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Two Woodcuts by Walter Williams from 1964, the Year of the Civil Rights Act

Walter Williams (1920 – 1988) was an African-American painter and printmaker, born in Brooklyn, New York, where he attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School, studying with Ben Shahn, Gregorio Prestopino, Reuben Tam and Victor Candell.  Williams held a Whitney fellowship 1955-1956 and, in 1960, he received the National Institute of the Arts and Letters Grant. From 1958 to 1963 Williams lived in Mexico and later in Europe. His works have been shown in the Brooklyn Museum; in the exhibition “Inter-American Art”, sponsored by the Mexican government and the U. S. Information Agency; as well as at the New Jersey State Museum and at the Print Council of America’s exhibition, “American Prints Today 1959”. 

He said of Fighting Cock #3, “I did similar prints in 1957 and 1959 under the title Fighting Cock. Being an American negro artist this subject has haunted me for obvious reasons. I have used this composition again for a new block with different colors and have therefore titled this print Fighting Cock #3. As for what this print stands for, I would like to repeat: ‘ Let each man who looks at this print decide for himself its meaning.’”

Williams said about Girl with Butterflies #2 : “Its meaning for me is no more than of a little girl enchanted by the beauty of nature, and surrounded by it. The only beauty and color in her life, maybe.” This woodcut was selected for a full-page color illustration in UNICEF’s Calendar for 1966 featuring “Children of the World in Graphic Art.” A powerful image, Girl with Butterflies #2 is very much an image of its time: As the Civil Rights Movement came into its own with the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Williams chose to highlight white flowers against the little girl’s dark skin and colored the butterflies both black and white.

Original woodblock print in three colors: black, orange and red. 20 in x 24 ½ in of an African-American boy holding an enormous gamecock with a spur.

Fighting Cock #3 (1964).

An original woodcut print in five colors: black, pink, purple and orange on a grey background. 20 in x 26 in, showing an African-American girl in a field of flowers, with flowers in her hair and black and white butterflies against a grey sky.

Girl with Butterflies #2. (1964).
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