Black Folk Art
In my opinion one of the greatest Texas folk artists of all time.
The following information was compiled and submitted by Stephanie Reeves:
John Willard Banks, San Antonio, Texas, African American Folk Artist John
Willard Banks, black self-taught artist, the son of Charlie and Cora
Lee (McIntyre) Banks, was born on November 7, 1912, near Seguin, Texas.
At the age of five his parents took him to San Antonio, where he
attended Holy Redeemer School until the age of nine, when his parents
were divorced and John returned to his grandparents' farm near Seguin.
From childhood Banks's favorite pastime was drawing pictures on his Big
Chief tablet. He later recalled, "As a kid I used to lie flat on my
stomach, drawing and drawing. . . . My mother had to kick me off the
floor to sweep."
While helping out on his grandparents' farm,
Banks completed the tenth grade before striking out on his own. His
favorite activities during his youth were singing in a gospel quartet
and playing baseball. In his adult years he worked in oilfields and
cotton fields, drove a truck, and tended a San Antonio service station.
During World War II he joined the army; he held the rank of sergeant
and was stationed in the Philippines. After the war he returned to San
Antonio, where he worked as a custodian at Kelly Air Force Base, at Fort
Sam Houston, and at a local television station. Banks married Edna Mae
Mitchell in 1928, and they had five children. The marriage ended in
divorce around 1960. In 1963 he married Earlie Smith.
art career began in 1978 while he was recuperating from an illness for
which he had been hospitalized. Banks's wife admired her husband's
drawings and secretly took several of them to a San Antonio laundromat.
There she hung the drawings on the wall, offering them for sale at the
price of fourteen dollars. They were purchased and taken to a gallery
for framing. Quite by chance, a San Antonio physician and collector of
works of art by black artists, saw one of the
drawings in the gallery. He telephoned Banks and arranged for a meeting
to see his other work. The physician and his wife, became friends
with John and Earlie Banks and began to advise them on Banks's art
Banks's first solo exhibition was held at Caroline Lee
Gallery in San Antonio in 1984, when Banks was seventy-two years old.
Subsequently, he had a dual exhibition with fellow Texas artist George
White at Objects Gallery in San Antonio; was shown in the Southwest
Ethnic Arts Society's inaugural exhibition of black artists in San
Antonio, where he won a prize; was included in two traveling
exhibitions, Handmade and Heartfelt, organized by Laguna Gloria Art
Museum and Texas Folklife Resources in 1987, and Rambling on My Mind:
Black Folk Art of the Southwest, organized by the Museum of
African-American Life and Culture in Dallas in 1987. Also in 1987 he
was included in a dual exhibition with fellow San Antonio artist John
Coleman at the O'Connor Gallery in the McNamara House Museum, Victoria,
and in 1989 he was one of six artists included in the traveling
exhibition Black History/Black Vision: The Visionary Image in Texas,
organized by the University of Texas Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery.
Also in 1989, Banks was included in the exhibition Innate Creativity:
Five Black Texas Folk Artists, sponsored by the Museum of
African-American Life and Culture and held at the Dallas Public Library.
developed a distinct style, outlining figures in pencil or ballpoint
pen and shading them in with colored pencil, crayon, and felt-tipped
marker. Sometimes his art was influenced by his early, rural memories,
including scenes of baptisms, church meetings, hog killings, funerals,
and Juneteenth celebrations. These works serve as excellent documents
of black life in early twentieth-century Texas. At other times, Banks's
work was the result of an inner vision that led him to such revelations
as his Second Coming of Christ, in which he drew his view of the
activities man might be found engaging in should Christ return today.
Whether his subjects were religious or rural, they took place in lush
landscapes, often with tree-lined rivers flowing through the
composition. He did a series of African scenes drawn from his
imagination, in which he depicted idyllic villages where communal
activities took place. Often they included references to the bounty of
nature and the virtue of working together toward a common goal. In
other pictures Banks told more somber stories, of slave auctions and
inner-city ghetto scenes. Through the facial expressions and gestures
of the figures, Banks revealed their psychological states and
personalities. When Banks died in San Antonio on April 14, 1988, he
left behind several hundred drawings.
The book "FOLK ART IN TEXAS" has an extensive article (with several color and black and white plates) written about Johnny Banks.
Francis E. Abernethy, Folk Art in Texas, Publications of the Texas Folklore Society 45 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985).
Lynne Adele, Black History/Black Vision: The Visionary Image in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989). San Antonio Light, April 29, 1984.
Handbook of Texas Online