Puryear, Martin

Puryear, Martin,

1941–2019, American sculptor, b. Washington, D.C. An African American, he served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, and became interested in African crafts and in the themes of captivity and freedom. He studied woodworking in Sweden and then attended Yale (M.F.A., 1971). His experience led him to sculpture, sometimes realistic, sometimes abstract, ranging from small to monumental in size, handmade of natural materials, most often made of wood but sometimes of wire or steel and granite. Some of his sculptures are influenced by basketry (e.g., Bower, 1980) or reminiscent of tribal masks. In the 1990s Puryear frequently transformed everyday objects into sculpture, as in Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996), which narrows as it rises. He taught at several univesities, was awarded (1989) a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, and represented the United States in the 2019 Venice Biennale.


See studies by H. M. Davies and H. Posner (1984), E. A. King (1987), M. Boyden (1997), M. Pascale and R. Fine (2014), A. Potts (2016), and B. K. Rapaport et al. (2019).

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Puryear, Martin

(1941–  ) sculptor; born in Chicago. He studied at Catholic University of America (B.A. 1963), Yale (M.F.A. 1971), and taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (1970, 1978–88). He is known for his work in exotic woods and architectural wall pieces. Although he spoke out on behalf of his fellow African-Americans, his early work at least aimed for an abstract purity rather than social realism.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.