Jacob Lawrence’s unique career has earned him a National Medal Of Arts , election to the National Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design,a National Council of the Arts commisionership, and dozens of honorary degrees and awards, including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. His paintings has been freatured in several major art exhibitions and many different museums. Lawrence’s parents came from the south but they moved to Harlem where Lawrence grew up. Lawrence was born in 1917 and grew up in Harlem during the Great Depression. He had many extraordinary educational oppurtunities as well as his first employment as an artist.
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In the studio of his mentor, Charles Alston, young Lawrence painted while the Harlem Renaissance was blooming with a generation of young artists and writers. He studied at the Harlem Art Workshop from 1932-1937 and at the American Artists School from 1937-1939. In the 1930’s there was two main art groups,realism art and abstractionism art. Lawrence rejected both of them and made up his own style of art. His paintings are alive with human figures, usually African Americans,engaged in all different types of activities. He dipicted the figures in his paintings with dignity and grace.
He got his ideas from several different sources. He used repetitive paterns and a lot of different colors and design which are commonly found in a quilt or an African textile. He made up to as many as 60 paintings which are each telling a story and the messages are usually of human triumph over oppression and injustice. Although his paintings often relate to the history and experience of black people their themes are universal. Lawrence allso made murals for his story telling. Throughout most of the 20th century , art institutions within black communities were the only places that exhibited the work of black artists.
If other galleries did have black exhibits they were singled out as \”Negro artists\” or \”Negro Art\”. Without gallery exposure, they were rarely noticed by influential people or obtain appropriate prices. In 1941 Alain Locke, a friend of Lawrence’s introduced Lawrence’s Migration series to the owner New York’s Downtown Gallery Edith Halpert. Edith immediately organized an exhibition for Lawrence’s art work, and Lawrence joined the select few group of artists she presented, which included Stuart Davis, Charles Sheeler, and Ben Shahn.
Lawrence’s Migration series was purchased and divided between the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillip’s Collection. Lawrence’s paintings had broken the boundaries of the art world’s color line. Also in 1941, Lawrence married painter Gwendolyn Knight. Except for service in World War 2 and frequent trips to paint and teach art, he worked in New York until joining the faculty of the University of Washington in 1971. He retired from teaching in 1983 , but he still continues to create major new works of art and remains one of the few African-Americans to win recognition as a major American artist.