Julien Binford (1908-1997) American
Julien Binford was born on Christmas day, December 25, 1909 in Fine Creek Mills, Virginia, where he spent his childhood. Binford entered Emory University to study at the premedical school. He developed such proficiency in his rendering of dissections that Roland McKinney, then director of the new Atlanta High Museum, offered to let the young Binford draw directly from the casts in the museum’s collection. This informal and personal arrangement was the seed that germinated eventually into the school of art at the Atlanta High Museum. McKinney encouraged Binford to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was awarded the Ryerson Traveling Grant in 1932.
After a sojourn in Spain, Binford settled in Paris, painting the jewel-like gouaches that won him the friendship of writers and poets. His talent was recognized by the dealer Paul Guillaume, who arranged for a one-person exhibit at the Galerie Jeanne Castel, and later at the Galerie Jean Charpentier.
On his return to America in late 1935, Binford settled with his wife in his native Powhatan County, Virginia. There Binford turned to his African-American neighbors as models for his paintings and executed many regionalist works, including his most important painting, The Crapshooter, the winner of the Chicago Art Institute’s Annual Award in 1941. This painting depicts seven of Binford’s neighbors engaged in a game of craps outdoors, with a sheet of blue linoleum serving as a table, the models including a preacher, a local deacon, a mail carrier, a logger and a grave digger. Only a single full body appears in the then modernist image. This painting was reproduced in color in Life Magazine in 1941.
Binford executed a number of public murals in the South. His well-known River Jordan Mural (Life Magazine, November 16, 1942) was paid for in farm produce by his neighbors, the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church. During World War II, assigned to the Navy as an artist-correspondent for Life Magazine, the artist executed a series of sketches and paintings of New York harbor in wartime, and of convoy activities at sea; the paintings now hang in the Pentagon. In the late 1940s and 1950s, he produced numerous murals in regionalist manner. While professor of art at Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia for some twenty years extending through the 1980s, Binford organized the series of exhibitions of international contemporary art from which the college’s collection was formed.
Binford’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Butler Institute of Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Chicago Art Institute; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Museum of the State of Washington; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the New Britain Museum, Connecticut; among many other museums, universities and private collections. Binford died in his native Virginia in 1997, following several museum retrospectives in the late 1980s and early 1990s.