Atlantic City Heritage Series
The Builders by Jacob Lawrence was completed in 1947
and is on display at the White House Green Room.
© 2020 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS),
New York Photo: The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation / Art Resource, NY
This narrative corresponds with ACDevco’s billboard display
located at Albany Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City
Jacob Lawrence was born on September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey to Rosa and Jacob Lawrence, Sr. He lived in Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle. Most of his education took place in Harlem, and in addition to his prolific art career, he also taught art, ending his career as a professor at the University of Washington. Lawrence was married to fellow artist Gwendolyn Knight. He died on June 9, 2000 in Seattle, Washington.
Lawrence’s art is significant because he used a series of panels to depict history in story form. His most famous series, Migration of the Negro, consisting of sixty panels, portrayed the movement of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north after World War II. His paintings depicted scenes of life in America for African Americans.
He was drafted into the US Coast Guard and was deployed on a ship where he was permitted to paint full time; his subjects were the ship’s crew. He continued to paint, including a War Series under a Guggenheim Fellowship. Lawrence spent time in Hillside hospital, Queens, New York for 11 months for depression. His experience was the basis of his Hospital Series.
Lawrence was the first African American given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern At in 1941, and graced the cover of Fortune Magazine’s November 1941 issue. Lawrence was hailed as the most influential artist in the twentieth century, and recognized for his ability to comprehensively portray the African American experience.
In a 1968 interview, Mr. Lawrence recounted that after he had moved from Atlantic City, his mother brought he and his siblings to the Atlantic City beach. In his late forties, he and wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight, made a few trips to Atlantic City to visit his third and last art dealer, Terry Dintenfass, also born in Atlantic City. www.aaa.si.edu
The City of Atlantic City passed Resolution 54 on January 25, 2017, in recognition of Jacob Lawrence and his contribution to the art world. On September 7, 2017, the Jacob Lawrence Centennial Exhibition Reception, curated by the Atlantic City Arts Commission, was held at the Atlantic City Free Public Library. A Proclamation for Jacob Lawrence Day was presented by Mayor Donald Guardian.
Today, Lawrence’s works are on display at almost two hundred museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC., the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
The Atlantic City Arts Foundation is planning to lead a community mural program producing a large-scale mural in honor of artist Jacob Lawrence. Support this project at AtlanticCityArtsFoundation.org/donate.
Additional resources and references:
"Why the Works of Visionary Artist Jacob Lawrence Still Resonate a Century After His Birth," Smithsonian Magazine, September 5, 2017
"These 'Missing' Jacob Lawrence paintings are finally in a museum - and they're masterpieces," Washington Post, January 24, 2020