Discipline: Visual Art – printmaking

Prentiss Taylor

Discipline: Visual Art – printmaking
Region: New York, NY
MacDowell Fellowships: 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932

Prentiss Taylor (1907–1991) was an American illustrator, lithographer, and painter. Born in Washington D.C., Taylor began his art studies at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, followed by painting classes under Charles Hawthorne in Provincetown, MA, and training at the Art Students League in New York. A fateful class in lithography at the League led to his new focus, and his subsequent experiments with various lithographic techniques and compositions beginning in 1931 quickly led to his earning a reputation as one of the U.S.’s great practitioners of the medium.

At the same time as his experimenting with crayon on stone, he became enthralled with the rich literary and artistic movement that was peaking in Upper Manhattan during the late 1920s and early 30s. As a result, Taylor met and collaborated with many writers and musicians synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance and became one of the few White artists active in it, counting among his closest friends the poet Langston Hughes and composer and MacDowell Fellow Aaron Copland (8x 25-56), as well as gay luminaries such as club owner and performer Jimmie Daniels, and writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten. Copland and Taylor met in 1928, most likely during their MacDowell residencies that summer. Just as likely is that their friendship evolved into a romance the next spring, according to Smithsonian Magazine. While both were extremely private about their personal lives, the Smithsonian makes the case that Copland’s letters to Taylor (available online) are “a testament of the beauty of love in written word.”

Around the time he was becoming immersed in Harlem’s nightlife, Taylor met Charleston novelist Josephine Pinckney (32, 33) at MacDowell, and their friendship prompted a visit to Charleston in 1933. Taylor returned to the city in 1934 under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project and created many prints and watercolors of Charleston and its environs, a place he’d maintain close ties to for the remainder of his life.

Over the course of his career, Taylor, who was in residence at MacDowell four times from 1928 to 1932, produced 142 lithographs depicting mostly narrative scenes of music, architecture, religion, and social justice. Many of these works, as well as drawings and paintings, are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art, The Phillips Collection, Gibbes Museum of Art, Museum of New Mexico, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Fisk University Galleries, and Greenville County Museum of Art.

Taylor's reach, however, wasn’t limited to art. He also spent some time working as an art therapist and, it is said, was a pioneer in psychotherapy through art with Harlem Renaissance figures and various other clients, Ezra Pound, his wife, and son among them.

Portrait by Carl Van Vechten, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons