15 Inspiring Black Creatives You Should Know

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By Hadley Keller, House Beautiful

Design, like any creative field, is a constant continuum of inspiration. Creatives working today are indelibly impacted by those who came before them—as they make work that will in turn inspire a new generation. House Beautiful decided to ask some of our favorite designers of color to name the black creatives that have most inspired them. And lest you think creative influence is bound by genre, the answers run the gamut—from authors to filmmakers to fashion designers and musicians.

1) Joy Moyler: B. Smith

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Joy Moyler cites multi-hyphenate B. Smith, who died just last week, as an inspiration. "She was a pathfinder, leader and visionary in the lifestyle arena," Moyler says. "Author, TV host, restauranteur, model, and so much more. She was one of the first black women to receive licensing deals in the home product arena and she will forever remain a trendsetter, icon and ambassador for the lifestyle industry."

2) Byron Risdon: Jacob Lawrence

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"I have always been inspired by the work of artists like Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold," says Byron Risdon. "They have the amazing ability to tell a story through layers of color and pattern, something I strive for in every project." Lawrence, shown, invented a style he called "dynamic cubism," which incorporated bold color and graphic shapes in works that depicted African American life.

3) Byron Risdon: Faith Ringgold

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Ringgold, meanwhile, began her career in the 1950s with paintings—many of which grappled with the complexities of race and class in America—before turning to quilts as a medium.

4) Everick Brown and Keita Turner: Paul Revere Williams

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"As a native Angeleno, Paul Revere Williams, Los Angles based architect-to-the-stars, has long been one of the most inspiring creatives to me," says Everick Brown. Willaims designed some 2,000 residences in the Los Angeles area (for clients including Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball), as well as public spaces like the Los Angeles County Courthouse, Hollywood YMCA, and the Arrowhead Springs Resort & Spa (birthplace of Dorothy Draper's iconic Brazilliance print). "Not only did Williams's creativity and versatility set me ablaze, but his tenacity to exist has inspired me for a lifetime," says Brown."

Keita Turner is similarly inspired by Williams. "His pioneering and prolific career has influenced me, as well as many designers of color, to push through historically systemic boundaries or limitations intended to foil our progress within this society," she says. "Williams is famously quoted as saying, 'If I allow the fact that I am a Negro to checkmate my will to do, now, I will inevitably form the habit of being defeated.'"

5) Keita Turner: Nat King Cole

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Outside of the design world, Turner cites Nat King Cole, the legendary singer and pianist. " Why? Because everything about him embodied timeless elegance, subtle grace, and groundbreaking courage," she says. "He was a natural talent and successful despite the tremendous challenges he faced during his time. Simply put, Nat King Cole is enduring, iconic, and, fittingly enough, unforgettable."

6) Sheila Bridges: Wynn Thomas

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Sheila Bridges cites the life and work of production designer Wynn Thomas as inspiration. A longtime collaborator of Spike Lee and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Thomas has designed sets for dozens of movies, including A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, and Hidden Figures, whose midcentury NASA offices are shown. "He is the first African American production designer to become a member of the Art Directors Guild in Los Angeles and he is the first African American nominated for the Art Director’s Guild award," says Bridges. "I first was introduced to his work in an article in Metropolitan Home when I was in design school. I cut the article out and saved it for nearly 20 years. I finally had the opportunity to meet him a few years ago and was excited to find out that he is also from Philadelphia and was familiar with my work as well!"

7) Rayman Boozer: Diana Ross

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For designer Rayman Boozer of Apartment48, Diana Ross reigns supreme. "Diana Ross served as one of my premier role models growing up," says the designer. "Seeing her succeed in a multitude of fields, and in particular, her star turn in the film Mahogany, taught me that dedication and passion can lift you anywhere. She was my first fashion muse and inspired me to travel the world."

8) Malene Barnett: Lois Mailou Jones

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"I am inspired by many Black creatives, but it was the life and work of Lois Mailou Jones that inspired me to pursue textile surface design," says Malene Barnett, designer and founder of the Black Artists and Designers Guild. "She was the first Black woman I learned about who worked as a freelance textile surface designer. She later gave up design to pursue fine art and her bright bold paintings reflected Black culture. Her work gave me permission to focus on creating art that tells the experience of Black people throughout the diaspora."

9) Sheryl McLean: Norma Merrick Sklarek

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As the first woman to become a licensed architect in New York State, Norma Merrick Sklarek is often referred to as the "Rosa Parks of Architecture." She worked for the New York Department of Public Works and the illustrious firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and also collaborated often with Argentinian architect César Pelli, like on the Pacific Design Center, shown. "Being the first black women to become a licensed architect in the US during a time when women and people of color had to struggle to be recognized, Norma became the very best at her craft," says Sheryl McLean of McLean & Tircuit. "I was fortunate enough to have interned under her direction during my earlier years in architecture. I learned that perseverance, dedication and excellence is the starting point of creating beautiful spaces."

10) Erin Shakoor: Duro Olowu

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"For me, fashion is universal, like food and fine art, it translates into a myriad of new ideas across creative mediums," says designer Erin Shakoor. Shakoor finds inspiration in the work of Nigerian-born fashion designer Duro Olowu, who is known for his bold use of color and pattern. "Swoon! This man is the Truth," she says. "Innovative, bold, and thought-provoking in the way he brings his craft to life. Many are imitating him now, but Duro in my eyes is a true trailblazer."

11) Marie Burgos: Daphne McWilliams

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A former child star-turned-producer, Daphne McWilliams has worked on such films as Slavery by Another Name, The Wiz, and the Spike Lee documentary 4 Little Girls as well as music videos for the likes of The Notorious B.I.G. and Queen Latifah.

"Daphne’s work is amazing and inspiring," says Marie Burgos. "She portrays black stories through filmography. I admire her persistence to show the world and to advocate in favor of justice and love through her filming creative work. As a designer, the same strength of character is needed when I help clients tell their stories with their interiors, resulting in a space that will impacting their lives but also inspires other with color palette and images."

12) Penny Francis: Elizabeth Catlett

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"Hands down for me I find Elizabeth Catlett incredibly inspiring," says designer Penny Francis of Eclectic Home. "Elizabeth Catlett was a graphic artist and acclaimed sculptor best know for her depictions of the African American experience. She often focused on the female experience and used her art to advocate for change. Her works including females were both powerful and feminine." Shown is Catlett, far left, with one of her portraits at an event honoring her with the NAACP Key of Life award.

13) Breegan JAne: Arthur L. Reese

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Dubbed the 'Wizard of Venice,' Arthur L. Reese came to California from New Orleans in 1905, lured by word of Abbot Kinney's "Venice of America." Reese would go on to work with Kinney and leave an indelible mark on Los Angeles.

"The ‘Wizard’ decorated the town of Venice, designed gondolas for the Venice Canals, and acted as Head Decorator of the Abbot Kinney Company," says Los Angeles designer Breegan Jane. "His passion to succeed in life led him to a friendly business relationship with Abbot Kinney and brought together the community of Venice through social clubs and events.Venice held its first annual Mardi Gras Festival August 1935. The three day event featuring parades, costumes, contests, and entertainment was modeled after the New Orleans event. The afternoon parade featured floats and costumed merrymakers wearing enormous plaster of Paris heads that were manufactured in Arthur Reese’s studio. "

14) Lorna Gross: Debbie Allen

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To designer Lorna Gross, Debbie Allen has long been more than an entertaining face to watch in hits like Fame and Grey's Anatomy. “I’ve long been an admirer of Debbie Allen, a supremely multi-talented woman who made everyone stand up and pay attention when she garnered the long-standing role as choreographer for the Academy Awards," says Gross. "For me, Ms. Allen models how to be an unapologetically strong woman and still be true to your art." In addition to her many acting roles and the choreographer job, Allen has served on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

15) Bailey Li: Sonia Sanchez

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Sanchez, a writer, professor, and activist, had an early impact on designer Bailey Li. "I was first introduced to Sanchez’s Poetry when I was in elementary school," the designer says. "At the time my aunt Mary was in college and I would often raid her bookshelf. I was always intrigued by the titles of the books she’d bring home each semester. A new semester had begun and while perusing her shelf.

I saw A Blues Book for a Blue Black Magic Woman and We a BaddDDD People by Sonia Sanchez. I was stunned; typically my aunt's books were about psychology, biology, history etc.

The woman on the cover of these books looked like me and I soon discovered that she shared a perspective that I didn’t know I needed nor did I know existed. Sonia Sanchez was one of many other amazing black creatives who taught me that the black woman is beautiful, intelligent, and, most importantly for me, powerful and talented—enough to be artists, entrepreneurs, writers and mothers, wives, politicians and activists. When I finally went to college I traveled from campus to campus to hear Sanchez speak and perform spoken word. The ability to express oneself from the soul level was true artistry to me. My designs and my custom walls are my poetry."

See more at: House Beautiful



BestLife Insider - Health, Lifestyle, Travel and More ...: 15 Inspiring Black Creatives You Should Know
15 Inspiring Black Creatives You Should Know
BestLife Insider - Health, Lifestyle, Travel and More ...
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