Experience a comprehensive overview of printmaking works by the influential American artist Jacob Lawrence (b.1917, d. 2000) in the exhibition “History, Labor, Life: The Prints of Jacob Lawrence” on view at the Moss Arts Center this fall.

A prominent 20th-century artist, Lawrence is renowned for his depiction of African-American life as well as epic narratives of African-American history.

Presented in the Ruth C. Horton Gallery, Sherwood Payne Quillen ’71 Reception Gallery, and Miles C. Horton Jr. Gallery, “History, Labor, Life: The Prints of Jacob Lawrence” features more than 90 works produced by Lawrence from 1963 to 2000. The exhibition will open with a reception on Aug. 23, from 5-7 p.m. in the Grand Lobby of the Moss Arts Center, located at 190 Alumni Mall.

Lawrence started exploring printmaking as an already well-established artist. Printmaking suited his bold formal and narrative style exceptionally well. The connections between his painting and printmaking were intertwined, with the artist revisiting and remaking earlier paintings as prints. The inherent multiplicity of this medium provided an opportunity for him to reach broader audiences.

Lawrence was primarily concerned with portraying African-American experiences and histories. His acute observations of community life, work, struggle and emancipation during his lifetime were rendered alongside vividly imagined chronicles of the past. The past and present in his practice are intrinsically linked, providing insight into the social, economic, and political realities that continue to impact and shape contemporary society today.

Lawrence spent his formative years in New York City, where his work as an artist was shaped by the intellectual strength and vitality of the Harlem Renaissance, not only in terms of his engagement with such artists as Charles Alston and Augusta Savage, but by the ongoing discourse at the time about writing and giving identity to African-American history. 

Lawrence spent months in the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, which is now the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, studying historical documents, books, photographs, and journals before creating a series of narrative works that would bring him national recognition. He was only 25 when he became the first African-American artist represented in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York with his “Migration Series” (1941), now considered to be a landmark in the history of American modern art.

During his career, Lawrence received the National Medal of Arts, which is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government, as well as 18 honorary doctorates from institutions, including Harvard University, Yale University, New York University, and Howard University. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and served as a commissioner for the National Council on the Arts. Today, Lawrence’s work is represented in almost 200 museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“History, Labor, Life: The Prints of Jacob Lawrence” is organized by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art in collaboration with the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation and is curated by Storm Janse van Rensburg, SCAD head curator of exhibitions. The exhibition is on view through Oct. 13.

As part of the opening reception on Aug. 23, Leslie King Hammond, art historian, activist, curator, and professor emerita and founder of the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, will give a free, 30-minute gallery talk in the center’s Grand Lobby at 6 p.m.

Other talks and events related to themes in the exhibition will take place at the Moss Arts Center and other locations across campus. For information on these events, as well as on upcoming talks, tours, and class visits, please contact Meggin Hicklin, exhibition program manager, at megh79@vt.edu.

The Moss Arts Center’s galleries and all related events are free and open to the public. The galleries are regularly open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email kacy@vt.edu during regular business hours.

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