Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-200)
Black Cowboys, ca. 1967
One of the first African American artists to achieve widespread national acclaim, the painter Jacob Lawrence was a keen observer of American culture and a committed storyteller. While still in his teens, he took classes at the Harlem Art Workshop, which operated as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, and later studied at the Harlem Community Art Center. Lawrence both learned from and participated in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, during which African American art, literature, music, dance, and social commentary flourished. Developing a distinct, modernist approach to history painting, he dedicated himself to illustrating the stories of blacks from the Civil War up to his own day.Lawrence animated these stories with expressively simplified and energetic figures executed in rich, often primary, colors, and he worked frequently in a series format--each narrative advancing through successive paintings. The series that first brought him national attention and remains his most famous project was The Migration of the Negro, which he completed in 1941 at age 23. In sixty small paintings, it told of the large-scale movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North after World War I.
In addition to producing forthrightly historical narratives, Lawrence explored broader,
more symbolic themes. He was especially intrigued by labor in its many forms, and
he frequently portrayed people working--for example, doing laundry, teaching,
--Emily Stamey, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ulrich Museum of Art
1. Joseph S. Cooper to Donald Knaub, Director, Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, June 17, 1998, Ulrich Museum of Art object file.