From his debut in the New York art scene in the 1930s with paintings depicting Harlem street life, Jacob Lawrence explored the everyday conditions of the African American working class. At the tender age of 24, Lawrence became the first African American artist whose work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
Lawrence grew up in Harlem, where he fed off the creativity of the painters, writers and poets of the Harlem Renaissance. His early works featured subjects like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and the migration of African Americans from the South to the North after World War I. The latter, a 60-panel Migration Series, is on display at the Seattle Art Museum through April 23.
Lawrence later turned his artist’s eye to the racism of the 1950s and 60s and the civil rights movement. He came to the UW in 1970 as a visiting artist and by 1971 became a full professor. He taught until his retirement in the 1980s, at which time he was recognized for his genius the world over.