiences in Chicago. Blackshear maintained a studio in Houston and spent many summers at her home in Navasota, where she retired in 1961, with her partner, Ethel Spears. She also sketched in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. She passed away in 1988 in Navasota, TX.

Dimensions With Frame

H 14 in. x W 16 in.

Dimensions Without Frame

H 10 in. x W 11.5 in.
Early Kathleen Blackshear- Portrait of Woman in Purple Dress 1920s