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Hardrick, John Wesley Little Brown Girl, 1927


John Wesley Hardrick lived and worked his entire life in Indianapolis. He began drawing as a child and first exhibited his works as a teenager, at the Negro Business League Convention in 1904. His creative talent was encouraged by a teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe School, who introduced him to Herman Lieber, a German immigrant who ran the premier art supply store and gallery in town. It was through Lieber’s influence that Hardrick first attended the children’s classes at the Herron Art Institute. Hardrick was a pupil of Otto Stark’s at the Emmerich Manual Training School. He continued his studies at Herron for eight years as a pupil under Stark, William Forsyth, and Clifton Wheeler. To support himself, Hardrick worked at the Indianapolis Stove Foundry at night.

In 1925, he left the foundry to work in his family’s trucking business, but he continued to paint. He showed at the Indiana State Fair and at Herron, and had his first one-person show at Allen Chapel in January 1914. For a brief period in the mid-1920s, Hardrick shared a studio on Indiana Avenue with fellow artist Hale Woodruff. In 1927, Hardrick and Woodruff exhibited their work at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Hardrick received a second-place bronze medal from the Harmon Foundation. From the 1920s through the 1950s, Hardrick received some commissions and exhibited regularly. He stopped painting later in life when he developed Parkinson’s disease.

  • Little Brown Girl, 1927
  • 21 1/2″ x 29 5/8″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: people, children, girls, African Americans, flowers

Hardrick recorded many likenesses of Indianapolis’s African American community. Stark, a renowned figure painter, helped develop Hardrick’s skills in this area. In their book A Shared Heritage, William E. Taylor and Harriet G. Warkel write that “Hardrick often incorporated flowers and foliage in his portrait studies, creating compositions of charm and beauty. In Little Brown Girl . . . he uses floral backgrounds to enhance his figures. . . . [R]ed, a symbol of joy and energy, is the dominant color of the clothing and foliage.” The subject of the painting is Nellie Henderson, who was about 10 at the time. The work won the second-place Harmon Foundation medal in 1927 at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Harmon Foundation, established in 1922 by William E. Harmon, was a leading patron of African American art for decades, giving away monetary awards to numerous African American artists. An April 1929 article published in the Indianapolis Recorder read in part, “This picture radiates a moral beauty that should be preserved eternally.”

Some Points To Consider

  • Point out to students the placement of complementary colors to achieve balance and harmony. Help them analyze the formal balance and observe similar lines and shapes on both sides of the painting. (Art 4.3.1)
  • Ask: How does this portrait differ from portraits by earlier Indiana artists? Is it more expressive, realistic, and less posed? Why or why not? (Art 4.1.1)
  • Ask students why they think it was important to William E. Harmon to give awards to African American artists. What importance did this painting have for African Americans in Indiana? (Art 4.1.2)