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Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-2000)


Jacob Lawrence (September 7, 1917 – June 9, 2000) was an American painter most associated with depicting African American life in his works. Although the style of his work was heavily influenced by his Harlem roots, he called his style "dynamic cubism," which is French inspired.

Jacob Lawrence became nationally recognized at the age of 23 for his 60-panel Migration Series. The series illustrates the Great Migration of African-Americans leaving the farming South for the industrial North.

Jacob Lawrence's interest in art developed shortly after his 13th birthday when his mother enrolled him in a neighborhood art program to keep him busy. He dropped out of school at age 16 but continued to take art classes at the Harlem Art Workshop. At his teacher's recommendation, he went on to attend the Harlem Community Art Center where his teacher, sculptor Augusta Savage, got him a scholarship to the American Artists School and a job with Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.

After marrying painter Gwendolyn Knight, also one of Savage's students, Lawrence enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, breaking racial barriers by serving on the USCGC Sea Cloud, which had the first racially integrated crew of the United States Coast Guard.

During his time in the Coast Guard, Lawrence continued to paint. After many years with his wife in New York, Lawrence was invited to be an art professor at the University of Washington. He and his wife settled in Seattle, where he remained until his death in 2000.

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