Ol' Peckerwood

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Did You Know?

Although he worked in a wide variety of media, Elmer William Brown is best known for the murals that he created for public spaces as part of the Works Progress Administration during the 1940s.


In this print, Elmer William Brown conveyed the horror of his experiences in a Missouri prison. The artist served time on a chain gang there after being arrested for illegally riding freight trains. The work's title, "peckerwood," was a derogatory term for poor and bigoted white men from the rural South. Here, it refers to the prison overseer depicted in the foreground, who Brown described as the "evilest man he ever met." After his release, the artist came to Cleveland in 1929, where he studied at the Cleveland School of Art and befriended Langston Hughes at Karamu House, a center for Black culture in the city.
Ol' Peckerwood

Ol' Peckerwood


Elmer William Brown

(American, 1909–1971)
America, Ohio, Cleveland

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