When We Were Colored Exhibition

Rain

Vintage Black Glamour.



Once upon a time…before we were Black, we were Colored. Black people were referred to as Colored people, a label that we do not look back upon with fondness. During the same period, we were also literally colored, with positive slice of life color images of Black people that appeared on the front covers of and comic sections that were inserted within the Pittsburgh Courier. The Museum Of UnCut Funk is excited to share these beautiful colorized images of Black people that appeared on the front covers of the Pittsburgh Courier, which were provided by Alan Messmann, the son of the one of co-founders of the Smith-Mann Syndicate, the company that produced the work for the paper.

Pittsburg Courier

Background on the Smith-Mann Syndicate and the Artwork

In the 1950s, before I was born, my father and a man named Ben Smith started their own publishing company with the aim of producing color comics with great 4 color production for newspapers that would wow the world. The Pittsburgh Courier was their biggest client and showed the most interest in their work. My father and Ben Smith used artists, such as Edd Ashe, Jackie Ormes and many others that they knew from Fawcet publications where they both worked.

My father had become good friends with Mr. and Mrs. Vann the owners of the Pittsburgh Courier, often meeting them in New York  and going out for dinner around town. Smith-Mann Syndicate handled most if not all of the artistic production for the large 4 color spread for the Pittsburgh Courier comic section and many of their front covers for the magazine section. They produced works of art for the Pittsburgh Courier paper. In the late 50s, Ben Smith and my father went their separate ways, although still friends, to pursue other goals in their lives. This ended the Smith-Mann Syndicate. My father went on to become a very successful novelist, writing over 350 books from romance to westerns and spy action novels and ghost writing cookbooks and dog breeding books. Writing was his thing.

Many years later I found the galley proofs for the cover and comic art in a box in a leather case wrapped in heavy paper and cloth in mint condition. It was a small piece of my fathers’ past. I guess he kept it as a reminder of times past. One of the artists that was a good friend of his was named Bill Brady. Brady did all of the animal drawings for the work that was done for the Pittsburgh Courier, including the Lohar comic, one of the first talking animal comics of its time. He was friends with Jackie Ormes, who helped make many episodes of his Lohar comic to be rather, for the day, politically incorrect. Many of these artists met through the Smith-Mann Syndicate and shared ideas over coffee while working on art for the Pittsburgh Courier.

The Smith-Mann Syndicate was more than a small business. It was a collection of innovative artists, illustrators and thinkers who met and worked together to show through their work what society should and could look like. They also forced people to try to think outside the box by trying to draw a better world and place to live. People like Jackie Ormes were looked at by the Joe McCarthy squad but that did not stop her.

Alan Messmann

Pittsburgh Courier Front Cover Artwork

You can read more about the Smith-Mann Syndicate and the artists who created the work in the following Museum Of UnCut Funk posts:

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