Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, No 57 c. 1940 – 1941

In the late 1930s, the American artist Jacob Lawrence began producing extended narratives composed of multiple small paintings that were based on history or biography.

Lawrence’s greatest inspiration came from the people and places of his Harlem neighborhood.  Everything was open to his paintbrush—families, architecture, landmarks, even Harlem’s famous brownstones. He was one of the artists who was a part of the Harlem Renaissance.

Lawerence’s parents  had “come up”—a phrase used to indicate one of the most important events in African American history since Reconstruction: The migration of African Americans out of the rural South to the North. This exodus was gathering strength at the time of World War I, and fundamentally altered the ethnic mix of New York City and great industrial centers such as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.

The subject of Lawrence’s Migration series occurred to him in the mid-1930s. To prepare, Lawrence recalled anecdotes told by family and friends and spent months at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library researching historical events. The 60 hardboard panels of “Migration,” only 12 by 18 inches each, walk us through the flight of African Americans from the rural South around the time of World War I.

Lawrence frequently called his style “dynamic cubism.” The dynamism is present in his use of vibrant colors and designs that resemble African-American quilts and textiles found in Africa. The cubism is present in the flat, often angled layers of the subjects in his work.

Migration Series by Jacob Lawerence

Migration Series No. 57 by Jacob Lawerence

After the Migration Series was  published in part in Fortune magazine, the series was the subject of a solo show at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan in 1941, making Lawrence the first black artist represented by a New York gallery.  Interest in the series was intense and continues today. Lawrence had intended the series to remain intact, but agreed to divide it between two museums, the even numbers going to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the odd numbers to the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C

Our class April 12, 2011 PowerPoint Jacob Lawrence Migration Series     -Mrs. S

“Have confidence in God’s mercy, for when you think He is a long way from you, He is always quite near.” -Thomas A Kempis

“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.”  Psalm 56:3

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