Jacob Lawrence



Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, NJ on September 7



Lawrence dropped out of school and began taking art classes at the Harlem Art Workshop



Lawrence received national recognition for his 60-panel Migration Series at age 23



Lawrence served in the United States Coast Guard



Lawrence moved to Seattle, where he began teaching art while continuing to paint



Lawrence retired from teaching, but continued painting



Lawrence passed away at age 83 in Seattle

Jacob Lawrence - Passionate American Painter


The New York Times described Jacob Lawrence as “one of America’s leading modern figurative painters” and “among the most impassioned visual chroniclers of the African-American experience” at the time of his death in 2000.


Vivid Colors of Harlem

Jacob came to national recognition when he was only 23 years old thanks to his 60-panel Migration Series. The series depicts the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. He developed his own version of French cubism and combined it with the vivid and bright colors of Harlem. Today, Lawrence’s works are in numerous U.S. museum collections, including the NY Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and many others.


Young Artist in NY

Lawrence dropped out of school at age 16 to pursue art. He got a couple of part-time jobs and took classes at the Harlem Art Workshop, where he worked with noted African-American artist Charles Alston.

Alston introduced him to the sculptor Augusta Savage, who taught at the Harlem Community Art Center. This introduction led to a series of great opportunities. Augusta Savage secured Lawrence a scholarship to the American Artists School and a job with the Works Progress Administration. Meanwhile, Lawrence continued to work with Alston and Henry Bannarn, another Harlem Renaissance artist.


Front seat for the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s profoundly influenced the young Jacob Lawrence. He painted several series of paintings around historical figures such as Toussaint L‘Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman.

He spent days and months in the NY Public Library learning the history of his people and translated that history into the moving Migration series. Today the Migration series resides in two museums: The Philips Collection and the New York Museum of Modern Art.


Did You Know?

  • Lawrence joined the Coast Guard in 1942 and served with the first racially integrated crew.
  • Lawrence painted 48 works during his time in WWII; all have been lost.
  • Lawrence received the National Medal of Arts in 1990 from President George H.W. Bush.



Philip’s Collection

New York Museum of Modern Art

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