Emancipation Heroes Get Their Due, in Art an Exhibition of African-American Artist Jacob Lawrence's Early Work Portrays Slavery's Harsh Reality without Malice and Political Rhetoric

By M. S. Mason, | The Christian Science Monitor, September 15, 1992 | Go to article overview

Emancipation Heroes Get Their Due, in Art an Exhibition of African-American Artist Jacob Lawrence's Early Work Portrays Slavery's Harsh Reality without Malice and Political Rhetoric


M. S. Mason,, The Christian Science Monitor


WITH the Quincentennial upon us, many Americans have been inspired to look more deeply at their past, to discover new heroes, to question more carefully what they find heroic. Nothing could be more timely than the exhibition of Jacob Lawrence's historical series "Frederick Douglass" and "Harriet Tubman" from the Hampton University Museum's collection. (The show, which originated at the Chicago Art Institute, is currently on view in Houston.)

The African-American artist began to chronicle the lives of these heroes of the Emancipation at the beginning of his career in 1938. In the two years it took him to complete the twin series, Mr. Lawrence honed his considerable talent and created 63 remarkable paintings that stand today, critics say, among his best work.

The work as a whole is a revelation of American history, African-American experience, and of Lawrence's art. Each piece is accompanied by a text Lawrence wrote from his research on Douglass and Tubman. These texts, though simple and teacherly in tone, are often movingly eloquent.

One of the great achievements of the show is its excellent catalog - written in keen, straight-forward prose by Ellen Harkins Wheat. She points out that Lawrence divides Douglass's life into three periods - slave, fugitive, and free man. He chose his subject and wrote his text (primarily from Douglass's autobiography) for each picture and completed all the drawings in the series. Then he mixed his colors (in casein tempera on gessoed hardboard), filling in the area in each picture where that color belonged. He worked on all the panels at the same time, thus achieving a perfect color coherence throughout the series.

Lawrence was more literal in the Douglass pictures than he was in the Tubman series. The Douglass pieces allowed him to develop his technique in a new medium. He experimented with a stylization of form that did not stereotype his subjects. This stylization allowed him to experiment with composition, continuity, and symbolism.

But it is in the Tubman series that Lawrence's style matures fully. His compositions become stronger and cleaner, his symbolism is clearer, and his painting technique is surer. In both cases he draws on Christian iconography to express the quality of his heroes' struggles on behalf of their people.

In the Tubman pictures, those symbols come to the service of deeper meaning. Though he deals with the harsh realities of slavery, including the villainous and brutal behavior of some slave holders, the tone of the series is free of malice and political rhetoric. Lawrence's heroes are driven to their lives of service by faith and love rather than by hate.

Lawrence attended Frederick Douglass High School in Harlem. During that time, a vigorous community movement had developed (in the 1930s) that centered on the New York Public Library branch at 135th Street. The library had a collection of black literature and history and sponsored workshops in the arts and crafts for children and adults.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Emancipation Heroes Get Their Due, in Art an Exhibition of African-American Artist Jacob Lawrence's Early Work Portrays Slavery's Harsh Reality without Malice and Political Rhetoric
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.