Allan Randall Freelon
1895 - 1960
Painter and printmaker Allan Randall Freelon, Sr. came of age as an artist during the era of the Harlem Renaissance (1920-1940s), when many black artists were encouraged to look towards African culture for their subject matter and articulation. However, he resolutely defended an artist’s right to pursue their own individuality through freedom of expression and instead developed an impressionist style drawn from works he encountered at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania, and greatly influenced by Emile Gruppe and Hugh Henry Breckenridge, two artists with summer teaching studios in Gloucester.
Born in Philadelphia, Freelon matriculated at such notable institutions as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts, Philadelphia), the University of Pennsylvania, and the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. In 1919, he began a lifelong career in arts instruction in the Philadelphia Public School System, eventually achieving the supervisory position of special assistant director of art education, a ground-breaking feat at that time for an African American. During the 1920s, he continued his studies at the Barnes Foundation and began working with Gruppe, Breckenridge, and the printmaker Earl Horter.
Freelon first came to Gloucester in 1924 possibly at the suggestion of Breckenridge, who taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and established his Breckenridge School of Art in Gloucester in 1920. Both Breckenridge and Gruppe had summer schools on East Gloucester’s Rocky Neck during the years Freelon visited the area and were highly esteemed as both artists and teachers.
Gruppe stressed the relationship between color and emotion and was a proponent of using color to imply form, and from him Freelon received instruction in drawing and innovative color theory. Breckenridge was a champion of experimentation, a colorist who introduced his students to impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism, and other artistic movements of the day. With Breckenridge’s encouragement, Freelon rendered Gloucester’s winding streets and fishing wharves in bold color and expressive brushwork.
Freelon’s exploration in these areas can be seen in this work in the Museum’s collection, Moonlight Scene, as well as in other pieces from this period. Freelon continued to paint in Gloucester intermittently through 1936, and his work during this time represents his most experimental period of stylistic growth.
Throughout his professional life, Freelon was part of a group of influential African American teachers, writers, and activists who campaigned for civil rights. In 1935, his painting Barbecue – American Style was included in the exhibit Art Commentary on Lynching organized by the NAACP in New York City. The piece depicts a crowd of spectators encircling the burning of a chained black man. In Freelon’s words,
“I have not attempted to portray any particular lynching, but merely to record the horror of what has come to be a major sports event…”
Freelon’s works are currently held in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Howard University Art Gallery, and many private collections. He was the first person of color elected to the Print Club of Philadelphia and may have been the first African American member of the Gloucester Society of Artists and the North Shore Arts Association. He continued as an active contributor to the arts in Philadelphia until his death at his studio in 1960.