Jacob Lawrence

Teaching through a Paintbrush

Jacob Lawrence was a very famous painter during the Harlem Renaissance.

Early Life

Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 7, 1917. When he was two, his family moved to Pennsylvania. At the age of 7, Lawrence's parents split and he was forced to be put in foster care with his two brothers. Then in 1930, his mother moved to Harlem, New York where he began to have an interest in art. He took after school art classes where he used his special talents. Mr. Jacob Lawrence dropped out of school and took many classes at the Harlem Art Workshop at the age of 16. Because he lived right near Manhattan, he visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art many times.
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The Ironers - 1943

The picture above is called the "Ironers", as you can see it is three negros ironing clothes. These men are ironing them with very low quality irons, they seem to look like squares. The significance of this painting is that it shows that life was very hard in Harlem and it was tough to succeed. Everything is flat, except for the irons which really shows that it was extremely challenging as an African American because of the rough past and slavery. This was one of his successful works also! This masterpiece really represented Harlem and the challenges there.
Click the link above for a video about Jacob Lawrence!
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And The Migrants Keep Coming - 1941

This is another work of Jacob Lawrence; it is representing the Great Migration of Negros into the North. And The Migrants Keep Coming was the first work of art by an African American to enter The Museum of Modern Art's collection.

Middle Life

Jacob was still painting during his middle life. In 1941, he married his love, Gwendolyn Knight who was a sculptor and painter. They helped and critiqued each others painting and other artwork. He was drafted into the armed forces and was Coast Guard artist, where he created his War Series. He created around 48 paintings, but they were all lost in the war. Circa 1949, he grew depressed and went to the Hillside Hospital in Queens (New York City Borough). There, he still painted. Immediately after he checked out of the hospital, he began to have interest in theater. He painted scenes in plays and performances.
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This is one of the painting from the Theater Series.

Why was Jacob Lawrence important to American culture?

Well, Lawrence was one of the first successful African American artists! It also happens that he was a major part of the Harlem Renaissance. He created an outline for African American artwork. Through his artwork, he showed what happened, The Great Migration. As you can see above, there is a painting called, "And The Migrants Keep Coming." Lawrence has many more works that show the African Americans and what they did. People bought his works and learned how and why African Americans migrated. Below is another picture of The Great Migration by Jacob Lawrence. Most of these southern blacks migrated North during World War Two and the 1940s.
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Look At All of the Painting of the Great Migration in the Website Above! (Look at the Panel on the Right to see them)


I can compare Lawrence to Pablo Picasso because they both use cubism art. Cubism is painting with a single viewpoint using simple shapes. Below, I have two pictures of self portraits. Picasso is on the left and Lawrence is on the right. The paintings are created by connecting geometric shapes and with a single viewpoint. As you can see, both of the noses are are oddly shaped because of using cubism.

Famous Quote

This is my genre...the happiness, tragedies, and the sorrows of mankind as realized in the teeming black ghetto.”

—Jacob Lawrence

I think this means that he paints about everything he has been through such as the happiness, tragedies and sorrows!