Painter, printmaker, and weaver Emma Amos was born in 1937 and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where her parents owned a drugstore. She began painting and drawing when she was six. At age sixteen, after attending segregated public schools in Atlanta, she entered the five-year program at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She spent her fourth year abroad at the London Central School of Art, studying printmaking, painting, and weaving. After receiving a BA from Antioch, she returned to the Central School to earn a diploma in etching in 1959.
Amos’s first solo exhibition was in an Atlanta gallery in 1960. In that same year she moved to New York, where she taught as an assistant at the Dalton School and continued her work as an artist by making prints. In 1961 she was hired by Dorothy Liebes as a designer/weaver, creating rugs for a major textile manufacturer. In 1964 she entered a master’s program in Art Education at New York University. During this time Hale Woodruff invited her to become a member of Spiral, a group of black artists that included Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Charles Alston. She was the group’s youngest and only female member.
She married Bobby Levine in 1965 and received her MA in 1966. She had a son, Nicholas, in 1967, and her daughter, India, followed three years later. While the children were small, Amos focused on sewing, weaving, quilting, and doing illustrations for Sesame Street magazine. In 1974 she began teaching at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, and in 1977 she developed and cohosted (with Beth Gutcheon) Show of Hands, a crafts show for WGBH Educational TV in Boston, which ran for two years.
In 1980, Amos was hired as an assistant professor at the Mason Gross School of Art, Rutgers University. She earned tenure in 1992, was later promoted to Professor II, and served as chair of the department from 2005 to 2007. She continued teaching there until she retired in June 2008.
Amos’s work has been exhibited internationally and is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the New Jersey and Minnesota state museums, and the Dade County and Newark museums. She won prestigious awards and grants, and served on the Board of Governors of Skowhegan and in the National Academy Museum.
Amos has received a surge in critical attention since 2016, due in part to her inclusion in major traveling exhibitions such as Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (Tate Modern, London; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Broad Museum, CA) and We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985 (Brooklyn Museum, NY; ICA Boston, MA, California African American Museum, Los Angeles).
She died in Bedford, NH, on May 20, 2020 of natural causes, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.