J. Eugene Grigsby Jr.— African American artist, educator, author, lecturer and researcher—was born on October 17, 1918, in Greensboro, North Carolina. His formal education began with a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and now the only living alumni from the graduating class of 1938. After Morehouse he earned a master’s from Ohio State University in 1940 and his doctorate (Ph.d.) in 1963 from New York University. His further studies include Arizona State University, the American Artists School in New York City, and even Ecole des Beaux Arts in Marseilles, France. In 1965, the Philadelphia College of Art conferred him with the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts in recognition of his talent, devotion and perception as an outstanding practitioner in the field of Art Education.
As a 1942 U.S. Army volunteer during World War II, Grigsby served as master sergeant in the 573rd ammunition company under 3rd Army’s General George Patton. Even during wartime, his creative genius touched the lives of those around him. It was Grigsby’s idea to issue and reload ammunition directly from trucks that helped to facilitate the fast-moving 3rd Army from Omaha Beach through Europe. The cruise over to Europe aboard the Queen Elizabeth Eugene had the duty of adding a performance to the “Variety Show” of director Joe Pevne (later to become the first director of ‘Star Trek’). The performing group multicultural group he assembled was the hit of the show and the ‘Ocean News’ stated: …In fact, the entire band of M/Sgt. Gene Grigsby, called ‘/Grigsby’s Gators’, could well compete with any big-time Hollywood band.
His first one man art exhibition was in the Grand Dutchy of Luxemburg and featured drawings of soldiers on the Queen Elizabeth.
Grigsby also directed and produced a hit musical comedy ‘Two Points Shy’ that entertained U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany.
Grigsby’s career highlights are equally remarkable, beginning in 1941 on the staff at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., and artist-in-residence at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. By 1946 he was living in Arizona and teaching at the all-black Carver High School until 1954, a landmark year that closed the school and ended educational segregation in Arizona. Although he taught art at the Children’s Creative Center in the American Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958, Arizona remained his home. From 1954-66, Grigsby taught and served as art department chairman at Phoenix Union High School. Beginning in 1966 and spanning more than two decades, Grigsby served as professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.
Working tirelessly to inspire and uplift African Americans as well as the larger community, Grigsby has played leading roles in scores of organizations and earned countless awards—before, during and after his tenure at Arizona State University. He served as vice president of the National Art Education Association from 1972-74 and president of the Arizona Art Education Association from 1988-90. Even at age 89, he continues to hold leading positions in the Booker T. Washington Child Development Center, the Consortium of Black Organizations and Others for the Arts, and the Arizona Opportunities Industrialization Center.
Throughout his career, Grigsby has amassed an exhaustive list of accolades on levels from international to local.
Most recently in September of 2007, the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., honored Grigsby with the Award for Distinguished Contributions to African-American Art and Education. The National Art Education Association alone has placed numerous laurels on his head, including Art Educator of the Year, Distinguished Fellow awards and Retired Art Educator of the Year. Some awards have spawned even more honors. Grigsby’s 1980 Meritorious Service Award from the National Art Education Association’s Committee on Minority Concerns is now the Eugene Grigsby Award for Service to Art Education. The Phoenix Carver Museum of History & Culture dedicated the Thomasena & Eugene Grigsby Art Gallery in October of 2000, using the same space on the Carver campus that Grigsby occupied as a teacher at Carver High School.