Biography

Wadsworth A. Jarrell, Sr. was born the youngest of six children and credits his father, a furniture maker, and the rest of his family for supporting his childhood interest in art. After high school, Jarrell enlisted in the army, served in Korea and moved to Chicago. In 1954, he enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Graduating in 1958, Jarrell spent several years working as a commercial artist. By the early 1960s, Jarrell was exhibiting his work widely throughout the Midwest. He joined the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), a group that created Chicago’s Wall of Respect mural, a seminal piece in the 1960’s urban mural movement. It was there that he met his future wife, Elaine Annette Johnson, a clothing designer. With the eventual breakup of the Artists’ Workshop of OBAC, Jarrell and fellow artists, Jeff Donaldson and Barbara Jones-Hogu, they formed a collective called COBRA-Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists, which later became AFRI-COBRA, the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists. AFRI- COBRA took as its central tenets black pride, social responsibility and the development of a new diasporic African identity. In 1971, Jarrell was recruited by Donaldson to teach at Howard University, where he pursued his M.F.A. and continues there until 1977, when he took a position at the University of Georgia as assistant professor. He retired in 1988. Jarrell’s work has been exhibited widely including: the Smithsonian International Gallery, Washington, DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL and at festivals and exhibitions in Nigeria, Germany, Sweden, France, Haiti and Martinique.

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