William D. White is the most famous Delaware artist you’ve never heard of. Local artist and educator Nancy Carol Willis has been working hard for the past few years to change that. Her effort will bear fruit this month when the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover presents “William D. White: Vision and Voice,” the first retrospective of his work. “I didn’t want to depart this world and leave him unknown if I could help it,” Willis says. “He deserves critical acclaim.” White (1896-1971) studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and, for a short time, with Brandywine School artist Gayle Porter Hoskins, a former student of the great Howard Pyle. In the half-century between 1920 and his death in 1971, White created more than 700 illustrations and other works, including several public murals in Delaware.
The span of White’s career saw great industrial advance, the Great Depression, war and widespread prosperity. His commercial paintings and illustrations celebrated the efforts of immigrant miners, other laborers and minorities who performed dangerous jobs for the improvement of the nation, making White one of the earliest artistic champions of the working class. Other creations portrayed the lives of the children who lived near him in North Wilmington. “He’s a really high quality artist in his own right,” says Ryan Grover, curator at the Biggs. “He stood shoulder to shoulder with other regional artists and Social Realists.” Grover places him on par with important American Regionalists Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. With interest in American Scene painters on the rise, both Willis and Grover hope that White will finally find the audience he deserves. See “William D. White: Vision and Voice” at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover March 6-June 21.