Lawrence's Early Years

Lawrence's Early Years


Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917. His parents had migrated from the rural South to find a better life up North. After his parents separated and he and his two siblings spent time in foster homes in Philadelphia, they reunited with their mother in Harlem.

As a teenager in the 1930s, Jacob Lawrence attended after-school arts programs in Harlem. These workshops were an important component of Lawrence’s early success, granting him access to teachers like Sarah West and his first mentor, Charles Alston.

By age 20, he had his first solo exhibition at the Harlem YMCA and was creating what would be the first of three narrative series on African American historical figures.

Four years later, he would receive a grant from the Rosenwald Fund Fellowship to embark on creating the 60 panels that comprise The Migration Series with the help of fellow artist and future wife, Gwendolyn Knight. Using the classroom ideas below, students will create a digital or non-digital pin board to explore their influences and express themselves through a work of art.

In the Classroom: Pin Board Activity

Jacob Lawrence was influenced by the community of artists around him but also by the history of his heritage. In this activity, students will create a pin board of what inspires them and then use one of their ideas to inspire their own work of art.

A pin board is a collection of images, ideas, styles, words, clippings, etc. that represent a certain theme. It can be created by hand or using an online platform like Pinterest. Students should gather their collage of ideas to express who influences them.

After students have made their pin board, they can select one of the images or ideas to inspire their own work of art. Students can then write a short artist statement or poem to describe their artistic choices as well as the impact their subject matter had on them.