Dec 29, 2014

Nathaniel Choate: Gay African-American Sculptor of 1960s New York

When I was living in New York, I had a friend who lived near the  Klitgord Center,  at the corner of Jay and Tilly Street in Brooklyn, the heart of the New York City College of Technology.  Every day he, and thousands of other people, walked past its gigantic 2-story mural memorializing some of the joys of college: Art, Drama, Music, Recreation, Health, and Recreation.

"Health" was a muscular man on the parallel bars, naked or wearing a skimpy jockstrap.

The Klitgord Center was demolished in 2013.

Recently I investigated the mural, and tried to find out something about the artists.

Sculptor Nathaniel Choate (1899-1965) was one of the few African-American men to graduate from Harvard in the 1920s.  Afterwards he studied in France, and traveled extensively in Morocco and Sudan, perhaps looking for the "good place" that drew dozens of gay men to North Africa.  He returned to the U.S. in the 1930s, and taught in Pennsylvania and New York.  He never married.

His subjects were usually muscular African men, such as "Alligator Bender" at Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Tile artist Francis Von Tury (1901-1992) was born in Hungary, had a studio in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and was a leading proponent of ceramics as both an art form and an industrial tool.  He never married, either.

Most of his work is stylized, but there are some interesting male figures, like this fisherman on a blue tile.

I don't know if the two men were friends, or lovers, before they began their collaboration.

See also: Myrtle Beach.

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