An 'Artist Reporter' Looks at Boston in the 1930s, '40s

It is fitting that Allan Rohan Crite's work is on exhibit at the Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States. Mr. Crite was a librarian himself for 20 years at his alma mater, Harvard University's Extension School.

And as the Athenaeum's rare texts on local history give visitors a sense of Boston's past, so too do the works of this African-American artist. Crite's paintings, lithographs, and drawings of the city from the 1930s and '40s are on view through November.

Crite, a self-described "artist reporter," depicts everyday neighborhood life: children playing marbles against a backdrop of row houses; a church-choir robing room; men clustered around a newspaper learning of the death of FDR; the interior of a trolley in early morning. There is a unifying tonality of reddish browns, slates, and grays in his work, as if the paint were mixed with the dust of old bricks from the buildings and streets.

Two of Crite's works are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, deputy chief curator there, says Crite's works "are immensely popular within the best public collection of African-American art." But they also transcend that context with their broad appeal, she says.

Much of Crite's work emerged from his childhood experience in Roxbury, a poorer section of the city. Starting in the 1940s, his work began to focus on religious themes, including biblical figures in traditional and nontraditional settings.

Crite was born in North Plainfield, N.J., and moved to Boston with his parents as a boy. He later attended Boston University, the Massachusetts College of Art, and Harvard, where an academic prize was named for him. He and his wife, Jackie Cox-Crite, live in Boston's South End, where he continues his work.

* 'Allan Crite's Boston' is at The Boston Athenaeum, 10-1/2 Beacon St., Boston, through Nov. 29.

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