African Descendants in New Orleans: A Visual History
Frank Wyley, St. Augustine Church, 1973, Courtesy Benford Davis, Jr. and Deneen Tyler
Frank Wyley's St. Augustine Church of 1973 documents the historically-significant Tremé-based church established in 1842. St. Augustine was the first mixed-race congregation in New Orleans. Wyley's rendering, stylistically linked with Dufy's pre-Fauve imagery and Claude Monet's Impressionist renderings of Rouen Cathedral, is constructed using simple, outlined planes of nearly flat color. Wyley then bathed this historic edifice in eloquent, radiant light.
Frank Wyley (1905–1978) was one of New Orleans's most intriguing artists, yet also one of its least-known. Working from his Ninth Ward home, he produced an impressive and eclectic body of paintings, prints and drawings over a period of nearly five decades. A self-taught artist who supported his family by working as a porter, Wyley never ventured further than Mississippi. His work, however, was exhibited in Atlanta and New York alongside that of Aaron Douglas, Hale Woodruff, Lois Mailou Jones, James Lesesne Wells, Hughie Lee-Smith, Ellis Wilson, James A. Porter and other prominent African American artists. Wyley lovingly rendered his New Orleans: a long-forgotten peddler of rags trundling through the City's streets on a rudimentary cart, an Impressionistic Sunday outing at the Lakefront, countless French Quarter courtyards and straight-backed women with children in tow. Wyley's works, tinged with the influences of Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and Raoul Duty, evoke the distinctive beauty of the New Orleans cityscape.
From the late 1930s through the 1950s, Wyley received critical acclaim and awards in various group exhibitions at the Texas Centennial Exposition's Hall of Negro Life and at national exhibitions of African American Art at Dillard University and Atlanta University. Several of these exhibitions were sponsored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in conjunction with his New Deal legislation, efforts that supported numerous American artists from 1935–43. During the 1960s, Wyley continued exhibiting his works nationally. A 1974 appearance on ABC's The Reasoner Report, a nationally-syndicated television program, brought him increased attention, and in 1976, renowned artist and scholar Hale Woodruff noted Wyley's work in Black Art: An International Quarterly.