Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence

Overview
Jacob Lawrence was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

; he was married to fellow artist Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Clarine Knight was an African American artist from Barbados, in the West Indies.Gwendolyn Knight painted throughout her life, but did not start seriously exhibiting her work until the 1970s. Her first retrospective when she was nearly eighty years old...

. Lawrence referred to his style as "dynamic cubism
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

", though by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colors of Harlem
Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...

.

Lawrence is among the best-known twentieth century African American painters, a distinction shared with Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden was an African American artist and writer. He worked in several media including cartoons, oils, and collage.-Education:...

. Lawrence was only in his twenties when his "Migration Series" made him nationally famous.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Jacob Lawrence'
Start a new discussion about 'Jacob Lawrence'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Jacob Lawrence was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 painter
Painting
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

; he was married to fellow artist Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Clarine Knight was an African American artist from Barbados, in the West Indies.Gwendolyn Knight painted throughout her life, but did not start seriously exhibiting her work until the 1970s. Her first retrospective when she was nearly eighty years old...

. Lawrence referred to his style as "dynamic cubism
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

", though by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colors of Harlem
Harlem
Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands...

.

Lawrence is among the best-known twentieth century African American painters, a distinction shared with Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden was an African American artist and writer. He worked in several media including cartoons, oils, and collage.-Education:...

. Lawrence was only in his twenties when his "Migration Series" made him nationally famous. A part of this series was featured in a 1941 issue of Fortune magazine. The series depicted the epic Great Migration
Great Migration (African American)
The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million blacks out of the Southern United States to the Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1910 to 1970. Some historians differentiate between a Great Migration , numbering about 1.6 million migrants, and a Second Great Migration , in which 5 million or more...

 of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. The collection has been split into two parts for public viewing.

Life


Jacob Lawrence was born in 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Atlantic City is a city in Atlantic County, New Jersey, United States, and a nationally renowned resort city for gambling, shopping and fine dining. The city also served as the inspiration for the American version of the board game Monopoly. Atlantic City is located on Absecon Island on the coast...

 and died in 2000, Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the county seat of King County, Washington. With 608,660 residents as of the 2010 Census, Seattle is the largest city in the Northwestern United States. The Seattle metropolitan area of about 3.4 million inhabitants is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the country...

. He was thirteen when he moved with his sister and brother to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. His mother enrolled him in classes at an arts and crafts settlement house in Harlem, in an effort to keep him busy. The young Lawrence often drew patterns with crayon
Crayon
A crayon is a stick of colored wax, charcoal, chalk, or other materials used for writing, coloring, drawing, and other methods of illustration. A crayon made of oiled chalk is called an oil pastel; when made of pigment with a dry binder, it is simply a pastel; both are popular media for color...

s. Although much of his work copied his mother's carpet
Carpet
A carpet is a textile floor covering consisting of an upper layer of "pile" attached to a backing. The pile is generally either made from wool or a manmade fibre such as polypropylene,nylon or polyester and usually consists of twisted tufts which are often heat-treated to maintain their...

s, an art teacher there noted great potential in Lawrence.

After dropping out of school at sixteen, Lawrence worked in a laundry and a printing plant. More importantly, he attended classes at the Harlem Art Workshop, taught by the African American artist Charles Alston
Charles Alston
Charles Henry Alston was an African-American painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist and teacher who lived and worked in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Alston was active in the Harlem Renaissance; Alston was the first African American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration's...

. Alston urged him to also attend the Harlem Community Art Center, led by the sculptor Augusta Savage
Augusta Savage
Augusta Savage, born Augusta Christine Fells was an African-American sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a teacher and her studio was important to the careers of a rising generation of artists who would become nationally known...

. Savage was able to secure Lawrence a scholarship to the American Artists School
American Artists School
The American Artists School was a progressive independent art school in New York City associated with socialism and the American Radical movement.The school was founded in April 1936 at 131 West Fourteenth Street...

 and a paid position with the Works Progress Administration
Works Progress Administration
The Works Progress Administration was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects...

. In addition to getting paid, he was able to study and work with such notable Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

 artists as Charles Alston
Charles Alston
Charles Henry Alston was an African-American painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist and teacher who lived and worked in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Alston was active in the Harlem Renaissance; Alston was the first African American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration's...

 and Henry Bannarn
Henry Bannarn
‎ ‎Henry Wilmer "Mike" Bannarn was an African-American artist, best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance period.-Biography:He was born in Wetumpka, Hughes County, Oklahoma on July 17, 1910...

 in the Alston-Bannarn workshop.

Lawrence married the painter Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Clarine Knight was an African American artist from Barbados, in the West Indies.Gwendolyn Knight painted throughout her life, but did not start seriously exhibiting her work until the 1970s. Her first retrospective when she was nearly eighty years old...

, who had also been a student of Savage's, on July 24, 1941. They remained married until his death in 2000.
In October 1943 (during the Second World War), he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard is a branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven U.S. uniformed services. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service unique among the military branches for having a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency...

 and served with the first racially integrated crew on the USCGC Sea Cloud
USCGC Sea Cloud (WPG-284)
USCGC Sea Cloud was a weather ship for the United States Coast Guard and United States Navy during World War II. The ship served as the first racially integrated warship in the United States Armed Forces since the American Civil War. Originally a private yacht, she was transferred to the Coast...

, under Carlton Skinner
Carlton Skinner
Carlton S. Skinner was the first civilian governor of Guam and a prominent advocate for the integration of the United States Armed Forces...

. He was able to paint and sketch while in the Coast Guard.

In 1970 Lawrence settled in Seattle and became an art professor at the University of Washington
University of Washington
University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

. Some of his works are now displayed there in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering and in Meany Hall for the Performing Arts. The piece in the main lobby of Meany Hall, entitled "Theatre", was commissioned by the University for the hall in 1985.

Work


Throughout his lengthy artistic career, Lawrence concentrated on depicting the history and struggles of African Americans. Lawrence's work often portrayed important periods in African-American history. The artist was twenty-one years old when his series of paintings of the Haitian general Toussaint L’Ouverture was shown in an exhibit of African American artists at the Baltimore Museum of Art
Baltimore Museum of Art
The Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore, Maryland, United States, was founded in 1914. Built in the Roman Temple style, the Museum is home to an internationally renowned collection of 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art. Founded in 1914 with a single painting, the BMA today has 90,000 works...

. This impressive work was followed by a series of paintings of the lives of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing...

 and Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Harriet Ross; (1820 – 1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, into which she was born, she made thirteen missions to rescue more than 70 slaves...

, as well as a series of pieces about the abolitionist John Brown
John Brown (abolitionist)
John Brown was an American revolutionary abolitionist, who in the 1850s advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to abolish slavery in the United States. He led the Pottawatomie Massacre during which five men were killed, in 1856 in Bleeding Kansas, and made his name in the...

. Lawrence was only twenty-three when he completed the sixty-panel set of narrative paintings entitled Migration of the Negro, now called The Migration Series. The series, a moving portrayal of the migration of hundreds of thousands of African Americans from the rural South to the North after World War I, was shown in New York, and brought him national recognition. In the 1940s Lawrence was given his first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

 in New York City, and became the most celebrated African American painter in the country.

Shortly after moving to Washington State, Lawrence did a series of five paintings on the westward journey of African American pioneer George Washington Bush
George Washington Bush
George Washington Bush was one of the first American settlers and the first black settler in what would later become the U.S. state of Washington.-Early life:...

. These paintings are now in the collection of the State of Washington History Museum.

He illustrated an adaptation of Aesop's Fables
Aesop's Fables
Aesop's Fables or the Aesopica are a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and story-teller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BCE. The fables remain a popular choice for moral education of children today...

 for the University of Washington Press in 1997.

Lawrence taught at several schools, and continued to paint until a few weeks before his death in June 2000 at the age of eighty-two. His last public work, the mosaic mural New York in Transit, was installed in October 2001 in the Times Square subway station in New York City.

Recognition


Lawrence was honored as an artist, teacher, and humanitarian when the NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal
Spingarn Medal
The Spingarn Medal is awarded annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for outstanding achievement by an African American....

 in 1970 for his outstanding achievements. In 1974 the Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum of American Art, often referred to simply as "the Whitney", is an art museum with a focus on 20th- and 21st-century American art. Located at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street in New York City, the Whitney's permanent collection contains more than 18,000 works in a wide variety of...

 in New York held a major retrospective of his work, and in 1983 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1995. In 1998 he received Washington State's highest honor, The Washington Medal of Merit
The Washington Medal of Merit
In Washington State The Medal of Merit is given for exceptional conduct in providing outstanding services to the citizens.- Recipients :1987*Warren G. Magnuson – Seattle *Dorothy Bullitt – Seattle...

. He was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...

 in 1990.

His work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Phillips Collection
Phillips Collection
The Phillips Collection is an art museum founded by Duncan Phillips in 1921 as the Phillips Memorial Gallery located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Phillips was the grandson of James H...

, and the Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn Museum
The Brooklyn Museum is an encyclopedia art museum located in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. At 560,000 square feet, the museum holds New York City's second largest art collection with roughly 1.5 million works....

.In May 2007, the White House Historical Association
White House Historical Association
The White House Historical Association, founded in 1961 through efforts of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is a private, non-profit organization with a mission to enhance the public's understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the White House, the official home and principal workplace of the...

 (via the White House Acquisition Trust
White House Acquisition Trust
The White House Acquisition Trust is a private, non-profit, tax-exempt fund established to finance the purchase of fine art and decorative arts for the White House, the official home and principal workplace of the President of the United States. The fund is funded by private donation, through...

) purchased Lawrence's The Builders (1947) for $2.5 million at auction. The painting now hangs in the White House Green Room
Green Room (White House)
The Green Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor in the White House, the home of the president of the United States. It is used for small receptions and teas. During a state dinner, guests are served cocktails in the three state parlors before the president, first lady, and visiting...

.

When Lawrence died on June 9, 2000, the New York Times called him "One of America's leading modern figurative painters" and "among the most impassioned visual chroniclers of the African-American experience." His wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Clarine Knight was an African American artist from Barbados, in the West Indies.Gwendolyn Knight painted throughout her life, but did not start seriously exhibiting her work until the 1970s. Her first retrospective when she was nearly eighty years old...

 Lawrence, died several years later in 2005. Before Lawrence died, the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation was formally established. Today, it serves as both Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence's official Estates, and maintains a searchable archive of nearly 1,000 images of their work. The U.S. copyright representative for the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation is the Artists Rights Society
Artists Rights Society
Artists Rights Society is a copyright, licensing, and monitoring organization for visual artists in the United States. Founded in 1987, ARS represents the intellectual property rights interests of over 50,000 visual artists and estates of visual artists from around the world .- Member Artists &...

.

Legacy


The Seattle Art Museum
Seattle Art Museum
The Seattle Art Museum is an art museum located in Seattle, Washington, USA. It maintains three major facilities: its main museum in downtown Seattle; the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill, and the Olympic Sculpture Park on the central Seattle waterfront, which opened on...

 offers the Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Clarine Knight was an African American artist from Barbados, in the West Indies.Gwendolyn Knight painted throughout her life, but did not start seriously exhibiting her work until the 1970s. Her first retrospective when she was nearly eighty years old...

 and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship, a $10,000 award to "individuals whose original work reflects the Lawrences' concern for artistic excellence, education, mentorship and scholarship within the cultural contexts and value systems that informed their work and the work of other artists of color."

External resources