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Jacob Lawrence

American, 1917–2000

© 2010 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Seaman’s Belt, 1945

Gouache and watercolor on paper mounted on board
21 x 29 inches (53.3 x 73.7 cm)
The Martha Jackson Collection at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1974

Jacob Lawrence is best-known for his work recording African-American history and experience, examples of which include the “Toussant L’Ouverture Series,” which documented a successful Haitian slave rebellion, “The Life of Harriet Tubman,” and the “Migration Series.” He also documented aspects of his own life, such as his experience in the Coast Guard from 1943 to 1945, which is most likely the source for Seaman’s Belt. It is not typical of his work, as it provides no specific narrative and contains no figures; instead, their presence is implied.

Lawrence had virtually no formal art education, but, as a young man in Harlem, he was part of a group of artists who traveled to galleries around New York City discussing what they had seen. As a young black man, he said, “you felt the same way about going into every art institution or gallery. No one would keep you out, but it wasn’t hospitable. You knew you were being watched. But you learned to live with it.” Lawrence had his first one-man show at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in New York—the first time a “Negro” artist’s work was shown outside of Harlem.

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