Exhibition of Riveting Jacob Lawrence Prints to Open at Saint Mary's College of California

by Jacob Lawrence, The Playground from Hiroshima Series, 1983, silkscreen print on Somerset paper, 18 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches Courtesy of the Collections of Dr. & Mrs. Leon Banks & Alitash Kebede. Organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions of Los Angeles, CA | February 9, 2023

Saint Mary's College Museum of Art | February 9, 2023


MORAGA, California –– The exhibition, JACOB LAWRENCE: THREE SERIES OF PRINTS - GENESIS, HIROSHIMA, AND TOUSSAINT L'OUVERTURE will be on view at Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) from February 15 through May 14, 2023.  The exhibition features 31 color prints created by the celebrated artist Jacob Lawrence between the years of 1983 and 2000. The exhibition was curated by Peter Nesbett, editor of Jacob Lawrence, The Complete Prints (1963-2000), The Catalogue Raisonne, and founding director of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation. An opening celebration will be held on Thursday, February 16 from 4 to 8 p.m. This event is free and open to all. 

In 1963, Lawrence first began publishing prints. Like his paintings, these images reflected both highly dramatic and intensely personal subjects. From depictions of civil rights confrontations to scenes of daily life, these images present a vision of a common conflict toward unity and equality, a universal conflict deeply seated in the depths of the human consciousness. 

Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917 and spent his formative years in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. In the mid-1930s, he took art classes sponsored by the College Art Association and the Works Progress Administration at the Harlem Community Art Center and, following a two-year scholarship to the American Artists School, worked in the easel division of the Federal Art Project. In 1941, Lawrence became the first African American artist included in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where he had a one-man exhibition in 1944. He lived and worked in New York City, teaching at numerous schools and universities until 1971, when he accepted a full-time faculty appointment at the University of Washington in Seattle, from which he retired as professor emeritus in 1983. Lawrence died in Seattle in 2000.

Jacob Lawrence received numerous awards and honors, including the National Medal of Arts (1990), the NAACP Annual Great Black Artists Award (1988), and the Spingarn Medal (1970). His work has been the subject of several major retrospectives that have traveled nationally, originating in 1986 at Seattle Art Museum, in 1974 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and in 1960 at the Brooklyn Museum.

The Toussaint L’Ouverture series illustrates the life of the Haitian revolutionary leader. Born into slavery in 1743, L’Ouverture rose to become commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army. In 1800, he led efforts to compose Haiti’s first democratic constitution. In 1802, L'Ouverture was arrested by Napoléon Bonaparte's troops and sent to Paris. He was imprisoned and died a year later, shortly before Haiti, predominantly black, became the second republic in the Western hemisphere in 1804. 

Exhibition curator Nesbett wrote: “These prints are based on forty-one paintings from a series also entitled Toussaint L'Ouverture, which was completed in 1938… The paintings were executed in tempera and significantly smaller in scale than the prints. Lawrence reworked many of the images during the process of translating them to silk screen… The captions Lawrence provided for the paintings at the time of their execution accompany each of the prints.”

Lawerence’s eight prints of the Genesis series (1990) illustrates the verses from the book of Genesis in the King James version. Baptized in the Abyssinian Baptist Church [in Harlem] around 1932, Lawerence grew up attending church and Sunday school. The Genesis series speaks to these memories. "I remember the ministers giving very passionate sermons pertaining to the Creation. This was over fifty years ago, and you know, these things stay with you even though you don't realize what an impact these experiences are making on you at the time. As I was doing the series I think that this was in the back of my mind, hearing this minister talk about these things." 

The Hiroshima series is considered one of the most graphic depictions by the artist. Lawrence was invited to illustrate a book from the Limited Editions Club of New York and selected the powerful work Hiroshima (1946), written by John Hersey. Lawrence created the illustrations focusing on events happening at the moment of the bomb's dropping on August 6, 1945. These eight scenes unfolded by capturing day-to-day life at a marketplace, a playground, a street scene, a park, farmers, a family scene, a man with birds, and a boy with a kite – no particular country, no particular city, and no particular people were depicted.

Lawrence states, "Is it not ironic that we have produced great scientists, great musicians, great orators, chess players, philosophers, poets and great teachers and, at the same time, we have developed the capability and the genius to create the means to devastate and to completely destroy our planet earth with all its life and beauty? How could we develop such creative minds and, at the same time, develop such a destructive instrument? Only God knows the answer. Let us hope that someday at some time, He will give us the answer to this very perplexing question."

The works in the exhibition come from the collection of Alitash Kebede of Los Angeles, CA. Kebede was a friend and associate of Jacob Lawrence. The exhibition and national museum tour were organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions of Los Angeles, CA. Landau Traveling Exhibitions organizes and circulates exhibitions to and for museums, universities, foundations and private collections. Over the past 40 years they have presented more than five hundred exhibitions at museums throughout North America and the world.



About Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) 

Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) is a landmark for art in Northern California, with a permanent collection of over 5,000 objects. Inspired by its founder, Brother Cornelius Braeg, the museum cares for the most comprehensive collection of William Keith paintings in the nation. The museum offers educational and programming opportunities with rotating exhibitions twice a year for the College and the surrounding community. SMCMoA is located across from the Soda Activity Center at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, CA. Programs and admission are free for all. Public tours begin February, on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Please contact the Saint Mary's College Museum of Art at 925-631-4379 or via email at museum@stmarys-ca.edu for further inquiries. More information can be found at www.stmarys-ca.edu/museum