updated 11/13/2005 4:48:17 PM ET 2005-11-13T21:48:17

Ernest Crichlow, an artist of the Harlem Renaissance who spent several decades painting and drawing black America, died Thursday at a New York hospital. He was 91.

The cause was heart failure, said a longtime friend, playwright William Branch.

Crichlow was part of a community of artists who came of age in 1930s Harlem and honed their craft at an uptown workshop established by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project during the Great Depression.

Working at a time when many of the country’s great black artists went unrecognized, Crichlow exhibited his work at galleries mostly in the Northeast in the 1940s and 1950s, but by the end of his career he had been honored at the White House by President Jimmy Carter and seen his paintings and lithographs exhibited at some of the nation’s top museums.

Though Crichlow was best known for portraits that explored a balance of strength and fragility, some of his most striking work had a political edge.

His 1938 lithograph “Lovers,” for example, depicts a black woman trapped in her bedroom resisting a sexual assault by a hooded Ku Klux Klansman. His 1967 “White Fence” shows a young white girl separated from five black children by an iron fence.

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