Walter Henry Williams Biography

Walter Henry Williams




African-American artist Walter Henry Williams was born in Brooklyn, New York, August 11, 1920. He studied art at the Brooklyn Museum Art School with Ben Shahn, Reuben Tam and Gregorio Prestopino on the G.I. Bill between 1951 and 1955 and began to exhibit his work in 1954. He also spent the summer of 1953 studying art at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Williams won a Whitney fellowship to study in Mexico after graduating in 1955 and spent the years 1959 - 1963 there. He won the National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in 1960 and the Silvermine Award in 1963, among others.

Williams made his first trip to Denmark between 1956 and 1957. According to the History of African-American Artists by Bearden and Henderson, after Williams' four years of living in racially liberal Mexico he "felt the freedom from racial prejudice was essential for his further development." After he returned to the U.S. from Mexico in 1963 he decided to return to Denmark in 1964. He married Marlena Jacobson the same year.

Williams returned to the U.S. in 1967, invited by David Driskell to Fisk University as an Artist-in-Residence. During this brief return to the United States he completed a body of work informed by the experiences of being an African American living in the South. The Williams moved back to Copenhagen, Denmark in 1969 and in 1979 Walter became a Danish citizen. It was while he was in Copenhagen, however, that he created a series of colorful woodcuts of black children playing in fields of flowers.

Williams was commissioned to do a number of prints for the International Graphic Arts Society (IGAS) in editions of 210. Half these works (100) were sold in the United States and the other half in Europe; 10 proofs were reserved for the artist. This gave Williams an international following that allowed him to continue to work as a printmaker.

Walter Henry Williams died in Copenhagen, Denmark on June 12, 1998.