Francis Speight, the youngest son of the Reverend Thomas T. Speight and Margaret Sharrock Speight, was born on his family's farm located between Windsor and Lewiston in Bertie County, North Carolina. Interested in becoming a writer, he went to work for a newspaper in Raleigh after two years of study at Wake Forest College in Winston-Salem. Finding the newspaper business too political and encouraged by his sister Tulie to become an artist, in 1920 Speight entered the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. While there he was so impressed by an exhibition of drawings by Daniel Garber (1880-1958) that he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
in Philadelphia, where Garber was teaching. Garber's influence is apparent in Speight's use of raking light and highly decorative spring trees. After Speight completed his studies, Garber discouraged him from going to teach at Washington State College and helped him to receive a teaching assistantship at the Academy, a "temporary" position that turned into a full-time job that lasted fifty-two years.
Speight married his former student and fellow painter Sarah Blakeslee (born 1912), and after living briefly in center city Philadelphia and nearby New Hope, the couple moved to the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, where they established a studio. In 1943 they moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to raise their family. In 1961, the Speights returned to North Carolina, where Mrs. Speight still resides.
Speight was a member of the National Academy of Design
and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, both in New York, and a fellow of the Pennsylvania Academy. He won numerous Awards, including the prestigious Cresson Travelling Scholarship (1923 and 1925) and a gold medal from the Pennsylvania Academy (1926), and the first Hallgarten Prize (1930) from the National Academy of Design. He exhibited throughout his career, including at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1926 to 1962, the Art Institute of Chicago
from 1927 to 1950, the Corcoran Gallery of Art
from 1930 to 1952, and the National Academy of Design from 1937 to 1973.
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