(Aug. 6, 1900-Sept. 6, 1980). Born in Cairo, Illinois, Woodruff attended elementary and high school in Nashville, Tennessee, and moved to Indianapolis in the summer of 1919. He lived at the senate avenue YMCA where he did odd jobs to earn money for his lodging and art school.

In 1920, he enrolled in the John Herron Art Institute, studying under Hoosier Group painter William Forsyth. He also worked for the Indianapolis Freeman as a freelance political cartoonist. In 1926, he won second place in the first Harmon Foundation awards for “Distinguished Achievement Among Negroes.” The award recognized achievements in literature, music, fine arts, business, and industry. Other award recipients included poet Langston Hughes, writer Claude McKay, and painter Palmer C. Hayden.

The $100 Harmon prize and $250 from art patrons enabled Woodruff to go to Europe in 1927 where he studied in Paris at the Académie Scandinave and the Académie Moderne. During 1927-1928, as a foreign correspondent for the Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Star, he received $10 for each illustrated article about the art scene in Paris.

In 1931, Woodruff returned to the United States and took a job as art director at Atlanta University, introducing the first fine art classes offered there. He also worked as a Works Progress Administration painter. From the late 1920s to the early 1940s, Woodruff entered works in the Indiana State Fair and almost always won an award.

With a WPA grant in 1938-1939, he produced his most famous mural at Talladega College’s Savery Library, The Amistad Mutiny. This was followed in 1940 by a second mural there, Founding Of Talladega College, 1867. His painting Little Boy was exhibited with the work of three other Atlanta artists at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

He established the annual exhibition of art by American Negroes at Atlanta in 1941 and used a two-year Rosenwald Fellowship awarded in 1943, to go to Mississippi and create a series of paintings on Erosion Of The Land. Established by part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company Julius Rosenwald, the fellowship provided grants to African American writers, educators, artists, and scholars, from 1928-1948.

In 1946, Woodruff was appointed associate professor of art education at New York University (NYU). The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company in Los Angeles commissioned him and Charles Alston to paint a mural, History Of California in 1949. The following year, he was commissioned to paint a series of six murals, The Art Of The Negro, at the Atlanta University Library. He retired from NYU in 1967 and, in 1978, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

Revised March 2021

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