Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finding the Ghost of William D. White

She called him a ghost. A good term to use. What trauma, what injustice causes him to haunt us? His work remained, but it was hidden. Some of it was smashed.

Ghost is what happens to pariahs, after amnesia has run out of time and aliases are assigned to hide the evidence. A friend of mine, an artist, and I spent the day together as detectives hunting down the ghost of Delaware artist William D. White. My artist friend knew White when she was a girl. My father and White were friends from their days on the WPA.

The stories about William D. White are both spurious and legendary, anecdotal and difficult to trace. Yet, they persist. Stories of White railing against the extravagance of the local ruling class during the depths of the Great Depression, then turning around to buy up coats at the Goodwill, giving them away to Depression era homeless.

The mural that White painted for the Federal Artists Project (FAP) of the WPA was thought lost for years until recently rediscovered languishing in a building belonging to the Methodist Church in Dover. Much of White's works of art have been scattered in the effort to pay back corporate debt. A collection White painted about the mining industry has found a home in Arizona. Sometimes something spectacular by White comes along and just as rapidly disappears, haunting us. Sometimes one of his paintings pop up in plain sight and is misidentified and mishandled. They are that ghost calling out.

Between my artist friend and me, we've gathered a nice body of White's work. Finding information about White's life has proved daunting. People who knew him are gone. Yet our intent is to make an eventual public display of William D. White's art. He was arguably the best of the group of FAP artists, and an equal of Edward Loper who was also an early FAP artist.

Might it be said of William D. White on some future Antiques Road Show, that his work is rare. Because of professional differences with some of his peers and most agents of patronage, his work has become rare. The composition is tight. If more of White's work is found we'd be recognizing themes. Certainly he had an affinity with the poor working class and minorities. He liked painting children. His paintings today are most certainly worth more than White made when he was living.

If there's anyone out there with a bead on any of White's paintings, drawings or writings we'd like to hear from you. We also like to to hear any credible stories about William D. White as well.


  1. I should add that William D. White's work can be found in Dreamstreets, in extensive articles, in graphic art and in fiction found at in issue #20. White's art work was also later published on the cover of issue #35.

    1. My stepson has a 1924 oil painting by William D White depicting sugar cane workers. He is interested in selling the piece, but we have had difficulty in getting an appraisal. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Hi, There are 16 of his paintings in the mineral museum at the University of Arizona. The paintings are scenes from Bisbee and were commissioned by the Phelps-Dodge company.