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Jacob Lawrence: Tales of Freedom
October 8, 2006 - January 7, 2007
The Allentown Art Museum will present the special exhibition Jacob Lawrence: Tales of Freedom October 8, 2006 - January 7, 2007, in the Rodale Gallery. Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) is among the most acclaimed African-American artists, and the exhibition consists of 8 prints from his Toussaint L'Ouverture series, 22 prints from the John Brown series, and one print entitled Revolt on the Amistad.
While typically identified with Harlem, Lawrence lived five years of his childhood in Easton, Pennsylvania and twenty-five years of his maturity near Seattle, where he taught at the University of Washington. Over a career spanning seven decades, Lawrence exhibited his work at prestigious museums and galleries, and earned critical approbation and numerous honorary doctorates and national awards. Lawrence's early successes include exhibiting at Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery, which was the leading New York Gallery of American modernism; having his work published in Fortune magazine; and selling his Migration of the Negro series to the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.
Lawrence painted in a vibrant style of flat planes of color that evoked the stylistic concerns of Cubists, but never abandoned recognizable figures, landscapes, and forms. Many of his paintings were conceived in narrative sequences that explored the African-American experience. His series told the stories of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and the "History of the American People." When Lawrence departed from narrative sequences, he often returned to favorite themes, including work, migration, jazz, literacy, mental illness, and the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.
The dramatic images featured in this exhibition were conceived in the midst of World War II (in which the artist served as a member of the Coast Guard) and capture Lawrence's reflections on two signature struggles for freedom by people of the African diaspora. The Toussaint L'Ouverture series was painted in 1938, and Lawrence later developed the paintings into a collection of fifteen prints (1986-1997). Toussaint L'Ouverture was a Haitian general who led his people to independence from the French government that had colonized the island in the 18th century. Despite being arrested and imprisoned in Paris in 1802, Touissant's efforts eventually resulted in the establishment of the first black republic in 1804.
The John Brown series was painted in 1941. It depicts the transformation of Brown from a land surveyor into a messianic leader of the abolitionist movement in the years leading up to the Civil War. Brown organized black and white troops in uprisings in Kansas and in his last stand at Harper's Ferry, conflicts that catalyzed the Civil War. Lawrence pays tribute to Brown's religious zeal by portraying him as a Christian martyr. A poem, by Robert Hayden, published with the prints echoes this theme, describing Brown "Doing the Lord's work with sabre/sharpened on the grindstone/of the Word." Lawrence's paintings of John Brown were purchased by the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The paintings became too fragile to travel, so the DIA commissioned Lawrence to publish them in an edition of 60 screenprint sets.
Artwork in this exhibition has been lent generously by Evelyn Boulware and DC Moore Gallery, New York.
Contributing support for Jacob Lawrence: Tales of Freedom is provided by The Leon C. and June W. Holt Endowment. Sustainingsupport is provided by the Audrey and Bernard Berman Endowment Fund. Additional support is provided by Lafayette Ambassador Bank and Riley Temple/EPI.
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