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Jacob Lawrence

National Portrait Gallery

Jacob Lawrence

National Portrait Gallery
Born Atlantic City, New Jersey

During his lifetime, Jacob Lawrence achieved a level of recognition previously unequaled by an African American artist. In 1941 he exhibited a series of sixty paintings, originally entitled The Migration of the Negro, at Edith Halpert’s prestigious Downtown Gallery in New York City. With the assistance of his future wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight, Lawrence developed a narrative that told the complex history of how and why millions of African Americans moved from the South to the North between the two world wars. Paired with explanatory captions, the paintings attracted wide notice and solidified Lawrence’s reputation for creating multi-picture stories about episodes and individuals in African American history, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown. In this portrait Lawrence poses in his studio with The Visitors, now in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Nacido en Atlantic City, New Jersey

Jacob Lawrence alcanzó en vida un nivel de popularidad nunca antes visto para un artista afroamericano. En 1941 expuso una serie de sesenta pinturas, titulada inicialmente The Migration of the Negro, en la prestigiosa Downtown Gallery de Edith Halpert en la ciudad de New York. Con ayuda de su futura esposa, la artista Gwendolyn Knight, Lawrence desarrolló una narrativa pictórica para representar un complicado tema: cómo y porqué millones de afroamericanos pasaron del sur al norte del país entre las dos guerras mundiales. Acompañadas de notas explicativas, las pinturas atrajeron amplia atención y consolidaron la reputación de Lawrence, también creador de narraciones pictóricas sobre figuras de la historia afroamericana como Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman y John Brown. Lawrence posó para este retrato en su estudio junto a la pintura The Visitors, ahora en la colección del Dallas Museum of Art. En el Smithsonian American Art Museum pueden apreciarse varias obras de Lawrence.

Jacob Lawrence Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery
Jacob Lawrence 1917-2000

Jacob Lawrence, best known for his dynamic depictions of African American life and history, rarely engaged in portraiture. But when he made a self-portrait like this one, he treated his own face like his other subjects-as a basis for inventing expressive abstract shapes. In this drawing, Lawrence concentrated his appearance into a few essential lines and shapes. A black arc describes the shape of his skull, only thinly covered by hair. His shaggy mustache is a complex of wavy lines flanked by heavier curves evoking folds of aging flesh. Lawrence left most of his face white to set off the abstracted black shapes of his nose, eyes, mouth, and mustache. Lawrence poetically combined observation with geometry to reflect both his appearance and his approach to art.

Jacob Lawrence Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery
In about 1965, when Jacob Lawrence began this self-portrait, he had assumed a visibility beyond anything previously accorded to an African American artist. The 1941 exhibition of his epic series of sixty paintings, originally entitled "The Migration of the Negro," had firmly established his reputation. Composition, color, and abstract pattern became the root of Lawrence’s style as he painted the black experience. The human face and figure, normally subject to entrenched artistic conventions, were to him just shapes to be simplified or distorted. With the exception of a small group of self-portraits that he made in the 1960s, Lawrence rarely attempted portraiture. In 1996, he updated this drawing of himself, adding bands of black around the face and changing its contours to a single sweeping curve. Transforming a linear drawing into a muscular interplay of black and white, the likeness reflects both the strength and the anxieties of the artist’s advancing age.

Cuando comenzó este autorretrato, hacia 1965, Jacob Lawrence disfrutaba de una visibilidad nunca antes concedida a un artista afroamericano. En 1941, la exposición de su épica serie de sesenta pinturas titulada "La migración del negro" había cimentado su reputación. La composición, el color y los patrones abstractos constituyeron la base del estilo con que abordó la experiencia del pueblo negro. La cara y la figura humanas, normalmente sujetas a arraigadas convenciones artísticas, eran para él meras formas que simplificaba o distorsionaba. Con excepción de un pequeño grupo de autorretratos que hizo en la década de 1960, Lawrence rara vez abordó el género del retrato. En 1996 actualizó este dibujo de sí mismo con bandas negras alrededor de la cara, convirtiendo los contornos en una amplia curva continua. El dibujo lineal original quedó así transformado en un vigoroso juego de negro y blanco que refleja la fuerza y a la vez las ansiedades del artista ya avanzado en años.

Jacob's Ladder

NMNH - Education & Outreach
This object is part of the Education and Outreach collection, some of which are in the Q?rius science education center and available to see.

A box containing a Jacob's Ladder, a traditional American folk toy. The box is painted yellow, red, and blue and contains the ladder and a paper instruction booklet. The toy is composed of six blocks made from two glued pieces of wood. They are strung together with three sections of ribbon in blue, purple, and reddish purple.

Jacob Riis

National Portrait Gallery
Perhaps the poverty he endured as an immigrant led Jacob Riis to his life's work as a reformer. In 1877 he joined the staff of the New York Tribune as a police reporter and was drawn to stories involving the disadvantaged. Massive immigration from southern and eastern Europe had a profound effect on American cities such as New York, where poverty and squalor were endemic. Riis voiced his outrage over their misery in his masterpiece, How the Other Half Lives (1890). Setting the foundations for modern photojournalism, Riis used technical innovations to photograph the dark interiors of tenements. He formed a close friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, who, as police commissioner and later governor of the New York, worked with Riis to improve tenement conditions.

John Jacob Coss

Catalog of American Portraits

Lawrence University

National Museum of American History
College series cigarette card with a color illustration of athletes playing various sports and featuring a pennant from the college or university represented on the front of the card. This card features Lawrence University and the sport of hunting. The back of card lists colleges in the College Series 51 to 75.

Oral history interview with Jacob Lawrence, 1968 October 26

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 92 pages.

Interview of Jacob Lawrence conducted 1968 October 26, by Carroll Greene, for the Archives of American Art.

Professor J.B. Whittaker

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Lawrence A. Hyland (1897-1989)

Smithsonian Institution Archives
Lawrence A. Hyland (1897-1989), vice-president and general manager of Hughes Aircraft Company.

Jacob Riis Self-Portrait

National Portrait Gallery
Perhaps the poverty he endured as an immigrant led Jacob Riis to his life's work as a reformer. In 1877 he joined the staff of the New York Tribune as a police reporter and was drawn to stories involving the disadvantaged. Massive immigration from southern and eastern Europe had a profound effect on American cities such as New York, where poverty and squalor were endemic. Like many reformers of this era, he viewed these immigrants-along with Asians and blacks-as inferior; nonetheless, he voiced his outrage over their misery in his masterpiece, How the Other Half Lives (1890). Setting the foundations for modern photojournalism, Riis used technical innovations to photograph the dark interiors of tenements. He formed a close friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, who, as police commissioner and later as governor of the state, worked with Riis to improve tenement conditions.

How Jacob Lawrence Painted a Radical History of the American Struggle

Smithsonian Magazine

Between 1949 and 1954, Jacob Lawrence made countless trips from his home in Brooklyn to the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, where he scoured history books, letters, military reports and other documents for hidden stories that had shaped American history. By this point in time, Lawrence was “the most celebrated African American painter in America,” having risen to fame in the 1940s with multiple acclaimed series depicting black historical figures, the Great Migration and everyday life in Harlem. In May 1954, just as the Supreme Court ruled to desegregate public schools, the artist finally finished his research. He was ready to paint.

Lawrence ultimately crafted 30 panels depicting pivotal moments in the country’s nascent years of 1770 to 1817. His works, collectively titled Struggle: From the History of the American People, shifted the focus from celebrated figures to unseen historical players: African Americans, women, laborers, Native Americans. Now, for the first time in more than 60 years, the majority of these radical paintings will be reunited in an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

According to Nancy Kenney of the Art Newspaper, Lawrence’s series was purchased privately in 1959 and later sold off “piecemeal.” The whereabouts of five of the paintings are unknown, and several others were deemed too delicate to travel; they are represented at the Peabody by reproductions.

Jacob Lawrence, Thousands of American citizens have been torn from their country and from everything dear to them: they have been dragged on board ships of war of a foreign nation. — Madison, 1 June 1812, Panel 19, 1956, from Struggle: From the History of the American People, 1954-56 (Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Stephen Petegorsky)

Though the collection is incomplete, the new show offers a sweeping look at Lawrence’s remarkably human exploration of the country’s formative years.

“These are history paintings like you have never seen before,” says Lydia Gordon, PEM’s associate curator for exhibitions and research, in a museum blog post.

The series blends the boundaries between figuration and abstraction, and as its name suggests, struggle is a central theme. Lawrence’s scenes are angular and tension-filled, with thin lines of blood often dripping from characters. His interpretation of George Washington crossing the Delaware does not show the general standing majestically at the helm of a boat, as seen in Emanuel Leutze’s famed painting of the same subject. Instead, Lawrence’s preoccupation is with the nameless soldiers who fought and died for American independence. Here, these figures are shown huddled and cloaked, their bayonets jutting over the river like spikes.

Another one of Lawrence’s central concerns was the role of African Americans in the nation’s founding.

“[T]he part the Negro has played in all these events has been greatly overlooked,” he once said, as quoted by Sebastian Smee of the Washington Post. “I intend to bring it out.”

One panel depicts Patrick Henry’s famed 1775 call to arms against the British. The artwork is captioned with a line from Henry’s speech: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”

Jacob Lawrence, ...Is Life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? – Patrick Henry, 1775,, Panel 1, 1955, from Struggle: From the History of the American People, 1954–56 (Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM)

Still, the Patriots’ fight against bondage failed to encompass the country’s actual enslaved individuals. Yet another panel in the series shows African Americans in the throes of revolt.

“We have no property! We have no wives! No children! We have no city! No country!” reads the caption, which quotes a letter by Felix Holbrook, a slave who petitioned for emancipation in 1773.

Struggle also highlights the enslaved men, Creole people, and immigrants who fought with Governor Andrew Jackson in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans; the anonymous laborers who toiled to build the Erie Canal across New York state; and the contributions of Margaret Cochran Corbin, who followed her husband into the Revolutionary War and, when he was killed, took over firing his cannon. She became the first woman to receive a military pension—one that was “half the size of the men’s,” according to the museum. In Lawrence’s panel, Corbin is turned away from the viewer, a pistol tucked into the waistband of her dress.

The year he started painting Struggle, Lawrence explained that his objective for the series was to “depict the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy.” He painted these works during the modern Civil Rights era, knowing the battle was still not finished. Today, says Gordon, Struggle continues to resonate.

“[Lawrence’s] art,” she adds, “has the power to encourage difficult conversations that we need to be having: What is the cost of democracy for all?”

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle”​ is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, through April 26.

Cheatam, Professor [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

Professor Wilbert Snow [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Title transcribed from negative.

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

Morgan, Professor [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

Digital Directions in Learning: Bridging Informal and Formal Education

Smithsonian Education
The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA) hosted "Digital Directions in Learning", an online discussion series with leaders and researchers in public education, after school programming, museum education, and educational technology on the last Wednesday of each month, in February-June 2014. Welcome: Stephanie Norby, Director Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, Smithsonian Institution Moderator: Claudine Brown, Assistant Secretary for Education and Access, Smithsonian Institution Panelists: Richard Culatta (Ex-officio) Director, Office of Educational Technology US Department of Education Richard Culatta has experience in K-12, higher education, and workplace learning environments. His current work focuses on leveraging technology to create personalized learning experiences for all students and promoting increased connectivity to improve access to education and make college more affordable. Previously, his work centered around leveraging social media to create effective large-scale distributed learning environments. Mark Warschauer Professor of Education and Informatics at the University of California, Irvine Associate Dean of UC Irvine's School of Education. Dr. Warschauer is director of the Digital Learning Lab at UC Irvine, where, together with colleagues and students, he works on a range of research projects related to digital media in education. In K-12 education, his team is developing and studying cloud-based tools for writing, exploring digital scaffolding for reading, investigating one-to-one programs with iPads and Chromebooks, examining use of interactive mobile robots for virtual inclusion, and developing mobile apps for language learning. The DLL team is also exploring new approaches to data mining, machine learning, and learning analytics to analyze the learning and educational data that result from use of new digital tools. Kylie A. Peppler Assistant Professor, Learning Sciences Program Indiana University, Bloomington An artist by training, Kylie Peppler engages in research that focuses on the intersection of arts, media, new technologies, and informal learning.. Currently, Peppler seeks to study the media arts practices of urban, rural, and (dis)abled youth in order to better understand and support literacy, learning, and the arts in the 21st Century. Kevin Crowley Professor of Learning Sciences and Policy, School of Education and Learning Research & Development Center Director, University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-Of-School Environments (UPCLOSE) University of Pittsburgh Dr. Crowley has been co-lead on a National Science Foundation-funded center that works to strengthen and connect the informal science education community by catalyzing conversation and collaboration across the entire field with a focus on improving practice, documenting evidence of impact, and communicating the contributions of informal science education.

Chauncey Goodrich and Jacob Abbott

National Portrait Gallery

Studio Portrait of a Man Sitting, Professor Sanders

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Studio Portrait of a Man Sitting, Professor Sanders

St. Lawrence University

National Museum of American History
College series cigarette card with a color illustration of athletes playing various sports and featuring a pennant from the college or university represented on the front of the card. This card features St. Lawrence University and the sport of rowing. The back of the card lists colleges in the College Series 26 to 50.

Professor Lyman [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Negative marked: 29 / Prof. Lyman.

Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Nitrate, BW.

copy 1 negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

Powell, Professor [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Safety, BW.

Professor Joseph Henry [sculpture] / (photographed by A. B. Bogart)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
On photo mount label: H. A. Lukeman. Statue of Professor Joseph Henry. Princeton University. Bogart. Classification number: 282/L954/675. Accession: 47737. Lantern slide: E52117.

1 photographic print : b&w, 9 3/8 x 5 1/2 in. (trimmed), mounted on 9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. board.

Professor Franz Boas [sculpture] / (photographed by Paul Laib)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
On photo mount label: J. Epstein. Portrait bust of Professor Franz Boas (1858-). 1928, bronze. New York, Columbia University. Photographer: Paul Laib. Classification number: 282/E64/680. Accession: 110810. Lantern slide: E55960.

"The Art of Jacob Epstein," Robert Black, Cleveland, OH and New York: World Publishing Company, 1942.

1 photographic print : b&w, 9 3/8 x 7 5/8 in. (trimmed), mounted on 9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. board.
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