Dox Thrash was among the most successful African American artists in Philadelphia in the first half of the twentieth century. His influence extended beyond his achievements as a master technician and prolific painter and printmaker; he worked at the forefront of the movement championed by prominent figures such as W. E. B. Dubois and Alain Locke, a personal friend and supporter, to create art with a positive outlook on black culture.
Linda is an example of this intention. As a straightforward, sensitive portrait, Thrash's image of this woman is the visual echo of a statement that appeared in Alain Locke's text for the July 1940 Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro, 1851-1940: "For today's beauty must not be pretty with sentiment but solid and dignified with truth."[1]
Thrash's realistic approach to drawing this lithograph might also have been influenced by the entity that commissioned the work, the United States government. Thrash worked from 1937 to 1941 in the Philadelphia WPA (Works Progress Administration) Fine Print Workshop. This government support program provided economic relief to thousands of citizens in all walks of life, including artists, during the Great Depression. Its guidelines stressed a preference for works with subjects from American life that could be easily recognized and understood by viewers. The workshop in Philadelphia was among the best facilities in the nation. Thrash took full advantage of this opportunity and, during his first years on the project, led the development of a completely new form of printmaking known as the carborundum process[2] with colleagues Hubert Mesibov (b. 1916) and Michael Gallagher (1895-1965). Thrash received widespread acclaim for this invention, and by the time he drew Linda, he was already hailed as an innovative artist. Of the I88 prints Thrash is known to have made, 54 were realized under the auspices of the WPA. Thrash worked in many print mediums, including etching, aquatint, carborundum, and lithography.
Thrash's training also contributed significantly to the style in which he depicted the subject of this print. Before and after World War I, Thrash spent more than six years studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of America's most respected institutions with a curriculum rooted in realistic depictions and a reputation for unbiased treatment of its students, regardless of race.
Thrash always knew he wanted to be an artist. He worked his way to Chicago from Georgia by 1911. By 1914, he was taking night classes at the art institute there while working by day as an elevator operator. In 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in France. Thrash returned to the art institute with a veteran's stipend and spent another three years as a full-time student, taking day, night, and summer classes. He settled in Philadelphia by 1929. Despite a career of consistent annual exhibition credits, particularly in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., Thrash was never able to give up a day job. A few years after the dissolution of the WPA, he took a position as a house painter with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which he kept until reaching retirement age in 1958. Records about Thrash's late work are scant. It is likely that he devoted his last years to painting as few of his prints can be dated to the I950s.
Nancy Sojka, Bulletin of the DIA 86 (2012): 29.




[1] A. Locke, "American Negro's Exposition's Showing of the Work of the Negro Artist," in Catalog for the Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro, 1851-1940 (exh. cat., Chicago: Tanner Art Galleries, 1940). Thrash contributed fourteen works to the show, which took place in Chicago from July 4 to September 2, 1940, as part of that city's American Negro Exposition.
[2] Carborundum, or silicon carbide, is a gritty substance that when combined with a gluelike material and applied to a printing plate created a textured surface.
Artist Dox Thrash, American, 1892-1965
Title
  • Linda
Date between 1940 and 1941
Medium lithograph printed in black ink on wove paper
Dimensions Image: 8 1/2 × 6 1/2 inches (21.6 × 16.5 cm)
Sheet: 9 7/8 × 8 inches (25.1 × 20.3 cm)
Credit Line Gift of the Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project
Accession Number 43.378
Department African American Art
Not On View
Signed Signed in pencil, lower right: D. THRASH
Inscriptions Titled and inscribed in pencil, lower left: Linda 20/35
Inscribed in pencil below signature, lower right: WPA Art Program
Inscribed in pencil, lower right corner: 21
Inscribed in pencil, verso: Penna | Litho | Linda | by Dox Trash
1943-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Ittmann, John. Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered. Seattle and London, 2002, no. 167.

Sojka, Nancy. Bulletin of the DIA 86, no. 1/4 (2012): 29.