Recently, the archive of the Archdiocese of Boston donated a painting to the Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library. The painting, "The Flight Into Egypt," was painted by Crite in 1936 and given to Father Henry M. O'Connor of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It was discovered while conducting an inventory of the archive's fine art collection, and through an effort to research the history of the painting, the archive staff was directed to Jackie Cox-Crite, his wife and cofounder of the research institute.
Born in Plainfield, N.J. on March 20, 1910, Allan and his parents relocated to Boston while he was very young, and there he would remain for the rest of his life. In an interview with Crite, printed in World Horizons magazine in May 1938, he reveals that his art career was rooted in time spent with his mother during childhood.
He recollects that "As I was an only child, naturally Mother and I were close companions...we constantly visited the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where for long periods at a time we strolled through the many galleries, stopping here and there as mother pointed out some painting, or a bit of sculpture, or some other treasure, sometimes telling me a story or a history of it." It was also his mother who encouraged him to start drawing, though he admits this may have been to keep him occupied while she worked around the house.
While attending elementary school in lower Roxbury, at the suggestion of his instructors, he attended the Children's Art Centre, then weekend classes at the MFA, and finally the School of the MFA where he graduated in 1936. Upon graduating, Crite was employed through the Federal Arts Program, part of the Works Project Administration. He was later hired as a draughtsman at the Charlestown Navy Yard from 1941 until its closing in 1974. Meanwhile, Crite continued to pursue a career in art and earned a bachelor of arts from the Harvard Extension School.
A devout Episcopalian his entire life, he was baptized and remained an active member of St. Bartholomew's Church in Cambridge. Mrs. Cox-Crite relates that he was one of the first lay readers of color, and would read in English and Spanish at both Episcopal and Catholic churches throughout Massachusetts. He also maintained friendships with clergy from various denominations throughout his life.
"The Flight Into Egypt" is just one example of the many religious-themed works Crite would produce throughout his career. This brush and India ink drawing is from an exquisite series that highlights stories from the New Testament. Some of his most notable works are his illustrations of spirituals and stories from the Bible. He recalls singing the spirituals with his mother at a very young age, and his family attending performances by visiting choirs, but remarks that "the desire to illustrate the Spirituals came not suddenly but gradually. It was an outgrowth of a childhood desire to tell the Bible story in pictures."
This desire was fulfilled in several of his published works, including "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" (1944), "Three Spirituals from Earth to Heaven" (1948), and "Book of Revelation" (1994). In addition, he designed and painted three church murals, many oil paintings, a church entryway, and the Stations of the Cross for a convent in Detroit. He also contributed cover art for various national and international church bulletins and publications throughout his career.
As a testament to his long and inspiring career as an artist, Crite was made an Honorary Doctor of Humanities at Suffolk University (1978), Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at Emmanuel College (1983), Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at the Massachusetts College of Arts (1988), Honorary Doctor of Divinity at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church (1994), and Honorary Doctor of Divinity at the Virginia Theological Seminary (2004). He also received the Harvard University 350th Anniversary Medal (1986), a lifetime achievement award from St. Bartholomew's Church (2005), and a stained glass window named in his honor at Christ Episcopal Church, Bronxville, N.Y. (1994).
His works have found their way into the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Athenaeum, Boston Public Library, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Phillips Collection, Smithsonian Institute, Museum of African American History, and Corcoran Gallery of American Art, among others.
The archive is very pleased to be able to donate this painting to the Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library where it can be displayed and appreciated alongside some of his other works. We would also like to thank Mrs. Cox-Crite who generously shared her knowledge of her husband's career and faith with us.
Those interested in Mr. Crite's career and artwork can contact the research institute by writing to the Allan Rohan Crite Research Institute and Library at P.O. Box 171534, Boston, MA 02117, emailing email@example.com or calling 857-246-0915.
THOMAS LESTER IS THE ARCHIVIST/RECORDS MANAGER OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.