During the course of his working lifetime, White produced at least six folios of prints of his work, attesting to his determination to see his work brought within reach of those who could ill afford gallery prices and may well have been somewhat alienated from the world of art galleries and museums. In producing these folios, Charles White may well have been influenced by the publication, in 1949, of NEGRO: U.S.A: A Graphic History of the Negro People in America, a set of 26 prints issued by The Workshop of Graphic Art, 106 East 14th Street, New York City. In his brief introduction to the NEGRO: U.S.A. folio, Charles Keller, President, Graphic Workshop made mention of the intention “to remove art from the category of “collectors’ items for the well-to-do” and restore it to the people at prices they can afford. The Graphic Workshop welcomes both the participation of artists and the support of an audience which believes with us that art belongs to the people.”
This intact folio was the first of White's sets of such prints. Measuring approximately 18 x 13 inches, the Charles White: Six Drawings folio was issued by Masses & Mainstream in 1953. Its six plates are loose-leaf in a portfolio cover. The folio contained reproductions of what were already regarded as classic works by White. The Mother, Dawn of Life, Let’s Walk Together, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth, Harvest Talk, and Abraham Lincoln.
The folio included an introduction by Rockwell Kent (June 21, 1882 – March 13, 1971) an American painter, printmaker, and illustrator, who was also, at different times in his life, a writer, sailor, adventurer and voyager.
Remarkably, the folio cost a mere $3, which even in today's money is less than $30.
The folio was enthusiastically promoted in Masses & Mainstream, August 1953, in a piece penned by Philip Evergood, and titled "The Art of Charles White." The piece appeared on pages 36 - 39 and was illustrated with "Let's Walk Together."
The occasion of the text was, as mentioned, the issuing of a folio of drawings by White, advertised on the back of the magazine, with the following text: "You Cannot Afford to be Without - THE ART OF CHARLES WHITE A Folio of Six Drawings Introduction by ROCKWELL KENT "These drawings are tremendous because human dignity is tremendous, and human strength, and the love of humanity which is the beginning of art." AL RICHMOND in Daily People's World"
Evergood's text, trailed on the cover of the magazine, began with references to the folio, "The folio of Six Drawings by Charles White, issued by Masses and Mainstream, is a happy event not only for the people who will gain beauty and inspiration from these tender and human documents shining out from the walls of their homes, but for an art world satiated by the myriads of meaningless and tiresome experiments in how to paint or sculpt something which reminds one of nothing.
Rockwell Kent's sensitive and searching introduction is a worthy adjunct to the six very faithfully rendered reproductions of the original black and white drawings, made by the comparatively modern process of offset lithography. Kent pays high tribute to Charles White for the humanism and for the artistically successful execution of these monumentally conceived drawings of people.
The problem of getting art to the people has been a subject of serious thought on the part of progressive artists, educators, trade unionists. Paintings, except for murals in buildings where the broad public has a chance to see them, are in general too expensive for the average worker. Painters in countries where little or no government support for the artist exists, such as our country today, are obliged to rely in main for sale of their work on rich collectors and middle class buyers in the higher income brackets. Artists have been separated from the audience which could and should be their great source of strength and energy. This source of creative power is living, functioning humanity of which art has to be a part to attain greatness.
By bringing out this portfolio of six large ready-to-frame prints at $3.00, Masses and Mainstream is showing the way to a practical realization of the artists' and the peoples' desires. And in choosing White, the magazine has chosen a Negro people's artist who can not only draw human beings with the dignity they deserve but who gives us a penetrating and symbolic rendering of the beauty of the Negro people."
The full title of the feature was "CHARLES WHITE: Beauty and Strength"
Extracts from Kent's introduction as follows:
"Here is a folio of prints for which, before I saw them, I rashly agreed to write an introduction. the fact is that they need none. They stand - literally as well as metaphorically, for they are pictures of people - upon their own feet. they introduce mankind.
The pictures are essentially a documentation of human dignity and as such should be spared the controversial appellation: Art. and yet, let's take a passing look at Art.
...These lithographs of Charles White's transcend, as only true art can, the means - the stone and crayon, black and white, the lines and masses - of which they are contrived. He has created people - or, let us say, re-created them in the light of his own warm sympathy, of his kindly and most sensitive understanding..."
Kent goes on to make references top White's iconic portrait of Abraham Lincoln, describing it as representing "Lincoln of the Negro people."
In 1971, Elton Fax's book 17 Black Artists was published by Dodd, Mead & Company, New York. Charles White was one of the 17, the others being, Elizabeth Catlett, John Wilson, Lawrence Jones, Eldzier Cortor, Rex Goreleigh, Charlotte Amévor, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Roy De Carava, Faith Ringgold, Earl Hooks, James E. Lewis, Benny Andrews, Norma Morgan, John Biggers, and William Torres.
Each artist was represented by a short essay by Fax, and his text on White mentioned this portfolio, describing its drawings as "each [being] a superb interpretation of black working people. The portfolio today is a collector's item." (74)
In his text, “Charles White: The Politics of Print” John P. Murphy had important things to say about this folio.
These [leftist] political commitments found expression in his art. Charles White: Six Drawings, published by Masses and Mainstream in 1953, represented the full flowering of White’s naturalist turn in the early 1950s. the affordable portfolio (it sold for $3) made available ready-to-frame reproductions of sic ink-and-charcoal drawings” The Mother, Dawn of Life, Let’s Walk Together, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth, Harvest Talk and Lincoln. ‘I was happy’, White wrote, ‘when I learned that the portfolio of drawings reproduced by Masses and Mainstream had reached many lands, and was helping my people to be understood tens of thousands of miles away’, White considered himself ‘a success’ when he heard that a ‘group of share-croppers and factory workers in Alabama had combined whatever coins they had to buy a folio, had shared the pictures among themselves, and passed them from home to home”. In his review of the portfolio for Masses and Mainstream, [Philip] Evergood similarly stressed the accessibility of the reproductions at a time when,
The problem of getting art to the people has been a subject of serious thought on the part of progressive artists, educators, trade-unionists… We are fortunate that modern technology has been able to help in this effort at mass distribution of art, available to the people. (154)
This was an engrossing, hugely informative scholarly text, which placed particular emphasis on White’s socially engaged practices and some related international dimensions.