Monday, February 05, 2007

On Children at Play

There's a good bit of permanent collection up at the museum right now, and one of the featured works is Jacob Lawrence's Children at Play.

Lawrence, born in Atlantic City, N.J., grew up as the eldest child of three in a series of foster homes and settlement houses in Pennsylvania; his mother had left the children and gone to New York City in search of work. When Lawrence was about 13, his mother re-settled the family in Harlem and enrolled the children in Utopia House, a settlement house whose after-school arts program was run by Charles Alston, the cousin of Romare Bearden. Lawrence studied with Alston during the early 1930s, and Alston’s studio became a center in the Harlem Renaissance – a group of writers, mural and easel painters, poets, composers, and choreographers flourishing during the 1920s then assisted by the federal programs of the Works Progress Administration.

With the help of a Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship, Lawrence created his most well-known paintings – 60 gesso panels titled The Migration of the Negro (1940-41). He arranged for Romare Bearden to have a studio directly above his. Lawrence was drafted into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1943. Following his discharge at the end of World War II, Lawrence taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the Pratt Institute, and the University of Washington, among many other places. Lawrence, in Children at Play, painted in Harlem following World War II, utilizes primary colors and flattened forms to show an everyday urban scene.

In 1970, looking back on his career as an artist, Lawrence stated: “If I have achieved a degree of success as a creative artist, it is mainly due to the black experience which is our heritage – an experience which gives inspiration, motivation, and stimulation. I was inspired by the black aesthetics by which we are surrounded, motivated to manipulate form, color, space, line, and texture to depict our life, and stimulated by the beauty and poignancy of our environment.”

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