1921-1938, Early Life and Education
Eloise Carey Bishop was born on April 24, 1921 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Eloise Carey and Shelton Hale Bishop. In 1923, the family moved to New York. Shelton Hale Bishop supervised religious education and youth work at St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Harlem, where his father, Hutchens Chew Bishop, was the rector. In 1933, Shelton Hale Bishop became the fifth rector succeeding his father and stayed in this role until 1957. Eloise’s mother, Eloise Carey Bishop, earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and taught at Harriet Beecher Stowe Junior High School in Harlem. Eloise had an older sister, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Bishop Davis Trussell) and a younger brother, Shelton.
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, designed by Vertner Woodson Tandy, the first African American registered architect in New York, was a vital part of the Harlem community and a significant influence in Eloise's family life. During the Depression, Shelton Hale Bishop organized the Co-operating Committee on Relief and Employment, which solicited food, clothing, and money to provide direct aid to families in the community. He also organized the conference "Religion Among Young People" in 1928, with James Weldon Johnson as the keynote speaker. Additionally, St. Philip's supported arts and cultural initiatives during the Harlem Renaissance by hosting the Harlem Experimental Theatre in the basement of the Parish House during the early 1930s.
Eloise's 1938 application to Bennington College lists numerous schools she attended from primary through high school, including Ethical Culture in the Bronx, The Manumit School in Pawling, NY, a progressive Christian boarding school she attended for two years, Public School 146, and Junior High School 164 in New York. Eloise attended Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, New York, from January 1934 to June 1936 and took courses in English, Civics, Art, French, Algebra, Geometry, Biology, and History. She attended George Washington High School in Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York, from 1936 until her graduation in 1938. She took courses in Ancient, Modern, and American History; Economics; English; French; Art and Design; Intermediate Algebra; Music; and Physical Training. She was a member of the French Club, the Art Club, and the Leader's Club, which was part of the Physical Training department.
Eloise identified on her application that art was her primary field of interest, and that reading was her primary hobby. She reported that she spent the previous two summers, 1936 and 1937, on the island her family owned on Lake Maranacook in Winthrop, Maine. Eloise’s parents separated in 1930 and in 1938 Eloise was living with her father at 217 West 133rd Street, St. Philip’s Parish House. Her sister Elizabeth was studying at Oberlin College and her brother was living with her mother.
The Bennington College admissions application included additional questions for applicants interested in music and art because this information was not always included in secondary school transcripts. In the additional questions for art Eloise indicated she was interested specifically in painting and drawing. Responding to the question “What reading have you done in art history and criticism?” Eloise listed two books, Art Appreciation and P’s and Q’s. The first book was very likely Art Appreciation for Junior and Senior High Schools since one of the co-authors was the chair of the art department at George Washington High School. The second book was P's and Q's: A Book on the Art of Letter Arrangement by Sallie Belle Tannahill.
1938-1942, Bennington College
Eloise entered Bennington College in the fall of 1938. She was the first black student to attend Bennington College.* In her first term she studied Woodcutting and Printing with Charles Smith, Painting with Stefan Hirsch, Drawing with Duncan Fergusson, Introduction to Psychology with Theodore Newcomb, Introduction to Literature with William Troy, and Introduction to Dance Techniques with Mildred Wile. She lived in New Haven with her aunt during her first Non Resident Term, January - February 1939 where she observed at the Yale School of Art and visited exhibitions. She returned for the spring term in March of 1939 and continued to study painting with Stefan Hirsch, and also took a Drawing course, and a Poster course with him. She also continued Introduction to Psychology with Theodore Newcomb and Introduction to Dance Techniques with Mildred Wile and continued studying literature. She spent the summer of 1939 back in New York where she painted and also designed and made rugs at the W.P.A. Harlem Community Art Center.
In the fall of 1939 Eloise’s courses were Pictorial Design with Austin Purves, Painting with Paul Feeley, as well as Life Drawing and Composition, Contemporary Political Systems with David Bicknell Truman, Elementary Spanish with Elsa Flores Chinarro, Introduction to Dance Techniques with Martha Hill, and Musical Rhythms with Gregory Tucker. She worked in the Publicity Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York during her Non Resident Term, January - February 1940. She worked on new clippings, press release folding and distribution. She also tabulated ballots for a vote of the public’s favorite Italian Modern masterpieces. Throughout the spring term of 1940, Eloise continued her studies in Painting with Paul Feeley and Spanish with Elsa Flores Chinarro. She also took courses in Anatomical Drawing with Simon Moselsio, Introduction to Design with Russell Krob, and International Relations with Thomas Brockway.
In addition to her academic pursuits, Eloise was an active member of the Recreation Council. During her first and second year at Bennington, she served as a member and Secretary of the council, respectively. The council's mission was to provide a well-rounded social life for all members of the community, and it organized a variety of activities such as dance contests, bridge tournaments, Sunday evening suppers, jazz concerts with free beer, skiing trips to Bromley, field hockey games with other schools, hikes on the Vermont Long Trail, broadcasting music from the veranda after lunch, and trips to the movies. On June 14, 1940, the council met with the Board of Trustees to discuss the issue of athletic recreation at Bennington. Eloise's transcript also reveals that she was called "Chicky" or "Chickie," although it's unclear whether this was a childhood nickname or one she acquired during her time at Bennington, as it was a common practice among students back then.
In the fall of 1940 Eloise studied Sculpture with Simon Moselsio, Drawing with Austin Purves, Intermediate Spanish with Gladys LaCabe, History of Philosophy with Margaret Patterson, and Tap Dance with William Bales. Her initial hope for Non Resident Term, January - February 1941, was to work with the sculptor Alexander Archipenko or artist Louis Wolchonok but ultimately she worked for Florence Nightingale Levy at the Art Education Council of New York City on 125 West 57th Street. She returned to Bennington in the spring of 1941 and resumed studying Sculpture with Simon Moselsio, as well as History of Renaissance Art. She continued her study of Intermediate Spanish with Gladys LaCabe and History of Philosophy with Margaret Patterson. She also took Analytical Drawing with Russell Krob and Dance with William Bales.
In the fall of 1941, Eloise took Sculpture and Anatomical Drawing with Simon Moselio. She took two courses with Edwin Avery Park: Comparative Methods in Art History and History of Taste. She took a course on Dante with Francis Fergusson and continued her study of dance with William Bales in his Dance Techniques course. During January and February of 1942, Eloise spent her Non Resident Term teaching sculpture and painting to children aged 7 to 14 at The Little Red Schoolhouse on 6th Ave and Bleeker Street in Manhattan, one of the city’s first progressive schools. She obtained the position after a successful interview with the founder and head of school, Elisabeth Irwin, and lived in an apartment in Washington Square. In her final term at Bennington, Eloise analyzed the paintings of Edgar Degas for her senior project. She took Sculpture and Anatomical Drawing courses with Simon Moselsio and Introduction to Aesthetics with William Troy. She took a tap dancing course with William Bales and also participated in Martha Hill’s Folk and Square Dancing class.
After graduation, Eloise participated in the Bennington School of the Arts during the summer and studied sculpture with Simon Moselsio. She also worked on the College farm as part of the program, which helped to offset the expenses.
1942-1962, Exhibitions and Teaching
In the fall of 1942 Eloise returned to the Little Red Schoolhouse to teach art classes. She taught children ages 7-14. In July of 1943, she went to the 52nd Street studio of photographer and photojournalist Lotte Jacobi with her father and sister to have portraits taken. Shelton Hale Bishop had been an admirer of Jacobi’s portraits and was in sporadic correspondence with her throughout the 1940s. That July she also took a sculpture course at Columbia University. Eloise taught art part-time at the Little Brown Schoolhouse during the fall of 1943. The Little Brown Schoolhouse, on 1177 Hoe Ave in Bronx, was founded by educator Helen Meade. That September she took a drawing course at The Art Student League of New York.
During the summer of 1944, Eloise volunteered as an art teacher at the newly established Recreation Center at St. Philip’s Parish House. The lack of playgrounds and parks in Harlem during that time was a consistent concern that Shelton Hale Bishop and his assistant C. Edward Harrison tried to address with the city. Out of the 255 playgrounds built in New York City during the tenure of Robert Moses in the 1930s, only one was in Harlem. Eventually, Shelton Hale Bishop persuaded the parishioners to convert the four-story parish house into a community center with recreational facilities. The Parish House was also home to the groundbreaking Lafargue Mental Health Clinic from 1946 until 1958, which was founded with the support of Black intellectuals Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison (Bennington College Trustee, 1969-76.) The clinic provided low-cost psychiatric health services to the community.
Eloise moved to 1751 New Hampshire Avenue in Washington, D.C in the fall of 1944. She taught art classes for adults and children at the King-Smith Studio School. She married Joaquin Fiorillo on January 3, 1945 in Washington, D.C. and returned to New York living at her father’s residence at 217 West 133rd Street. She continued her work in sculpture and worked part-time at MoMA. During the summer she worked for two months at the Connecticut State Hospital for the Insane, now called the Connecticut Valley Hospital. Her husband worked at the hospital as a participant in the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program, which offered “work of national importance” for conscientious objectors.
Eloise exhibited her plaster bust sculpture titled "Head of a Boy" at the group exhibition "The Negro Artist Comes of Age: A National Survey of Contemporary American Artists" held at the Albany Institute of History and Art from January 3 to February 11, 1945. The exhibition also featured works by other notable artists such as Horace Pippin, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence. In the exhibition catalog, Dr. Alain Locke's introduction described the show as "a representative and challenging cross-section of American contemporary art." Eloise's biographical note in the catalog indicated that she worked with clay, wood, limestone, and marble. It also listed her previous exhibitions at the Independent Artists Show in New York, Atlanta University, Columbia University, and the King-Smith School in Washington, D.C. The exhibition later traveled to the Brooklyn Museum in November 1945.
Eloise exhibited work in Atlanta University’s fifth annual art exhibition, March 31-April 28, 1946. In July of 1946 Life magazine featured an image of “Head of a Boy” in the article "Negro Artists: Their Works Win Top U.S. Honors."
There is limited documentation about Eloise's life after the 1940s. However, it is documented that she and Joaquin had two sons, Jonathan and David Fiorillo. According to the 1950 United States census, Eloise, Joaquin, and David were living at her father's residence at 217 West 133rd St. Her sister, brother-in-law, and their baby were also living there. Eloise was listed as an "Artist/Studio" in the occupation column. In 1962, the New York Times published a letter critiquing a review of the Ingmar Bergman film The Devil's Eye, signed by "Eloise Fiorillo." Eloise died at the age of 40 in Manhattan on February 27, 1962.
*Documents from the time show it was both Eloise's and the College's understanding that she was the first black student. Broadway star Carol Channing also entered Bennington in the fall of 1938 but she identified as only white until in 2002.
Oceana Wilson, 2023. If you have information to share about Eloise Carey Bishop please email email@example.com
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