The African American Artist: Edward L. Loper, Sr.

This was the official website for Edward L. Loper, Sr. between approximately 2004-2008.

April 7, 1916 – October 11, 2011
Edward L. Loper, Sr. was an African American artist and teacher from Delaware, best known for his vibrant palette and juxtaposition of colors. 

Imagine this: A boy born on the East Side of Wilmington, DE in 1916, grows up and, as an 84 year old man in year 2000, glares at a computer screen and witnesses a listing of 113 of his drawings from the Index of American Design made while working on the WPA Arts Project in the late 1930’s to early 1940’s. This actually happened recently when Edward Loper, Sr. watched a search of the National Gallery of Art’s Website under the heading, Works on Paper. Listings include, e. g., Pa. German Chair (1937), Dulcimer (1937), Wooden Thread Holder (1937), and Toy Bank: Speaking Dog (1935-42). Realizing that these drawings were not art images but illustrations, Loper, for more than 60 years now, has been on a quest to discover what constitutes "real art." Through years of self directed study and persistence under all kinds of adverse conditions, both social (racial intolerance) and environmental (painting in harsh weather or just the physical distances to be covered to get to where art could be seen), it can be said that Loper has indeed discovered how to make "real art."

Delaware has the great fortune to have Edward L. Loper, Sr., painter and teacher, among its treasures in the arts. Loper has long been recognized locally as an important American painter of African heritage. However, his reputation on a national stage has not been fully acknowledged, although his early work has been cited in several instances: Across the Railroad Tracks ( 1938) is displayed in James Porter’s seminal book, Modern Negro Art (revised, 1992); others discussed in Art Digest(1941), Art News (1940) and House and Garden (1938). In addition, early examples of his paintings can be found in important collections such as The Delaware Art Museum; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Corcoran Gallery of Art; The Museum of African American Art (Tampa); The Museum of American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Howard University Gallery of Art; and Clark-Atlanta University Collection of African American Art. On the other hand, Loper’s "mature" works, for the most part, have not found their way into major institutional collections. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that his later work represents a development of a highly personal signature in an abstract genre, unlike much of the representational and figurative paintings executed by many well known painters of African American descent. Hence Loper’s works are not so easily pigeonholed into the African American painting genre. It is worth noting that William H. Johnson, another African American painter, gained much greater acceptance once he began to paint "black images" and moved away from his "turbulent" Expressionist style. This assertion is rather simplistic in several respects, but carries kernels of truth. (See Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson,A History of African-American Art, Pantheon Books, NY, 1993, pp. 185 - 199.)

In recent years, the tides have begun to change for Ed Loper, and indications are that his mature works will be properly acknowledged through exhibitions. The attention drawn to Loper by the 1996 Retrospective Exhibition of his work, Edw. L. Loper, From the Prism’s Edge, at the Delaware Art Museum, served as a launching point for much broader attention. This exhibition, curated by Jenine Culligan, Associate Curator for Exhibitions, covered 60 years of artmaking by Loper. The opening drew over a thousand Delawareans including the Mayor of Wilmington; the Governor; a Delaware United States Senator; and Delaware’s Representative to the U. S. Congress. In the spring of 1998, Loper was presented with a Governor’s Award for the Arts by the Delaware State Arts Council. Two months later, an honorary Doctorate of Arts was bestowed upon Loper by Delaware State University, an institution which was founded to provide higher education for African Americans. It is worth noting that Loper was in the most distinguished company with honorary Doctorates also having been conferred on Nikki Giovanni (literature), Dr. Donaldson Byrd (music), and Dr. Billy Taylor (music). Early in 2000, one of Loper’s paintings, Woman by the Window (ca. 1941) was on exhibit in African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, VII, the latest in a series of very important exhibitions (starting in 1994) held at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York, NY. Although Loper’s painting exhibited in the African-American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, VII exhibition was one of his early ones, it is likely that this important national exposure could spark a serious discussion on what he has been up to since.

In arriving at the highly advanced level of artmaking demonstrated in his recent paintings, Loper constantly experimented with different painting methods and styles. He drew early inspiration and learning from a number of artists such as Van Gogh, Van Ruisdael, Corot, El Greco, and the beloved works of Cezanne; and later more modern artists such as Picasso and Pollock. Over the years, he also came to know much about the great Venetian painters, Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese. In the catalog accompanying Edw. L. Loper: From the Prism’s Edge, Jenine Culligan summarized Loper’s approach. "Loper never copied any one style, but incorporated selected aspects of individual artist’s techniques and approaches into his own ideas. His fracturing of the picture plane began in the mid-fifties (see Peggy’s Cove). He often created an almost kaleidoscopic effect. 

Expressive qualities are brought out through brush work, color, and composition rather than relying on subject matter. Throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties, Loper emphasized color more and more.

In looking at the Loper images, one could take the advice of Marilyn Bauman, author of Edward L. Loper, Sr, The Prophet of Color, who also wrote the introduction to the Delaware 2000 Series calendar, The Art of Seeing. As you study these images, notice how color shapes are organized. The objects in a setting do not matter to Loper. If the shapes things make in space appeal to him, he starts to draw..Loper likes angles, too. His eye is attracted to streets with walls, or rocky coastlines, or tenements with fire escapes. It is the geometric angles that fascinate him, not the effects or light or the picturesqueness. He is all structure and substance.

by Dr. Wesley Memeger, March, 2000

LoperArt.com