Full Record

Collection. Edward L. Loper, Sr., Papers. 1938-2009
Loper, Edward L., b. 1916 (Author)
Location/Public Access Data
Delaware Historical Society Research Library, 505 Market St., Wilmingtion, DE 19801 302-655-7161 www.dehistory.org
African Americans / Art / Loper, Edward L., 1916- / Wilmington (Del.)
Cross-collection Category: African Americans
Administrative Information
Delaware Historical Society
Restriction on Access and Use
There are no access restrictions on this collection.
Mix of some originals and some copies
Preferred Citation
When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is:

Edward L. Loper Papers, Delaware Historical Society
Scope and Content
This collection contains papers, photographs, and memorabilia from the life and career of Edward L. Loper, Sr., a leading Delaware artist whose active career ran from the mid 1930s to the early 2000s. The collection does not include paintings. The materials document both a life in art and an African American man's life as an artist in Delaware.

The collection is divided into eight series.

1. Personal: correspondence and awards, 15 folders
2. Artistic career: 2 sketch books, notices of exhibitions, a few reproductions of paintings, calendars, "Loperisms," 22 folders
3. Teaching career: general papers, exhibitions with his students, 8 folders
4. Information about Loper: biographical information, interviews, master's thesis, book, articles, clippings, 28 folders
5. Art information: a small amount of reference material on art topics important to Loper, 5 folders
6. Other family members, 3 folders
7. Photographs and other pictorial material: photographs of Loper and some of his paintings, photos of family members, 6 albums of events and exhibits, videos about Loper, approx. 120 folders, 6 albums, 3 videos
8. Oversize: sketchbook, tributes, artists' statements from The Loper Tradition, calendars, poster from The Prism's Edge, 5 folders
Edward L. Loper was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on April 7, 1916, to Marian Loper.  He grew up in a poor but loving family on Heald Street in a racially and ethnically mixed neighborhood.  While he was young, his mother married Reese Scott, who brought stability to the young family. 

From his childhood Ed Loper was fascinated by drawing and color.  He drew in his spare time, using whatever materials were available.  He knew he had talent and wanted to develop it.  But because of poverty and the lack of opportunities for blacks to study art in Delaware's highly segregated society of the 1920s and 1930s, Ed Loper's desire seemed destined to remain just a dream.

Loper attended segregated schools and graduated from Wilmington's Howard High School in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression.  He had already started his own family with Viola Cooper, who he later married.  Jean was born in 1932, Edward, Jr., in 1934, and Kenneth in 1938.  In those difficult times, Ed relied on odd jobs and day labor to support his young family.

His artistic ambitions remained a dream until Viola Cooper applied for relief and heard that the government was hiring artists.  In 1936 Loper began working for the Index of American Design, part of the Works Progress Administration.  The Index of American Design produced exact renderings of American antiques and folk art, working either from photographs or the objects themselves.  Loper's colleagues and supervisors encouraged and guided him.  He taught himself by haunting the Pyle Collection at the Wilmington Institute Free Library, studying art books, visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and working on his own sketches and paintings.  In 1939 Loper transferred to the Easel Division of the WPA, where he could paint what he wanted.  He also began teaching at the Ferris School, the local reform school, as part of his assignment. 

As a young artist, Ed Loper found inspiration in the scenes and people of his own neighborhood.  His first success came in 1937 when he won a prize at the Annual Delaware Show at the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts (now the Delaware Art Museum).  He was the first African American artist to win a prize there.  Other exhibition opportunities soon followed, both local and national.

Success, however, did not mean that he could support his family through art.  In 1941, Loper took a job at Allied Kid, painting on his own time after he finished his shift in the leather factory.  Allied Kid supported his art by providing a place for him to teach his coworkers and by publicizing his work.  During this period, Loper's family life was in upheaval.  Viola Cooper Loper died in 1944, her death caused at least in part because she, as a black woman, received treatment at the emergency room only after all the white patients had been cared for.  This left Ed Loper with three young children to raise.  In 1947 he married Claudine Bruton.

In 1953 Ed Loper left Allied Kid to devote all his time to art.  During the 1960s he studied at the Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania.  Dr. Albert Barnes's art collection and method of teaching played an important role in Loper's development as an artist and teacher.

Throughout his career, Loper has exhibited locally, regionally, and farther afield.  He has had many solo exhibitions and has participated in many group shows in both African-American and mainstream venues.  His paintings are in many museum, corporate, and private collections.

From the time he taught at Ferris School, teaching has been an important part of Ed Loper's life.  He taught at Allied Kid, the Jewish Community Center (1942-1967), the Delaware Art Museum (1950-1965), Lincoln University (1965-1967), and the Delaware College of Art and Design (early 2000s).  He has also taught in his own studio for many years.  His teaching style is direct and intense. Many of his students have worked with him for many years. Loper and his students have shared many exhibitions, culminating the The Loper Tradition at the Riverfront Art Center in 2001.  Ed Loper stopped teaching around 2009

Through his teaching, Loper met Janet Neville in the early 1960s.  Their teacher-student relationship developed into something much deeper.  In 1987, Edward and Claudine Loper were divorced and he married Janet Neville.

While Ed Loper always lived in Wilmington and found subjects for painting in the local area, travel has also been an important part of his life and art.  He and his family began to travel in the 1950s.  He enjoyed New England's artistic opportunities, but he did not enjoy the racism he encountered even that far north.  At a friend's suggestion, he went to French Canada.  He fell in love with the city of Quebec.  It offered challenging subjects for paintings and an atmosphere free of racism.  He returned there every summer.  In the 1960s, Loper's students began to join him there for two-week painting sessions.

Towards the end of his career, Ed Loper received several major awards that recognize his artistic achievement and his contributions to life in Delaware.  They include an honorary doctorate form Delaware State University and the Governor's Award for the Arts.  The Delaware Art Museum honored him with a major retrospective exhibition in 1996.  Ed Loper's life and work have been well documented in a book, a master's thesis, and a documentary film, all of which are included in the collection.
Related Resources
Printed finding aids
Edward L. Loper Papers. Notebook in library.
[Record 845]