The papers of Palmer C. Hayden in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007. The papers have been scanned in their entirety and total 4,060 images.
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Born Peyton Cole Hedgeman, in Widewater, Virginia in 1890, Palmer Hayden received his first art instruction through correspondence courses, then studied in 1925 with Asa Grant Randall at the Boothbay Art Colony, in Maine, specializing in marine subjects. In 1927, Hayden's seascape, Schooners, won first prize for "Distinguished Achievement in Fine Arts" in the Harmon Foundation's first awards ceremony. With that award, and an additional grant from a patron, Hayden was able to continue his studies in Paris, where he further developed his skills in seascapes and ethnic subject matter. Hayden was among the first African-American artists to use African-American subjects and designs in his painting.
Hayden returned to the United States in 1932 and worked steadily over the next several years for the United States government, including the Treasury Relief Art Project and the Works Progress Administration. In 1944 Hayden began work on his noted Ballad of John Henry series of twelve paintings that would occupy him for a decade. In his later work, Hayden continued to focus on African-American themes, capturing both rural gatherings in the South and the urban milieu of New York.