Jacob Lawrence

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Jacob Lawrence (September 7, 1917 – June 9, 2000) was an American painter; he was married to fellow artist Gwendolyn Knight. Lawrence referred to his style as "dynamic cubism", though by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colors of Harlem.[1]

Lawrence is among the best-known twentieth century African American painters, a distinction shared with Romare Bearden. Lawrence was only in his twenties when his "Migration Series" made him nationally famous. A part of this series was featured in a 1941 issue of Fortune magazine. The series depicted the epic Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. The collection has been split into two parts for public viewing.



Born in 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey , Lawrence was thirteen when he moved with his sister and brother to New York City. His mother enrolled him in classes at an arts and crafts settlement house in Harlem, in an effort to keep him busy. The young Lawrence often drew patterns with crayons. Although much of his work copied his mother's carpets, an art teacher there noted great potential in Lawrence.

After dropping out of school at sixteen, Lawrence worked in a laundry and a printing plant. More importantly, he attended classes at the Harlem Art Workshop, taught by the African American artist Charles Alston. Alston urged him to also attend the Harlem Community Art Center, led by the sculptor Augusta Savage. Savage was able to secure Lawrence a scholarship to the American Artists School and a paid position with the Works Progress Administration. In addition to getting paid, he was able to study and work with such notable Harlem Renaissance artists as Charles Alston and Henry Bannarn in the Alston-Bannarn workshop.

Lawrence married the painter Gwendolyn Knight, who had also been a student of Savage's, on July 24, 1941. They remained married until his death in 2000.

In October 1943 (during the Second World War), he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard and served with the first racially integrated crew on the USCGC Sea Cloud, under Carlton Skinner.[2] He was able to paint and sketch while in the Coast Guard.

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