A PROLIFIC AND BELOVED BOSTON ARTIST, Allan Rohan Crite (1910-2007) was a life-long Episcopalian who described himself as a storyteller. He made paintings about African American life in Roxbury and Boston’s South End before dedicating himself primarily to works with religious themes.

Crite illustrated hymns, Bible stories, and liturgical scenes, populating his narratives with Black figures, including Black Jesus. He created a vast body of work across painting, watercolor, drawing, and printmaking providing a broad visual interpretation of Christianity from an African American perspective.

 


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “The Choir Singer,” 1941 (oil on canvas, 35 x 30 x 3/4 inches). | Courtesy of the Church of St. Augustine & St. Martin, Boston. Reproduced with permission © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

 

“Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism” at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute connects Crite’s faith with his artistic expression. The works on view also explore the role of the church as a source of spiritual strength and a nexus for community gathering in the period immediately prior to the modern Civil Rights Movement and the campaign for racial justice for Black Americans.

The exhibition is the first museum show devoted Crite’s spiritual production. More the 60 paintings, watercolors and works on paper, dating from 1934 to 1977 are featured. Nearly all of the works are on loan from Boston museums and parishes.

In another first, two complete series of The Stations of the Cross by Crite are on display in “Unchained.” Both made in 1947, the 14-part works from the collections of St. John St. James Episcopal Church in Roxbury, Mass., and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston portray the milestones marking Christ’s journey on Good Friday. “Were You There” (1939), an India ink on paper series chronicling the crucifixion of Jesus from the collection of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., is also on view.

The exhibition connects Crite’s faith with his artistic expression and explores the role of the church as a source of spiritual strength and a nexus for community gathering.

Crite was born in Plainfield, N.J., and grew up in Boston. He graduated from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School in 1936 and decades later earned a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University Extension School (1968). In between, in 1940, he started working as an engineering draftsman, making illustrations in the planning department of the Boston Navel Shipyard, until his retirement in 1976.

A few years later in a 1980 oral history interview with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, Crite discussed his depictions of religious subjects. The artist said in part: “A lot of people did ask my why I used Black figures in the depiction of people in the Bible. I might note here that I work on several levels. One level is painting the life of black people in the city, just ordinary people as I see them, the neighborhood paintings. Then another level was illustrating the spiritual, so I used the Black figures. In that case I was just telling the story of Black people, and using the Black figures because the spirituals are related to Black people naturally.

Crite continued: “Then there’s another area where I used the Black figures such as in these particular liturgical drawings and similar things. There I was using the Black figure to tell the story of man. So the Black figure in this particular sense goes beyond, you might say, the parochial, racial idea. That’s just the story of Man being told with the Black figure. Those are the three levels on which I worked.” CT

 

“Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism” is on view at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, N.Y. (Pratt Institute’s upstate campus), from Feb. 19-May 8, 2022

 


Feb. 19, 2022: Visitors attend opening of “Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism,” Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, N.Y. | © Michael Forster Rothbart Photography. Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart

 


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Harriet and Leon,” 1941 (oil on canvas). | Courtesy Boston Athenaeum. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

 

    Allan Rohan Crite’s images of his Boston neighborhood and its residents project shared values of family, hard work, education, and faith. In this painting, Harriet Jackson and Leon Bailey are dressed smartly and walk purposefully, setting an example for the children who watch them. Elsewhere, other children play and a man unloads blocks of ice. Crite includes the People’s Baptist Church in the distance; in nearly all of his neighborhood scenes, a church is somewhere present to underscore the foundations of religion in building community and solidarity (Allan Rohan Crite: Artist-Reporter of the African-American Community, Frye Art Museum, 2001).

 


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Cambridge, Sunday Morning,” 1939 (oil on board, 22 5/8 x 26 9/16 inches. | Courtesy Boston Athenaeum. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

 


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Stations of the Cross IV: Jesus Meets His Mother,” 1947 (linoleum cut with watercolor, 16 9/16 x 12 3/16 inches). | Courtesy St. John St. James Episcopal Church, Roxbury, Massachusetts. Reproduced with permission © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

 


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Stations of the Cross: Untitled (Jesus Dies on the Cross),” 1935 (brush and India Ink Drawing, 17 x 13 inches). | Courtesy of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

 


Feb. 19, 2022: Visitors attend opening of “Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism,” Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, N.Y. | © Michael Forster Rothbart Photography. Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart

 


Feb. 19, 2022: Visitors attend opening of “Unchained: Allan Rohan Crite, Spirituality and Black Activism,” Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, N.Y. | © Michael Forster Rothbart Photography. Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart

 


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “The Children’s Mass,” 1936 (oil on canvas, 35 x 30 x 3/4 inches). | Courtesy of Church St. Augustine & St. Martin, Boston. Reproduced with permission, © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

 


ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (American, 1910-2007), “Marble Players,” 1938 (oil on canvas). | Courtesy Boston Athenaeum. Reproduced with permission. © 2022 Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. All rights reserved

 

BOOKSHELF
“Allan Rohan Crite: Artist-Reporter of the African American Community” was published a decade ago on the occasion of the artist’s exhibition at Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Wash. Allan Rohan Crite authored and illustrated a few religious-themed publications, including “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” which is described as a Negro spiritual in illustrations, “Three Spirituals From Earth to Heaven,” and “All Glory: Brush Drawing Meditations On The Prayer Of Consecration” (a facsimile reprint).

 

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