One of the most notable African American printmakers, Dox Thrash (1892–1965) invented a new process for printmaking while working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Born in Griffin, Georgia, Thrash began his artistic career at the Art Institute of Chicago, but interrupted his studies to serve in World War I. Wounded in combat, he eventually moved to Philadelphia, where he enrolled at the Graphic Sketch Club (now the Fleisher Art Memorial). Under the direction of Earl Horter, Thrash made his earliest prints and experimented with a variety of techniques.
In the 1930s Thrash was employed by the WPA’s Graphic Arts Workshop. It was there that he discovered that carborundum crystals used to remove images from lithographic stones could also be employed on copper plates to produce etchings. The process produced dark, velvety tones ranging from pale gray to deep black. Other members of the workshop soon took up the technique. The process came to be known as carborundum, but Thrash called the prints Opheliagraphs after his mother, Ophelia. Thrash received national acclaim for his new technique.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art began collecting Thrash’s work in the 1940s, and in 2001 the museum mounted the retrospective Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered. Thrash depicted many different subjects throughout his career, but he is best remembered for his desolate landscapes and dignified portraits of African Americans. Although his most active years were in the 1940s, he continued to make prints until his death in 1965.