Jacob Lawrence


Jacob Lawrence was one the most renowned African American artist of his time. Known for producing narrative collections like the Migration Series and War Series, he illustrated the African American experience using vivid colours set against Black and brown figures. He also served as a professor of art at the University of Washington for 15 years.
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 7, 1917, Jacob Lawrence moved with his parents to Easton, Pennsylvania, at the age of two. After his parents split in 1924, his mother sent him, along with two other siblings, to a foster care facility in Philadelphia, while she looked for work in New York. At 13, Lawrence and his siblings reunited with their mother who was residing in Harlem.
Encouraging him to explore the arts, Lawrence’s mother enrolled him at Utopia Children’s Centre, which had an after-school art program. Although he dropped out of school at the age of 16, he continued taking classes at the Harlem Art Workshop with under the mentorship of artist Charles Alston and frequently visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1937 Lawrence won a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York. When he graduated in 1939, he received funding from the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. He had already developed his own style of modernism, and began creating narrative series, painting 30 or more paintings on one subject. He completed his best-known series, Migration of the Negro or simply The Migration Series, in 1941. The series was exhibited at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in 1942, making Lawrence the first African American to join the gallery.
At the outbreak of World War II, Lawrence was drafted into the United States Coast Guard. After being briefly stationed in Florida and Massachusetts, he was assigned to be the Coast Guard artist aboard a troopship, documenting the war experience as he travelled around the world. During this time, he produced close to 50 paintings but all ended up being lost.


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