Storytelling and Narrative Sources
As the The Migration Series narrative unfolds from image to image, the vantage point, composition, and details change in a manner that is reminiscent of film. The series features a constant variety of imagery, with close-ups alternating with panoramic views and individual encounters contrasting with group scenes. In addition to film, Jacob Lawrence was also influenced by comic strips and flip books, Old Master Renaissance paintings, and literature.
Providing context of Lawrence’s artistic influences will help students connect the panels in the series together through the lens of storytelling.
Researchers in the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints, 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library
Krazy Kat, "A one-fruit, one-liff-one-tree fig orchard, heh?"
November 1, 1936
Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi)
Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius
Tempera on wood, 1500–10
In the Classroom: Learning from Literature Activity
Emmett J. Scott wrote Negro Migration During the War in 1920. Jacob Lawrence likely read this book while he was researching the Great Migration in preparation for creating his panels. In his grant application to the Rosenwald Fund, Lawrence divided his series into eight themes, six of which were based on the chapter titles of Scott’s book, such as “Causes of the Migration,” and “The Spread of the Migration.”
Students should research Emmett Scott and his book as a way to more deeply understand how Lawrence created and organized the series. Then, ask students to identify a theme in one of their favorite books, or one that they’re reading in class. Students will express that theme in a series of works. Students can select any media they’d like to best communicate and explore their chosen theme.
In the Classroom: Visiting an Art Museum Activity
Living in New York City, Jacob Lawrence had access to both the fine art of the past and the popular culture of the present. He often visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art where he studied Renaissance paintings that included a series of panels depicting important moments in the lives of religious figures. He may have admired a tempera painting by Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli (above).
Take students on a field trip to The Phillips Collection, or another local art museum or gallery. Alternatively, students can use Google Art Project, the Smithsonian Learning Lab, or other online museum collections to conduct research. Ask students to identify an artist or artwork that influences them.
What about that artist or artwork inspires their own ideas? Why do they think artists, like Jacob Lawrence, visit museums? Students will then create their own work of art inspired by their field trip experience or digital research and write a short essay about what attributes and influences they incorporated into their art.