Listed as a major artist of our time in Gumbo YaYa: An Anthology of African American Woman Artists.
Margaret is the seventh of nine children and the impetus for her work came from her mother and her host of siblings. Belonging to a household of vocal artists and poets, being an artist in the Slade household was not unusual. Having no vocal talent, Margaret focused on drawing and painting, and absorbed the music as an inspiration to her work.
In a household where space was limited, Margaret’s mother made a special place for her work. A sickly child, Margaret was often isolated and attributes the true beginning of her creativity came through her ability to imagine.. Listening to her siblings laughing, playing, and especially singing, were the sources of her creativity. Her mother regularly bought home art supplies of crayons, coloring books, and drawing pads from the local five-and-ten cent store.
In the second grade, Margaret drew a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The excitement from her classroom teacher caught the attention of the school principal, Mr. Lippman. The principal framed and hung the portrait in the school office and, from that day until the day she graduated from the Monmouth Street Elementary School, he referred to her as his “little artist.” While in the 9th grade, Margaret met her Spanish teacher, Sandra Williams, at West Kenney Junior High School who bought her first set of oils and asked her to paint a copy of Picasso’s Milk Can. At Arts High School, Margaret met her 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Abos, who taught a shy young girl to have courage. While at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, Margaret studied with the Expressionist Artist, Donald Brown, who taught her to expand her creative mind and to think critically about her work. Continuing her studies at the New York School of Visual Arts, Margaret would learn the mastery of color with instructor John Gundlefinger.
In 2016 the Newark Historic Preservation Committee included her among an impressive list of Distinguished Alumni of the Newark Public School System, which includes: Supreme Court Justice, William J. Brennan, famed jazz singer, Sarah Vaughan, actor, Michael B Jordon, dancer, Savion Glover, Cardiac Surgeon, Victor Parsonnet and Mayor of the city of Newark, Ras Baraka, to name a few.
She is among a group of artists along with Kari Walker, Elizabeth Catlet, and Betty Sarr. Margaret Slade Kelley is a major artist of our time in Gumbo YaYa: An anthology of African American Women Artists, written by Dr. Leslie Hammond, art historian, educator, Dean of Graduate Studies at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Margaret’s Journey spans five decades as noted by famed journalist and author, Barbara Kulka in three of her eleven books on the history of Newark and its people, “Against All Odds,” “Distinguished Alumni,” and “Newark Women, From the Suffergrates to the Statehouse.”
M. Marion Clough, Douglas College of Art, Rutgers University wrote:
“With an emotional truth that is difficult to ignore, Margaret Slade Kelley’s paintings address the social climate of our time. A figurative painter, Kelley’s concentration is devoted to finding the common ground, which surrounds social relationships. Her paintings represent a convergence of elements that are social, expressive, and personal. The works of Margaret Slade Kelley rely heavily upon color for their expressive qualities.”
Margaret has exhibited a high mastery of oils, acrylics, as well as mixed media and collage. A graduate of the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, she majored in fine art under the tutelage of French Impressionist Samuel Breecher, German Realist Hans Wiensgartner, and African American Expressionist Donald Brown. She studied fine art, at the New York School of Visual Arts and she is an Arts High Alumni. Arts High is the first high school in the country to offer fine art and performing art as a major course of study, and its graduates are amongst some of the most famous people in the world. Margaret has proven to be a fine visual artist, using strong images and colors, which dominate her work.
At the age of 21, Ms. Kelley exhibited with well-known contemporary artist Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White and Horace Pippin in the unprecedented exhibit, “Black artist: Two Generations.” She showed in the acclaimed exhibit, “Fragments of Myself the Woman," at Douglas College Art Gallery, along with Howadina Pendelle and Faith Ranggold.
Margaret’s work has been critiqued by the New York Times critic, Vivian Raynor as a “Noteworthy artist,” for her figurative rendition of “A girl in Paisley Print,” exhibited at the Newark Museum’s Artists: Emerging and Established. Other group exhibits include The Jersey City Museum, The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum, Montclair State College, Rutgers University, Seton Hall University, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Prudential, and Mutual Benefit. Bell Laboratories, Essex County College, Carter G. Woodson Foundation and the lists go on.The Boston Public Library, Mount Holyoke College, Spelman College, Perdue University and La Revue Modern Arts in Paris have sought her work. At the Age of 32, she became the first African-American artist to be commissioned by the State of New Jersey to position artwork on public buildings. She has been commissioned by the city of Newark to paint a portrait of Superstar, Whitney Houston, and her work has been auctioned at Sotheby’s, for the Harlem Dowling Foundation.
The New York Times called her “Noteworthy.”