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Elton Fax Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 19 Jul 2007

Biographical History

Elton C. Fax (1909-1993) was an award-winning cartoonist, illustrator, and writer and one of America's most celebrated African-American artists. During his 60-year career he lectured, travelled, and taught in addition to illustrating more than 30 books, writing nine of his own, and producing a weekly cartoon based on black history that appeared in several black newspapers during the 1940s.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, he attended Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and Syracuse University's College of Fine Arts, graduating from SU in 1931 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Fax taught art at Claflin College briefly, then worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as an artist and teacher at the Harlem Art Center in New York City from 1936 to 1940. He later taught at City College in New York and held residencies at Purdue University, Princeton University, Fisk University, Western Michigan University, University of Hartford, and Texas Southern University.

An avid traveller, his interest in Central and South America led him to move his family to Mexico for three years (1953-1956), and to visit Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and other countries. His travels to Africa inspired him to create a number of sketches which were eventually published in his first book, West African Vignettes and resulted in a position as State Department lecturer in East Africa in 1963, while his trips around Asia and the Soviet Union led him to participate in meetings of the Soviet Writers' Union in 1971 and 1973 and the Bulgarian Writers Conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1977. Also in the 1970s Fax began writing and publishing books on black history in the United States, most notably a biography of the African American nationalist Marcus Garvey.

Fax became known as a speaker for his unique "chalk-talks," during which he would illustrate his stories with spontaneous sketches (he was particularly popular with children). He gave many of these chalk-talks during his travels, often speaking on the civil rights struggle going on in the United States. Throughout his career Fax's sympathy for the plight of third-world peoples and of the poor in every country inspired his work, whether teaching, lecturing or drawing.

His work has been exhibited at many well-known institutions including the National Gallery of Art and Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota; and National Museum, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He received the Women's Civic League Contest gold medal, 1932; MacDowell Colony fellow, 1968; Coretta Scott King Award, American Library Association, for his book Seventeen Black Artists, 1972; Louis E. Seley NACAL gold medal for painting, 1972; Rockefeller Foundation fellow, 1976; Syracuse University, Chancellor's Medal, 1990.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Elton C. Fax Collection consists of correspondence and published material. Correspondence contains one letter from Fax to African American artist Rex Goreleigh. Published material consists of a brochure from the New York Times' "Reading is Fun" program featuring Fax. The brochure includes photographs and text.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Fax, Elton C.
Goreleigh, Rex, 1902-
Lawrence, Jacob, 1917-2000.


African American artists.
African American authors.
African American teachers.
United States -- Race relations.

Genres and Forms

Letters (correspondence)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Elton Fax Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 2007.

Table of Contents


Published material