A Finding Aid to the Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Papers,
1945-1995, in the Archives of American Art, by Rosa Fernandez, Jetta Sumulski and Emma Lincoln
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
Table of Contents:
- Biographical Information
- Overview of the Collection
- How to Use the Collection
- Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Modernist painter and educator Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was born in 1917 as Jacob Armstead Lawrence in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He began his art studies at the Utopia Childrenâ??s Center in New York Cityâ??s Harlem district where he studied under the painter Charles Alston. Lawrence dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen to continue his art instruction with Alston but this time at the Harlem Art Workshop where he met several artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance including the sculptor Augusta Savage.
Gwendolyn Knight (b.1913) was born in Barbados and moved to New York City with her adoptive parents when she was seven. She attended New Yorkâ??s Wadleigh High School and later Howard University in Washington, D. C. where she studied fine arts with Lois Mailou Jones and James Porter. Forced to leave her studies at Howard because of the Depression, Knight returned to Harlem and continued her artistic pursuits in Augusta Savageâ??s workshop. In1935, Knight joined the Harlem Mural Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) working under Selma Day and Charles Alston. Lawrence and Knight met in Savageâ??s workshop and married in the summer of 1941.
During the Depression, Lawrence also joined the WPA Federal Arts Project in Harlem. Finding WPA murals overwhelming, Lawrence concentrated on traditional painting instead. He produced his first major works in the late 1930s, most notably the Toussaint Lâ??Ouverture series, images that document the life of the revolutionary hero and Haitiâ??s struggle for independence. Other significant works include visual narratives of the lives of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. In 1940, Lawrence received the prestigious Julius Rosenwald Fellowship making it possible to purchase his first art studio on 125th Street in the heart of Harlem. He soon portrayed Harlem street life in paintings that became commentaries on the role of African Americans in United States society with highly developed themes of resistance and social opposition. That same year, Lawrence began his most celebrated series, â??The Migration of the American Negro,â?? multiple tempera panels depicting the exodus of African American sharecroppers in the south to northern industrial cities in search of better employment and social opportunities. Edith Halpert exhibited the works in their entirety at her Downtown Gallery in 1941 establishing Lawrence as the first African American artist to exhibit in a top New York gallery. The following year, New Yorkâ??s Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC each bought half of the sixty panels in the series, helping to further Lawrenceâ??s career within the larger world of American art.
In the summer of 1946, the artist Joseph Albers invited Lawrence to teach at North Carolinaâ??s Black Mountain College. It was the first in a series of teaching positions in prestigious art schools including Pratt Institute (1956-1971), Brandeis University (1965), The New School (1966), the Art Students League (1967), and others. During the 1950s and 1960s, Lawrenceâ??s work continued to focus on racism and political activism but in the late 1960s shifted to themes of racial harmony.
Both Lawrence and Knight continued independent careers in art. Knight pursued her art studies at the New School in New York and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. In the mid-1960s, she collaborated with other female artists to form the Studio Gallery in New York City. Knight's main body of work consists of portraits and still-lifes that incorporate expressions of African sculpture, Impressionism, dance and theater. Focusing on gesture, her art is described as light and airy with a minimum of lines allowing empty space to define the work.
In 1970, Lawrence traveled to Seattle to teach as a visiting artist at the University of Washington. He was hired on a permanent basis the following year and remained on staff until his retirement in 1986. Jacob Lawrence died June 9, 2000, in Seattle, Washington at the age of 83. Gwendolyn Knight continues to live and paint in Seattle and actively exhibits her work around the country.
Overview of the Collection
Scope and Contents
The papers of African American painter and teacher Jacob Lawrence and his wife Gwendolyn Knight measure 9 linear feet and date from 1945 to 1995, with the bulk of the material dated 1973-1994. More than half of the collection is correspondence with friends, artists, students, school children, art schools, galleries, museums, and others. Also found are writings by Lawrence and others, newsclippings, exhibition catalogs and announcements, press releases, brochures, books, photographs of Lawrence, Knight, and Lawrence's artwork, and two small lithographs by James Rosenquist. Scattered business and financial files primarily document Lawrence's relationship with the Terry Dintenfass Gallery in New York.
Arrangement and Series Description
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
- Series 1: Biographical Material, 1951, circa 1967-1995(Box 1, OV 10; 4 folders)
- Series 2: Correspondence, 1952, circa 1962-1995 (Box 1-5; 4.5 linear feet)
- Series 3: Writings and Lists, circa 1973-1995 (Box 5-6; 6 folders)
- Series 4: Printed Material, circa 1945-1995 (Box 6-9; 3.8 linear feet)
- Series 5: Photographs, circa 1986-1991 (Box 9, OV 10; 3 folders)
- Series 6: Financial and Business Files, 1962-1992 (Box 9; 7 folders)
- Series 7: Original Artwork, 1984, undated (Box 9; 1 folder)
Subjects and Names
This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Names" when they are creators or contributors and under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents.
- Painting, Modern -- 20th century -- United States
- African American artists -- New York (State) -- New York
- African American artists -- Washington (State) -- Seattle
- Painters -- New York (State)
- Painters -- Washington (State)
- Types of Materials:
- Bearden, Romare, 1911-1988
- Bocour, Leonard, 1910-
- Dintenfass, Terry, 1920-
- Eichenberg, Fritz, 1901-
- Evergood, Philip, 1901-1973
- Halpert, Edith Gregor, 1900-1970
- Knight, Gwendolyn
Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight donated their papers to the Archives of American Art in five accretions between 1979 and 1997.
Separated and Related Materials
Additional scattered materials loaned by Jacob Lawrence in 1966 were microfilmed by the Archives of American Art on reel D286.
Jacob Lawrence papers are available at the Syracuse University Library, Special Collections Department and were loaned to the Archives of American Art in 1993 for microfilming on reels 4571-4573.
How the Collection was Processed
Several accretions of the papers, including material previously microfilmed on reel 3042, were merged and fully processed between 2003 and 2005 by by Rosa Fernandez, Jetta Sumulski, and Emma Lincoln.
How to Use the Collection
Restrictions on Use
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website. Photographs and slides of artwork have not been scanned.
Ownership & Literary Rights
The Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2007 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials which have not been scanned include books, miscellaneous printed material, and photographs of artwork.
How to Cite this Collection
Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight papers, 1945-1995. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1951, circa 1967-1995 (Box 1, OV 10; 4 folders)
This series includes awards, certificates, curriculum vitae, and other material including several appointment books and a program for a memorial service held for Mrs. Rosa Armstead Lawrence in 1951.
|1||1-2||Appointment Books, 1967-1969 (2 folders)|
|1||3||Awards, Certificates, Curriculum Vitae, Ephemera, 1984-1995, undated (See also OV 10)|
|1||4||Program, Memorial Service, 1951, undated|
|OV 10||Oversized Awards and Certificates, 1984-1995 (See also box 1, folder 3)|
Series 2: Correspondence, 1952, circa 1961-1995 (Box 1-5; 4.5 linear feet)
This series contains extensive general correspondence, including postcards and greeting cards, with friends, artists, elementary school children, university students, government agencies, art schools, galleries, museums, publishing houses, and others. Correspondence includes letters from Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, and Langston Hughes, among other important individuals. Also found are interesting letters from Jacob Lawrenceâ??s nephew, Terry Coles, and niece, Judy Payne. Found among the correspondence are occasional requests for letters of recommendation from former students with photographic slides or other reproductions of artwork as attachments. Also found as attachments with other letters are newspaper clippings, newsletters, and photographs. Topics discussed include upcoming exhibitions, book projects, commissions, speaking engagements, and award ceremonies. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by individual or organization name.
|OV 10||Illustrated Letter by Artist Reiko Yamaguchi, undated (See also box 4, folder 38)|
Series 3: Writings, circa 1973-1995 (Box 5-6; 6 folders)
Found in this series are published and unpublished writings by Jacob Lawrence such as drafts of speeches, handwritten notes, published essays about his art, and scraps of paper with mailing addresses for friends and colleagues. Other writings include published and unpublished essays, book reports and articles on Lawrence as well as an MA thesis from the University of Wyoming on the paintings of Jacob Lawrence. In addition, a copy of a visitor comment book for the Los Angeles County Museum of Artâ??s exhibition of Lawrenceâ??s Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass series is also found.
Lists found in this series record a variety of information including artwork by Lawrence published in various books or catalogs, works featured in exhibitions or sold by the Francine Seders or Terry Dintenfass Galleries. Lists also record artworks lent on consignment and include typed or handwritten lists of addresses most likely compiled for invitations to exhibition openings.
|5||34||Handwritten Notes, 1995, undated|
|5||35-36||LACMA Exhibition Comment Book (copy), 1993 (2 folders; not scanned)|
|6||1||Writings by Jacob Lawrence, 1973, undated|
|6||2||Writings by Others, 1973-1994, undated|
|6||3||Lists, 1995, undated|
Series 4: Printed Material, circa 1945-1995 (Boxes 6-9; 3.8 linear feet)
This series includes clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, press releases, programs, brochures, books on Jacob Lawrence, a 1946 book on the Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada that includes an introduction by Diego Rivera, magazines, post card reproductions of Lawrenceâ??s artwork, business cards, art and literary journals including Black Orpheus (Nigeria) and miscellaneous material.
Books, 1946-1991, undated (Not scanned)
|6||9||Books of Poetry, 1948-1972, 1991 (Not scanned)|
|6||10-11||Brochures, 1965-1996, undated (2 folders; not scanned)|
|6||12||Business Cards, undated (Not scanned)|
|6||13-19||Clippings, 1945, 1961-1990 (7 folders)|
|7||1-2||Event Programs, 1949, 1969-1992 (2 folders; not scanned)|
|7||3||Event Announcements and Invitations (not exhibitions), 1964, 1979-1995, undated (Not scanned)|
|7||4-6||Exhibition Announcements and Invitations, 1962-1995, undated (3 folders; not scanned)|
|7||7-16||Exhibition Catalogs, 1953, 1965-1996, undated (10 folders; partially scanned)|
|8||1-6||Journals, 1947-1991, undated (6 folders; partially scanned)|
|8||7-14||Magazines, 1945-1995 (8 folders; partially scanned)|
|9||1-2||Merchandise Catalogs, 1970-1995, undated (2 folders; not scanned)|
|9||3-4||Newsletters, 1965-1995 (2 folders; partially scanned)|
|9||5||Press Releases, 1960, 1972, 1979-1992, undated|
|9||6-7||Printed Material, Miscellaneous, 1952, 1971, 1979, 1985-1995, undated (2 folders; not scanned)|
Series 5: Photographs, circa 1986-1991 (Box 9, OV 10; 3 folders)
|9||8||Photographs of Artwork by J. Lawrence and His Seattle Studio, undated (Partially scanned)|
|9||9||Photographs of J. Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight and Others, 1987, 1991, undated|
|9||10||Photographs and Slides of Artwork by J. Lawrence and Others, 1986-1991, undated (See also OV 10; not scanned)|
|OV 10||Oversized Photographs, undated (2 folders; see also box 9, folder 10)|
Series 6: Financial and Business Files, 1962-1992 (Box 9; 7 folders)
One financial ledger is for business transactions with the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit), Francine Seders Gallery (Seattle), Howard University (Washington, DC), National Urban League (New York), Terry Dintenfass Gallery (New York) and others. Information found includes a record of works lent on consignment, monies received, prices, gallery commissions and other transactions including Lawrence and Knightâ??s travel expenses for business trips around the country. Business and financial material includes financial statements and consignment and shipping receipts for the Terry Dintenfass Gallery.
Series 7: Original Artwork, 1984, undated (Box 9; 1 folder)
|9||18||Two Lithographs by artist James Rosenquist, 1984|