Lucien Crump Jr., pioneering artist, dies His was the first gallery featuring African Americans.

Posted: July 08, 2006

Lucien Crump Jr., 71, founder of the first gallery in Philadelphia featuring African American artists and widely known for his depictions of Jesus as black, died of cancer Wednesday at his Germantown home.

"We have lost a great part of our cultural community," said City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. "Lucien painted most of the portraits on the Wall of Respect in my office, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass and others."

Mr. Crump's best-known work is a painting of Jesus sitting behind a crystal cross, with the refracted image showing Jesus having the physical characteristics of the world's races: one eye is blue and the other is brown, his skin has many hues, and his hair is black, blond and colors in between. The work is titled The Universal Christ.

More than 1,500 lithographs of the painting have sold worldwide. The whereabouts of the original are unknown, said his wife, Loretta.

After graduating from high school in 1952 in New Orleans, Mr. Crump studied art for a few years at Morehouse College in Atlanta. When his father abandoned his mother and younger brother, Mr. Crump quit college and worked various jobs to support them.

He joined the Air Force in 1956 and served in Germany until being discharged in 1958. On the GI Bill, he earned a bachelor's degree in art from Southern University in 1962.

After graduation, Mr. Crump taught art to middle-school students in St. Louis for 15 years. He was hired by the Philadelphia School District in 1977, the same year he married the former Loretta Tate. The couple settled in Germantown.

"Lucien enjoyed working with middle-school children," his wife said. "He loved how they expressed themselves through art."

He opened the Lucien Crump Art Gallery in a storefront at 6380 Germantown Ave. in the late 1970s. The gallery's reputation - and scope - grew in the decades that followed, and Mr. Crump expanded the small shop, taking space from the adjoining buildings.

Through his paintings and lifestyle, Mr. Crump showed great compassion for people crying out for help. His gallery became known as a place where the downtrodden could sit and chat with him. They often left his gallery inspired, sometimes with a piece of artwork.

"He gave jobs to those who needed it," said his wife. "One woman had no skills, so he paid her to sweep the floor."

His early paintings reflect the hopelessness of poverty.

The Hobo depicts a man in torn clothing roasting two sausages on a stick. A puppy looks on. The painting asks for an answer to the question, "Is the food for the hobo or the puppy?"

Mr. Crump taught art at Vaux and Stetson Middle Schools and Martin Luther King High School while commuting to New York University, where he earned a master's degree in art in 1982. For two summers he studied art at the Palazzo Grassi museum in Venice, Italy. The churches in Europe inspired Mr. Crump's art.

He left the school district in 1989, but continued teaching at Renaissance Charter School in Germantown before retiring for good in 2004.

Mr. Crump became renowned in Philadelphia for paintings for churches - especially those depicting Jesus as a black man. In 1996, he painted a black Jesus on the cross for Our Lady of the Rosary Church in West Philadelphia. The 14-by-28-feet canvas took him 550 hours to complete.

Mr. Crump's commissioned portraits and paintings fetched up to $7,000.

"If he was painting for a church or for someone who did not have much money, he charged almost nothing," his wife said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Crump is survived by sons James Lucien 3d and Brendan.

Friends may call at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Second Baptist Church of Germantown, Germantown Avenue and Upsal Street. A funeral service at the church will follow, with burial at Ivy Hill Cemetery.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

ONLINE EXTRA

View a slide show of Lucien Crump Jr. and his artwork at http://go.philly.com/luciencrump

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