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People of African Descent

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Orson Wheeler, Negro (Tommy Simmons),1933 and Elizabeth Wyn Wood, Head of a Negress, 1926

How are these two sculptures similar and how are they different?

Both Orson Wheeler's and Elizabeth Wyn Wood's sculptures represent an interest by some white artists during the 1920s, and 1930s, in depicting men and women of African descent. Artists were inspired by issues of social equality and also by the form and shape of the facial features of Africans.

Wheeler's twice-life-sized bust of the Montrealer Tommy Simmons is very realistic in detail. We are impressed by Wheeler's treatment of the forms and shapes which accentuate the volumes of the face's structure, - the curved forehead, rounded nose, full lips, the strong line of the jaw and chin, the contour of the nape of the neck, and the texture of the hair .The model's physical likeness and individuality is secondary to the strong formal presence which is accentuated by the sculpture's size.

Wyn Wood's sculpture also demonstrates a strong emphasis on form. The overall design accentuates the oblong shape of the head and face. The rendering of the face with fine anatomical details, recalls a real model: rounded forehead and nose, full lips, and bobbed hairstyle. The mood of the work is calm and reserved, achieved by drawing attention to the hair's diagonal line and the downward tilt of the model's head. This archytypal portrait: from the neutral expression of the face to the downcast eyes is typical of sculptures made of women at this time. Wyn Wood's rendering of this unidentified African-Canadian model also reflects her studies of early Egyptian depictions of Nubian noblewomen in the Royal Ontario Museum.