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Emma Amos was born March 16, 1938, in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of six, she developed a deep appreciation for art. She began making paper dolls and by the age of nine, had taught herself how to draw by copying Alberto Vargas’ work. Her parents, DeLaine and Miles Green Amos, who owned a drug store, encouraged young Emma to pursue her interest in art.
Amos’ mother had hoped that Hale Woodruff would take young Emma under his tutelage but he did not accept private students. When she was eleven years old, she enrolled in a course at Morris Brown College. There, she honed her draftsmanship and became inspired by the works of the Black college students on campus.
During her years in high school, Amos submitted her artwork to Atlanta University art shows. She then graduated from Booker T. Washington High School at the age of 16. She applied to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. During her college years, she also studied at the London Central School of Art and at New York University.
After earning her bachelor’s degree from Antioch University in 1958 and a certificate in etching in 1959, Amos embarked upon her career. Feeling hindered by the slow-moving Atlanta art scene, she moved to New York City. There, she was prevented from displaying her artwork and teaching art based on her race, gender, and age.
Galleries would reject Amos’ art because she was considered too young to show. She was denied teaching jobs because she was not a mature artist. She experienced more rejection when she attempted to penetrate the East Hampton art scene; it was considered a “man’s scene.” She began working as a textile designer where her art was translated into carpets.
In 1964, Amos was accepted into the art education master’s program at New York University. That same year, Hale Woodruff invited her to join Spiral, a collective of Black artists. She became the group’s youngest and only female member. Spiral curated the group’s first and only exhibit in 1965. This was the first time she was able to display her artwork for others to critique.
‘Show of Hands’
Between 1965 and 1970, Amos got married, received her master’s degree (1966), and had two children. In order to earn a living, she created illustrations for ‘Sesame Street’ magazine. By 1974, she began teaching at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. In 1977, she co-founded ‘Show of Hands,’ an arts and crafts show that ran for two years in Boston, Massachusetts.
Amos’ artwork is included in numerous collections across a myriad of museums around the world. She has won many awards and grants in honor of her work. She taught at Rutgers University from 1980 until she retired in 2005. At 80 years old, Emma Amos continues to create artwork and exhibit it internationally.