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WHITE, GEORGE W., JR.

WHITE, GEORGE W., JR. (1903–1970). George W. White, painter and sculptor, was born in Cedar Creek, Texas, on September 8, 1903, the son of Lilly (Hodge) and George W. White, Sr. White had a Mexican, Indian, and African-American heritage. He attended Evo Elementary School in Cedar Creek and left home in 1920 to work in oilfields near Austin. White was a cowboy on the Douglas Ranch in Vernon, Texas, in the late 1920s; he assisted a veterinarian in Post City before enlisting in the army in 1932. White was initially stationed in Virginia and in 1934 traveled to Africa. There he learned about wood carving, a skill that would be important to his later work. Following his discharge from the army in 1936, White returned to Vernon, where his skills as a bronc rider at the Wagner Ranch became well known. In 1940 he moved to Petersburg, Virginia, where he worked as a barber and then as deputy sheriff of the town. In 1943 he moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the FBI and taught leather work at a government school. He returned to Texas in 1956 to farm family land in Cedar Creek. At some point between 1920 and 1957 he was married and had several children. White's career as an artist began in 1957, when he moved to Dallas to sell "White's New Discovery Linament," a bathtub-brewed cure-all potion that he invented in 1945. He met Lucille Williams while he was peddling his concoction, and they were married in Rockwell, Texas, on November 8, 1957. In the same year White had a dream that he would become an artist; the next day he painted a rodeo scene. For the next twelve years he filled their home in Dallas with relief works made of carved and painted wood and sculpted tableaux made of wood, leather, and a wide variety of other materials. White received no formal training as an artist, but he had an intuitive flair for interesting compositions and color effects. In his painted reliefs he tended to favor hunting scenes, colorful events from his life, and fancied scenes of the Texas frontier as subject matter. White used ambiguity of space and perspective to lend humor to the exceptional Fishing out on the Island (1965), a mixed media oil painting on a wooden panel. Wrestling (1968) has a hinged panel mounted in the center: when the panel is turned to the left the fight is represented in progress, and when turned to the right the winner is shown standing above his knocked-out opponent. Many of White's sculptural assemblages document black life in the rural South, representing subjects such as blacksmiths working, women laundering clothes, and men working in the cotton field. In Emancipation House (1964) several men are shown building a home on which is posted a picture of Abraham Lincoln clipped from a book; a turbanned woman holding a large slice of watermelon stands in front of the house. This tableau both celebrates the freedom of the slaves and depicts sterotypical associations.

White dreamed of traveling around the country by bus, exhibiting his work and selling his linament as admission. In preparation for his road show, he acted out the voices of his carved figures and recorded corresponding stories on tape. He mounted some of his moveable sculptures on coin-operated motors in preparation for the traveling museum. Because he had these plans for his work, White rebuffed offers to buy his pieces, and refused to exhibit his work, even, apparently, an offer from Robert Doty to exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. He did, however, stay in contact with Murray Smither, a dealer who became interested in his work after meeting White in 1967. In 1969 White awarded himself a certificate, which proclaimed, among other things, that he was a genius because he possessed "high mental power or faculties of intellect, inventions, talent, taste, nature and character." George W. White, Jr., died of complications following surgery on January 1, 1970, and was buried in Bastrop. The Waco Creative Art Center honored him with a solo exhibition in 1975, the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston exhibited his works in 1976, and in 1982 he was included in Black Folk Art in America 1930–1980, an exhibition mounted by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., that traveled to New York, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas. White's sculptures and paintings are in the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., the San Antonio Museum Association, the Museum of African American Life and Culture in Dallas, and many private collections.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jane Livingston and John Beardsley, Black Folk Art in America, 1930–1980 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982). Bill Porterfield, A Loose Herd of Texans (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978). Cecilia Steinfeldt, Texas Folk Art: One Hundred Fifty Years of the Southwestern Tradition (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1981). The World of George W. White, Jr. (Waco, 1975).

Kendall Curlee

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Kendall Curlee, "WHITE, GEORGE W., JR.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwh90), accessed October 02, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.