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Walt Walker, 84; Local Gallery Owner

October 21, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

Walt Walker, a Los Angeles artist who is credited with opening and operating the first local gallery designed to show the work of African American artists, has died. He was 84.

Walker died Oct. 13 at Daniel Freeman Medical Center of unspecified causes.

A native of Drewry, Ala., Walker moved with his family to Detroit when he was a toddler. He was educated at the Detroit Institute of Technology before moving to Los Angeles in the late 1940s.

He pursued his art -- oil painting -- while making his living as a commercial artist working for companies such as Safeway foods and Norm's restaurants. His subject matter ranged from paintings of African tribal people to figures in urban settings.

In the 1950s, he was struck by the fact that there were no galleries in town for black artists to show their work. Walker and his wife, Jane, found a space at Crenshaw Boulevard and 48th Street and opened the LeJan Gallery.

"Nobody had any confidence that I was doing the right thing," Walker told a reporter for the Los Angeles Sentinel a few years ago. "I think it shocked people to see black art."

A tribute exhibition of 50 Walker paintings from the last 30 years was held at the William Grant Still Art Center in 2000.

A Times critic said Walker painted in a "straightforward, unshowy manner." The most compelling image in the show, the reviewer said, was "a small bust-length painting of a Masai woman adorned with great clusters of beads around her neck and cascading from her hair."

In addition to his wife, Walker is survived by three sons, Russel, Frederic and Jeffrey, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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