Oliver LaGrone: Sculptor of “Mercy”

Black and white photo of an African American artist  in a studio covering a  figurative sculpture with plaster.
Works Progress Administration sculptor Oliver LaGrone casting “Mercy” for installation at the Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital for Crippled Children in Hot Springs (Truth or Consequences), NM, ca. 1936. Palace of the Governors Photo Archives 019936

Oliver LaGrone (1906-1995), younger brother of Hobart LaGrone, is a nationally-recognized artist, educator, and poet. After moving with his family from the Midwest to Albuquerque in the early 1930s, Oliver LaGrone quickly became involved in his community. In 1933, both Oliver and Hobart became members of the first African American Boy Scout troop in Albuquerque. Oliver was also the director and member, along with Hobart, of the Harmony Four, a quartet that regularly sang at the Grant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, where they were also members with their family.

Newspaper clipping with headline: Ex-Student Here Hailed As Sculptor
Albuquerque Tribune 21 February 1952

Oliver LaGrone began his studies at the University of New Mexico, and refined his skills in the fine arts. In 1936, the WPA hired Mr. LaGrone to create a sculpture for the future Carrie Tingley Hospital for Crippled Children in Hot Springs, NM. Upon graduating from UNM in 1938 with a Bachelor of Science degree, Mr. LaGrone met and married Irmah Cooke and moved to Michigan shortly thereafter, though he moved back to Albuquerque briefly in 1977.

Oliver LaGrone continued making sculptures throughout his life, while he worked as a representative for the American Federation of Labor (AF of L) in Detroit’s auto industry, while he worked as a teacher in Detroit public schools, and throughout his tenure as a faculty member at Pennsylvania State University.

Oliver LaGrone was also known for his activism and wrote poetry on Black history, identity, and the fight for civil rights in the United States. His sculptures can be seen at the Albuquerque Museum sculpture garden, the Schomberg Center at the New York Public Library, and Pennsylvania State University, among other locations.

Newspaper clipping with headline: Detroit Sculptor Ends Visit Here
Albuquerque Journal 31 December 1962

Mr. Hobart Lagrone: Instrumental figure in New Mexico’s drive to de-segregation

Did you know that the Albuquerque chapter of the NAACP was established in January 1915 – nine years after the national organization was founded in 1906?

Albuquerque Journal 4 May 1952

Though many notable Albuquerque residents served and continue to dedicate their time to the NAACP, we want to highlight Mr. Hobart LaGrone, a devoted member and former president of the both the local and state chapters of the NAACP throughout the 1950s and until his death in 1966. Under Mr. LaGrone’s leadership, the NAACP Albuquerque Branch welcomed nationally and internationally known African American scholars and artists, namely Dr. W.E.B DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche to speak in town regarding urgent sociopolitical matters. Mr. LaGrone (center) is pictured above in this Albuquerque Journal photo with Dr. Bunche (left of center) from his lecture on the United Nations in May 1952.

Albuquerque Journal 18 February 1953

A postman by day, Mr. LaGrone’s NAACP work shed light on discrimination and racial justice issues in Albuquerque and New Mexico more broadly. He attended GI Forum meetings, worked with state senators to end school segregation in New Mexico, and was instrumental in spearheading the Albuquerque Civil Rights Ordinance in 1952, to name a few key accomplishments. Just three years before his death, the city honored Mr. LaGrone for his dedication to civil rights causes.

Albuquerque Tribune 16 May 1963

Hobart LaGrone and his brother Oliver, a renowned artist, are two members of a dynamic family we’re currently researching at the museum, though we look forward to learning about more family members and their community in Albuquerque. Look for another post this week on the life and work of Oliver LaGrone.