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Allan Rohan Crite, dean of Black artists in New England, painted the ordinary and the divine

Allan Rohan Crite in his Boston home in 2002.GREENHOUSE, Pat GLOBE STAFF

This Black History Month, the Globe is saluting people from Massachusetts who have made a difference.

Allan Rohan Crite’s paintings depicted images of everyday Black Boston.

In “School’s Out,” girls gathered outside their South End school, their dresses in swaths of mustard yellow and baby blue. Three generations gathered in the shade under a tree at Madison Park in “Sunlight and Shadow,” with women seated on benches and children in motion in the foreground.

Allan Rohan Crite's "School's Out," painted in 1936.

Crite, known as the dean of Black artists in New England, painted the scenes around his home in the South End and neighboring Roxbury. He captured life and faith for Black people in the city and mentored up-and-coming artists as part of a group called The Boston Collective, serving as a key figure in the region’s arts scene until his death in 2007, at age 97.


“I’ve only done one piece of work in my life,” he told the Globe in 2000. “I regard everything I’ve done since age 6 as part of one work. And I’ll stop working on it only when I die.”

Artists Harriet Forte Kennedy, left, and Allan Rohan Crite posed at the opening of their art show at the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Roxbury in July 1995.GREENHOUSE, PAT GLOBE STAFF PHOT

His Episcopalian faith played a critical part is his art. Crite called himself “a liturgical artist,” creating sketches of biblical scenes in which the figures were Black and the settings modern American cities.

He was working on multiple levels, he told the Smithsonian Institution in an oral history recorded in a series of interviews in 1979 and 1980. Crite said he wanted to depict ordinary Black life as he saw it and also to use Black figures to illustrate the spiritual.

“I was using the Black figure to tell the story of man,” Crite told the Smithsonian Institution. “So the Black figure in this particular sense goes beyond, you might say, the parochial, racial idea. That’s just the story of man being told with the Black figure.”


Boston artist Allan Rohan Crite and his wife, Jackie, in June 1999.BRETT, Bill GLOBE STAFF

Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.