DAILY DOSE OF HISTORY: Jacob Lawrence – Painter

Foster Care

Jacob Lawrence was born September 7, 1917, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When he was only two years old, the Lawrence family moved to Easton, Pennsylvania. By 1924, his parents separated, leaving young Lawrence and his two younger siblings in foster care while his mother found work in New York. By the age of 13, he joined his mother in Harlem, New York.

Education

Upon his arrival in Harlem, Lawrence’s mother enrolled him in the after-school program, Utopia Children’s Center. There, he was introduced to art. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 but took art classes at the Harlem Art Workshop. He also frequented the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By 1937, Lawrence won a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York. During his time there, he had developed his own style of modernism, created narrative series, and painted several different paintings on one subject. Once he graduated in 1939, his work was funded by the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project.

‘The Migration Series’

One of Lawrence’s best-known series came shortly after he graduated from the American Artists School. His series was titled ‘Migration of the Negro’ or ‘The Migration Series’ (1941). His series depicted artistic renditions of Black people migrating from the American South to the North and East. In 1942, Lawrence’s series was exhibited at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery. He was the first Black artist to join Halpert’s gallery. Jacob Lawrence, Black Painter, Black Painters, Harlem Renaissance, Black History, Black History 365, DDH: Daily Dose of History

‘War Series’

When World War II (WWII) erupted, Lawrence was drafted into the U.S. Coast Guard. He was assigned to be the Coast Guard’s artist while aboard a troopship. He would document the war in a compilation of 48 paintings which have all been lost. After serving his time in the army, Lawrence was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship with which he painted his famous ‘War Series.’ He was then offered the opportunity to teach a summer session at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Hillside

Upon his return to New York, Lawrence plummeted into a state of depression. He checked himself into Hillside Hospital in Queens, New York, in 1949. For the 11 months that he was there, he painted works of people in agony and despair. Once he left Hillside his focus shifted to the theater, painting past performances at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Teaching

After leaving Hillside, Lawrence also began teaching at Pratt Institute. He later taught at the New School for Social Research and the Art Student League. In 1971, Lawrence was offered a tenured position with the University of Washington in Seattle. He taught there until his retirement in 1986.

Commissions

While teaching, Lawrence was also commissioned to paint limited-edition pieces by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in order to help raise money for each of the aforementioned nonprofit organizations.  He painted several weeks before his death on June 9, 2000. He was 82 years old. Jacob Lawrence, Black Painter, Black Painters, Harlem Renaissance, Black History, Black History 365, DDH: Daily Dose of History  
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