spacer George Washington Carver George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver was born a slave in war-torn Missouri and died an honored scientist. Soon after he received his master's degree from Iowa State University in 1896, he accepted an offer from the famous black educator Booker T. Washington of a post at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which Washington had founded in 1881. Carver spent nearly forty years at Tuskegee conducting research and teaching scientific agricultural methods. He became known for extracting new products from previously untapped sources. From the humble peanut and the sweet potato, he found more than four hundred synthetic products, ranging from margarine to library paste.

When Betsy Graves Reyneau moved to the South after fourteen years in Europe, she found social conditions and racial prejudice intolerable. To help counter negative racial stereotypes, she decided to create a series of portraits of prominent African Americans that would be exhibited throughout the country. Carver, whose portrait was included in the exhibition, which opened in 1944 at the Smithsonian Institution, is shown wearing a laboratory apron and examining a red and white amaryllis, a hybrid that he developed as part of a lifelong hobby.

Betsy Graves Reyneau (1888-1964)
Oil on canvas, 1942
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Transfer from the National Museum of American Art; gift of the George Washington Carver Memorial Committee to the Smithsonian Institution, 1944

Enlarged image

NPG Home Page | NPG Current Exhibitions
© 2002 Smithsonian Institution