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Like many artists, Gloucester Caliman Coxe (known as “G.C.”) experimented with a variety of techniques and styles; nevertheless, he is remembered best for his luminescent abstractions and his role as a mentor to younger black artists, including sculptor Ed Hamilton. 

Coxe was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but resided in Louisville, Kentucky from his late teens until his death. Schools there were segregated, including Central High School where Coxe attended. For a time, he studied at the Bougard College of Music and Arts, which had been founded in 1927 to provide arts education for aspiring African American students living in the West End of Louisville.

In his forties, Coxe pursued a college education at the University of Louisville, where he was the first black artist to be awarded a Hite Art Scholarship. In 1955, at age forty-eight, Coxe became the first black artist to graduate with a degree in fine arts. For many years he was able to support himself working as a sign painter and illustrator at the Training Support Center at Fort Knox south of Louisville.

Coxe joined a growing number of local artists who met in the back of a nightclub, the Brown Derby, where in 1959 they began to exhibit together under the moniker Gallery Enterprises. Other participants were Bob Thompson, a native of Louisville, and Sam Gilliam, who moved to the city as a young child. In addition to art exhibits, the group hosted quasi-happenings which included poetry readings, intellectual discussions, and music. With the dispersal of some of the artists and on the lookout for more permanent space, the group reinvented itself as the Louisville Art Workshop, a more integrated undertaking which also had female members. It broadened its offerings to include actors, dancers, and literary artists.

Throughout the years, Coxe played a pivotal and consistent role for artists whom he mentored generously, earning the sobriquet “dean of Louisville Black artists.” In addition, he took pen to paper to express his dismay and frustration with Louisville’s urban renewal and lack of integration, questioning whether he should move West. The following is an excerpt from a longer tirade which was published in a brochure for a local integrated art festival: “Jobs were scarce, virginity a bore and prostitution the only work that had no racial barriers. Groans of bulldozers, pushing, scraping, loading brick-rubble and the past of those who once lived there, into trucks that rumbled away and spilled that life on dump heaps….
            Move West….
            God dammit, move west.”

The distress expressed in this diatribe, however, rarely appears in Coxe’s paintings. In his late work in particular the compositions are abstract, colorful, and appear to radiate from within. He mixed his own paints and built his own frames, and at times affixed other materials to his canvases. In 1987 Coxe received the Governor’s Award in the Arts from the Kentucky Arts Council, and in 1995 his alma mater, the Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville, mounted: Gloucester Caliman Coxe: A Retrospective: Rags and Wires, Sticks and Pantyhose Too.