Alvin Mefford Price was born on July 19, 1924, near Georgetown, Kentucky. His parents were Emerson Mefford (1882-1929), a sharecropping farmer, and Nellie B. (Johnson) Mefford (dates unknown). Alvin was the third of their seven children.
Alvin's father died when he was four years old. His mother tried to keep the family together, "[b]ut it was more than she could do," Alvin remembered. "My oldest brother was big enough to work on the land, so she kept him. Four of us were sent to the orphanage in Louisville. My name was Alvin Mefford when I went to the orphanage."
When he was in the fourth grade, Alvin was adopted by Mrs. Carrie Price, a school dietician, and her husband, a hotel janitor. He took their surname and became Alvin Mefford Price. He later shortened it to just Al Price.
Price first went to Louisville Central High School, then, when his family moved, to Northwestern High School in Detroit. He played tennis and basketball and served on the student council. He also won a National Scholastic award for a picture he had painted in his junior year. Price attended summer school every summer and graduated from high school in just three years.
World war came and in September 1943 Price enlisted in the U.S. Army. Recognizing his artistic talent, the army sent him to art school at McDill Field in Florida, then to Greenville Army Air Field in Greenville, Mississippi, where he and two other artists designed posters. Price was transferred to Hawaii, then to Guam, where he spent thirteen months before returning home to be separated in 1946. Price served another year in the army from July 1952 to July 1953.
As his biography in Haunted by a Paintbrush (above) says, Al Price studied at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) in Detroit, also at several art schools. He was an illustrator, painter, and muralist. In addition to appearing in many magazines, his paintings and drawings were and are in Illinois Negro History Makers (1969), at the Coleman Branch of the Chicago Public Library, and possibly also in the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, co-founded by his friend and associate Margaret Burroughs (1915-2010).
Price lived in Chicago for many years. In addition to his work as a commercial artist and fine artist, he was also a teacher, and he was deeply involved in the art scene in his adopted hometown, more specifically the art scene that included black artists Bernard Goss (1913-1966), Anna McCullough Tyler (1930-2009), Alfred J. "Al" Tyler (1933-2011), Vincent Saunders, Jr. (1916-2005), Benny Horton (dates unknown), and Sylvester Britton (1926-2009).
Al Price died on January 15, 1994, probably in Chicago. He was sixty-nine years old.
I found Al Price's autobiography Haunted by a Paintbrush: A True Story (1968) at a local secondhand store yesterday, and what a treasure it is--a treasure not only because of its smallness and its several pen-and-ink illustrations but also because it is a story for children about overcoming adversity and persevering in pursuit of one's dreams.
The images above are from that book. From top to bottom they are:
1. The front cover, which shows the artist in a double self-portrait, as an adult and as a child, with themes and motifs that reappear in the interior, the handmade hobby horse and the artist's easel.
2. An illustration showing Al Price in childhood with one of his sisters, possibly his older sister Sallie. The names on the wall are of his other siblings, Ella and Billy. Note the hobby horse and other homemade toys.
3. A biography of Al Price, prepared, I presume, by Margaret Friskey (1901-1995), editor of Childrens Press of Chicago and the person responsible for the publication of Haunted by a Paintbrush.
4. A photograph by Robert Vandiver of Al Price in his studio with one of his paintings. The painting is unidentified, but it has an obvious heroic quality. The man's slight dress, the manacle on his left wrist, and the shackle on his left ankle suggest that he is a slave now freed. It looks like he is casting down a round object, but what is it?
The self-portrait on the cover and the photograph both show Price with brushes in his right hand, but after badly injuring that hand in a fall from a scaffold, he had to learn to paint with his left hand, and that's what he did for more than half of his life.
I'm afraid I couldn't find any images of Al Price's paintings or murals on the Internet, and that's a shame. We shouldn't forget artists and their works. I'm happy to have this chance to remember Al Price and to show once again a little of his very fine artwork.
Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley