Mayor’s Gallery offers salute to artistry of Allan Rohan Crite

Through the end of Black History Month, the Mayor’s Gallery on the fifth floor of City Hall will be displaying a selection of works by the late South End legend Allan Rohan Crite. Dubbed by the Boston Globe as “the dean of African-American artists in New England” and “the granddaddy of the Boston art scene,” the amazingly prolific Crite produced a huge number of paintings, drawings, and prints over the course of nearly a century.

Locally, his works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Art. Even more impressive is that other pieces are permanent parts of national collections like those of the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, the Corcoran Gallery of American Art, and the St. Louis Museum of Art.

The artist received the 350th Harvard University Anniversary Medal among his many accolades. His South End townhouse is now known as the Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Museum, and the nearby intersection of Columbus Avenue and West Canton Street was named Allan Rohan Crite Square in 1986.

Crite is perhaps best remembered for his teeming street scenes, primarily of the South End and Roxbury, but a few also from Dorchester. (While he was working in Dot for the federal Geodetic Survey, he did the charming “The School Outside the Office Window” [1945], depicting the view from the window of his third- floor office to the first floor of an adjacent school with a glimpse of students at their desks.)

Jackie Cox-Crite, the artist’s widow and keeper of the flame, had the challenge of selecting for the show a little more than a dozen pictures from the roughly 100,000 images he made during his lifetime. “He was drawing right up until two weeks before for his death at age 97,” she recalls.
Cox-Crite’s main purpose was to show the versatility of her late husband. “If you walk into the show, you might think that you were seeing the work of 13 different artists,” she said. “He wasn’t just a watercolorist from the South End. He worked in many media and styles …though his fundamental theme was always the neighborhoods.”

In this show the neighborhood motif is represented by a picture of the Charlestown Navy Yard, where he worked as a draftsman for 30 years. A 1978 black and white self-portrait shows his skill with lithography.

A devout Episcopalian, Crite often referred to himself as a “liturgical artist.” This strain of his work is characterized by his pencil drawing “Jesus, Mary and Joseph with John, Elizabeth and Zachariah,” which represents his penchant for imagining biblical figures as African Americans in inner city neighborhoods doing things like riding the Orange Line. In a similar vein, “Bambara Ancestral Figures” (1977) places traditional African figures in a contemporary urban environment.

The exhibit also features a portrait of Crite by Ted Charron, on loan from the Massachusetts Hall of Black Achievement at Bridgewater State Library, where Crite, who died in 2007, was the posthumous 2010 inductee. For more information, call City Hall at 617-635-2368.