Charles Henry Alston papers, 1924-1980

Alston, Charles Henry, b. 1907 d. 1977
Painter, Educator, Sculptor, Draftsman (artist)
Active in New York, N.Y.

This site provides access to the papers of Charles Henry Alston in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 948 images.

Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art


Collection size: 0.9 linear ft.

Collection Summary: The scattered papers of African-American painter, muralist, illustrator, sculptor, and educator Charles Henry Alston (1907-1977) measure 0.9 linear feet and date from 1924-1980. The bulk of the collection documents his personal and professional relationships with figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Researchers should note that this collection contains very little documentation on Alston's actual federal WPA work with the Harlem Art Workshop, the Harlem Artists Guild, or his Harlem Hospital murals completed in 1940. A photograph of Alston in 1937 is likely the only reference to the actual WPA murals in this collection.

Biographical/Historical Note: Charles Henry "Spinky" Alston (1907-1977) was a painter and an educator from New York, N.Y. Charles Alston was born in Charlotte, N.C. and grew up in Harlem. He was director of the Harlem Art Workshop during the Great Depression, along with sculptor Henry Bannarn. There he taught and mentored African-American painter Jacob Lawrence, as well as Romare Bearden, among others. Alston also helped form the Harlem Artists Guild, which pressured the government to be more inclusive in its grant giving. He was an instructor at the Art Students League (1950-1971) and at the City College of New York (1959-1977).

The collection was donated by Aida Winters and Rousmaniere Alston Wilson, Charles Alston's sisters, in 1982 and 1984.

Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use this Collection

  • Read the Finding Aid for this digitized collection
  • The bulk of this collection was digitized in 2010 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials not scanned include health records, financial tax notes, duplicates, and photographs of works of art.
  • Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
  • For more information on using the Archives’ resources, see the FAQ or Ask Us.

Also in the Archives

Related Materials

In 1970, Charles Alston loaned materials for microfilming, including correspondence with Henry Epstein, Langston Hughes, Robert Riggs, Harry Sternberg, J. Johnson Sweeney, Hale Woodruff, and others. Also loaned for microfilming were sketchbooks, printed materials, and photographs. Subsequently, some of the photographs were later donated by Alston's sisters. The loaned materials are available only on microfilm reel N70-23 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan.
Additional Charles Henry Alston papers are also located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
Also found in the Archives of American Art are two oral history interviews with Charles Henry Alston, one conducted by Harlan Phillips on September 28, 1965 and another by Al Murray on October 19, 1968.