Raised in New York City’s Harlem, modern African-American artist Jacob Lawrence’s work depicts the struggles of African-Americans throughout history. Born in New Jersey his family moved to New York when he was in his early teens. Lawrence began taking art classes shortly thereafter at the Utopia Children’s Center and by the age of sixteen he had quit school, but continued taking his art classes studying under artist Charles Alston at the Harlem Art Workshop.
In 1937, Jacob Lawrence received a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York and upon graduation he received funding for the WPA Federal Art Project. By 1941 he completed what came to be his best-known series consisting of 60 panels painted on cardboard titled Migration of the Negro or simply The Migration Series and exhibited it at the Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery the following year. It earned Lawrence national recognition and was featured in Fortune Magazine.
Jacob Lawrence also married fellow art student Gwendolyn Knight, a sculpture and painter, in 1941. Two years later he was drafted into the Coast Guard following the onset of World War II. He was given assignment as an artist to document the war. Following his return, Lawrence and his wife spent a brief period of time in the Carolina’s where he had received a Guggenheim Fellowship and taught classes at Black Mountain College.
By 1949, Lawrence had returned to New York. Suffering from depression he entered a more subdued period associated with his paintings and was institutionalized for 11 months. At the age of 54 he accepted a position as professor at the University of Washington where he remained until his retirement in 1986. Lawrence passed away in 2000 at the age of 82, but he had continued to paint until shortly before his death. His work now appears in numerous collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and many others as well as his painting entitled The Builders, which Jacob Lawrence completed in 1947, now hangs in the White House Green Room in Washington, D.C.