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Civil Rights

The Custodian

by Robert Gwathmey

Gwathmey, who grew up as a member of a privileged white family in Richmond, Virginia, was well acquainted with Southern racism, but it wasn’t until the late 1930s that his art began to portray these tensions. 

Custodian, from 1963, was likely influenced by the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement.  The elderly African American man sits with a rifle held across his body, behind him stands a stereotypically racist painting of a black man, complete with a watermelon.  Where the head of the painting should be, however, are a pitchfork and hoe – agricultural tools. 

A custodian is a caretaker or someone who guards over something or someone.  Why did Gwathmey title this painting ‘The Custodian’?

(Pohl 90)

Learn more about this artist:

Artist Biography

Lesson Plans

Robert Gwathmey - Custodian

Robert Gwathmey, Custodian, 1963.  Oil on Canvas, 46 x 38 in.

Museum Purchase, Derby Fund, from the Philip J. and Suzanne Schiller Collection of American Social Commentary Art 1930-1970

Within Civil Rights...

Robert Gwathmey Romare Bearden

Race Relations Anti-Semitism Lynching
Spirituality Civil Rights
Romare Bearden
George Biddle
Julius T. Bloch
Adolf Dehn
Joseph Delaney
Boris Gorelick
Robert Gwathmey
Joe Jones
Jacob Lawrence
Louis Lozowick
Ben Shahn
George Tooker
James Turnbull

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