United States, 1917-2000
Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City,
New Jersey. As a child, he went to live
with his mother in Philadelphia and then
in Harlem. During his early teens, Lawrence
began studying art when his mother enrolled
him in an after-school arts program in
Harlem. There, he met the African American
artist Charles Alston, who became his mentor.
At the age of 16, Lawrence quit high school.
He continued to take art classes.
In the mid-1930s, Lawrence began painting
his first important works—scenes
of street life in Harlem. Lawrence used
vivid colors and stark images to address
many of the social issues confronted by
African Americans during that time. Some
of his best-known works are several biographical
series in which he depicted the lives of
black historical figures. In 1940, Lawrence
began work on what would become his most
famous series of paintings—The
Migration of the American Negro. This
series tells the story of blacks’
migration from the South to the North as
they looked for work in the years following
World War I.
During the 1950s and 1960s, when many artists
began to paint in the style of Abstract
Expressionism, Lawrence remained true to
his subject matter and artistic style.
He continued to address social issues,
including racism and discrimination. In
1970, Lawrence moved to Seattle and became
an art professor at the University of Washington.
He continued to paint, however, until his