Jacob Armstead Lawrence was born September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His parents divorced when he was 12 and his mother moved the family to New York City, enrolling him in an arts and crafts center in Harlem to occupy him after school until she got off work.
Wright began taking formal classes at the WPA-funded Harlem Art Workshop and the Harlem Community Art Center in 1932, where director Augusta Savage got him a scholarship to the American Artists School and a paid position with the WPA. It was at the Art Center that he met his wife, artist/sculptor Gwendolyn Knight.
His first exhibit was in Baltimore at the age of 21 with a group of 41 paintings depicting the life of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Later series focused on Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and John Brown. Two years later a collection of 60 paintings on the Great Migration was shown at the New York's prestigious Downtown Gallery. The paintings were bought by the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection of Washington D. C. Fortune Magazine covered the sale, printing color reproductions of 26 of the paintings and bringing Lawrence's work to the attention of the American public. Thus he became one of the most widely-known African American artist of the twentieth centrury.
|With Gwendolyn Knight|
Lawrence taught at the Pratt Institute and at other schools in the New York area. In 1970 he and Knight moved to Seattle where he was on the faculty of the University of Washington. He was awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal the same year, and in 1983 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
He died in Seattle on June 9, 2000 at the age of 82. The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation administers their estates and archives their work. Knight died in 2005. The Seattle Art Museum gives an annual $10,000 award in their names to artists who "reflect the cultural contexts and values systems that informed their work."
"Our homes were very decorative, full of pattern, like inexpensive throw rugs. It must have had some influence, all this color and everything. Because we were so poor the people used this as a means of brightening their life. I used to do bright patterns after these throw rugs; I got ideas from them, the arabesques, the movement and so on."
|The Ordeal of Alice|