An exhibit of prints by Seattle artist Jacob Lawrence is the first of a host of summer programs at the Cheney Cowles Museum that celebrate the African-American heritage and community.
Opening Wednesday, “Jacob Lawrence: Thirty Years of Prints (1963-1993)” is stopping in Spokane as part of a two-year tour that began in 1994.
Lawrence was the first African-American artist to be included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He has achieved prominence as one of American modern art’s most respected artists, and this exhibition, which consists of 74 prints, does a fine job of illustrating the breadth of his accomplishments.
The artist’s themes draw from life’s realities in the African-American community. The span of the show over 30 years also presents a picture of change and landmark events in American history, such as the civil rights movement.
The content of this exhibit acquaints the viewer with some of the major subjects of Lawrence’s artistic focus, such as “Aspiration,” which captures his youth in the Harlem of the ‘30s; “Memorabilia,” which encompasses jazz, gospel singers, black abolitionist Harriet Tubman and much, much more; and “Builders Three,” which presents figures busy at work with their tools and hands.
Lawrence’s art tells a story. As Cheney Cowles history curator Marsha Rooney points out, this is a valued dimension to his work. The narrative might be in the subject and composition of the art, or it might be more specific. For instance, the artist himself wrote text to accompany each of his original paintings of the legend of John Brown when the works were shown in 1941. Twenty-two screenprints based on these originals are included in this exhibition, and they vividly tell the tale of Brown’s valiant struggle against slavery.
Many of Lawrence’s other print series similarly correspond to his original paintings. The artist did not begin to work in the print medium until he was 46 and often translated existing paintings into print form.
The “Toussaint L’Ouverture” series shown in this exhibit refers to a body of paintings completed in 1938. The series represents the life of L’Ouverture, a Haitian revolutionary who fought in support of a democratic constitution for Haiti but died while imprisoned by Napoleon’s troops. The prints, executed as recently as 1993, typify Lawrence’s flat, sharply delineated and colorful style. As with many of his screenprints, though they do not contain the subtle movement of a brush, they have a vibrancy that radiates from the life and humanity of his subjects.
The artist’s love of history is apparent, and his interests have crossed many state and time lines. In 1975 Lawrence completed a five-piece commission for the Washington State Capitol Museum based on the life of a black pioneer, George Washington Bush. Although these are not included in this exhibit, they are a reminder that the artist has been living and working in the Pacific Northwest for many years. Seattle is his home, although he is spending the summer in Maine as one of the resident artists to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Skowhegan art colony.
The show was originally organized by the Bellevue Art Museum and the Francine Seders Gallery Ltd. in Seattle, and the Cheney Cowles Museum has coordinated a package of varied events to complement the exhibition.
The events present opportunities for community involvement that reinforce the living nature of Lawrence’s works and the social, cultural and historic implications in his art.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CHENEY COWLES EVENTS Other events celebrating African-American heritage at the Cheney Cowles Museum: The exhibit, “I Am Somebody: A Century of Spokane African-American Life,” displays photographs, video, artwork and memorabilia representing a century of community life and contribution to this region by local African-American individuals and families, July 3 through Sept. 1. Families can receive an activity kit that features projects to do in the Jacob Lawrence and “I Am Somebody” exhibits to enhance understanding and enjoyment. The kit includes a stenciling project, a treasure hunt for prints and two projects using colored shapes. Upon completing and returning the kit, families will receive a packet of projects to do at home. Free with museum admission. The 60-minute documentary, “Jacob Lawrence: American Artist,” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. July 10 in the auditorium. Free. Scott Finnie will present an illustrated lecture, “The Harlem Renaissance: An Awakening,” at 7:30 p.m., July 24, in the auditorium. Finnie teaches American and African-American history at Spokane Community College and Eastern Washington University. Free. The Children’s Museum of Spokane and the museum are sponsoring “African Culture Day” in the museum’s Carriage House from noon to 3 p.m., July 13 and Aug. 24. Kids can create an African pin to take home and explore a variety of African spices, musical instruments and artifacts. Free. The museum will host at African-American Festival featuring music and food Aug. 23-24. “African-American Women: Past, Present and Future,” role-playing and dramatic readings, will be presented by Spokane’s Onyx Theater at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 in the auditorium. Free. The museum, 2316 W. First Ave., in Spokane, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $3 for adults; $2 for seniors and students; and children under 6 are free. Wednesday admission fees are half price from 10 a.m.to 5 p.m., and free from 5 to 9 p.m.
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