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Jacob Lawrence Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: Anne Diekma, KM
Date: Jan 1992

Biographical History

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was a leading black American artist, working in gouache, an opaque water colour, and tempera, a mixture of pigment and a binder. He was famous for the distinctive flat surfaces of his narrative paintings depicting social problems, as in The Migration of the Negro (1940-1941) and Struggle: From the History of the American People (1955). Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He studied under Charles Alston at the Art Workshop in Harlem, New York (1932-1939), and at the Harlem Art Center and the American Artists School in New York City (1937-1939). He was a professor of art emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle. [From Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Biography (2000)]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Jacob Lawrence Papers consist of Biographical data, Correspondence, Artwork (reproductions), Memorabilia, Printed material and Writings of the African-American painter, printmaker, and artist. Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917, Jacob Lawrence was an alumnus of the Harlem Workshop and the WPA Federal Art Project. The collection reflects not only the development of his artistic career, but also the social climate of the American art scene from the Depression through the early 1970s.

Two folders of Biographical data begin the collection.

Spanning 1937 through 1971, the Correspondence is almost exclusively of a business nature and comprises incoming letters and a few drafts of Lawrence's outgoing responses. Arranged chronologically (a selected name index appears at the end of this inventory), correspondents includes art historians (Alfred H. Barr, David C. Driskell, Creighton Gilbert, Abram Lerner, Alain Locke, Lee Nordness, Regenia A. Perry) and artists (Charles Alston, Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Lizzie Borden, Frank Bowling, Gerard Charriere, Claude Clark, Hy Cohen, Ernest Crichlow, Miki Denhof, Fritz Eichenberg, Philip Evergood, Elton C. Fax, Chuck Forsman, Harry Gottlieb, Eugene Grigsby, Joseph Hirsch, Carl Holty, Joe Lasker, Jack Levine, Frank Mechau, Earl Miller, Gregorio Prestopino, Charles Sheeler, Vincent Smith, Moses Soyer, Raphael Soyer, May Stevens, Walter Williams, Ed Wilson, Richard Yarde); as well as authors and poets (Miriam Biskin, Mildred Cummings, Harold Ehrensperger, M. A. Harris, Harry B. Henderson, Langston Hughes, Raymond Patterson, Margaret Rigg). Lawrence also received correspondence from educational institutions at which he has held teaching positions (Art Students League, Brandeis University, Denison University, Five Towns Music and Art Foundation, Inc., New School for Social Research, Pratt Institute, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture); foundations and institutions which have awarded him grants and/or fellowships (American Artists School, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Chapelbrook Foundation, Ford Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Julius Rosenwald Fund, National Institute of Arts and Letters); galleries which represented his work (Downtown Gallery, Alan Gallery, Terry Dintenfass, Inc.); museums which have purchased and/or exhibited his work (Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Institute, Detroit Institute of Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Museum of Modern Art, North Carolina Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Whitney Museum of American Art); and institutions and publications which support and promote the study of Afro-American art and culture (American Society of African Culture, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Freedomways, Museum of African Art, Opportunity, National Urban League). In addition, Lawrence was approached by many local, national, and international organizations, from New York City high schools and churches to the Institute of International Education, to serve as a juror for art shows and the awarding of scholarships.

Artwork consists of reproductions of Lawrence's work, and features photographs, printed items, and slides. The photographs include images of both Lawrence's painting and a number of interior shots of gallery and museum shows. Printed material of Lawrence's work includes post cards, greeting cards, magazine covers, and appearances in various art and general publications which have illustrative material with minimal text.

Memorabilia comprises awards, financial material, non-exhibition-related invitations, personal photographs, printed material, and manuscript writings about Lawrence by others. Printed material contains magazine articles about Lawrence (1939-1969) from various general and art periodicals, newspaper clippings (1937-1970), and programs and calendars from public events at which Lawrence spoke or was honored.

In their original state, the Lawrence Papers contained three scrapbooks which held a variety of materials, including correspondence, exhibition announcements and catalogs, magazine appearances, and newspaper clippings, which documented the early stages of his career (pre-1950). In the interest of preservation, the scrapbooks were dismantled and the materials integrated into various parts of the collection.

Printed material, consisting of academic brochures and course catalogs, exhibition announcements, invitations, catalogs, and posters, reflects Lawrence's dual career as teacher and artist. Course catalogs include those of Brandeis University (1965), the New School (1966-1969), and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1968-1970). Exhibition announcements, invitations, and catalogs, document the course of Lawrence's artistic career, and include catalogs from his first one-man exhibition in 1938 sponsored by the James Wheldon Johnson Literary Guild at the Harlem YMCA, the American Negro Exposition (1939) in Chicago, at which he won second prize, and many other exhibition catalogs of one-man and group shows from the late 1930s through 1971. The collection also contains posters for two of his shows.

Writings include interviews, speeches, and miscellaneous manuscripts which suggest Lawrence's philosophy about his work.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged chronologically. Other series are arranged alphabetically by type or title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

A number of printed items, including a copy of Federico García Lorca's Gypsy ballads translated by Langston Hughes and signed/inscribed by him to Lawrence, have been removed from the collection and transferred to Rare Books for cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog and search on "Gift of Jacob Lawrence" to locate these items.

Subject Headings


Bearden, Romare, 1911-1988.
Eichenberg, Fritz, 1901-1990.
Evergood, Philip, 1901-1973.
Fax, Elton C.
Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967.
Lawrence, Jacob, 1917-2000.
Locke, Alain, 1885-1954.
Patterson, Raymond R.
Sheeler, Charles, 1883-1965.
Soyer, Moses, 1899-1974.
Soyer, Raphael, 1899-1987.

Corporate Bodies

American Society of African Culture.
Art Students League (New York, N.Y.)
Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, inc.
Downtown Gallery (New York, N.Y.)
Freedomways Associates.
Julius Rosenwald Fund
Museum of African Art (U.S.)
National Urban League.
New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y. : 1919-1997)
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.


African American art.
African American artists.
African American painting.
African American printmakers.
African Americans -- Biography.
African Americans and art.
Art and race.
Art, American -- 20th century.
Art, American -- Exhibitions.
Art, American.
Painters -- United States -- 20th century.
Painting -- Study and teaching.
Painting, American -- 20th century.
Painting, American -- Afro-American painting.
Printmakers -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
College catalogs.
Exhibition catalogs.
Slides (photographs)
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Jacob Lawrence Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Jacob Lawrence, 1963, 1966, 1971.

Ramie Streng letter (2/20/1995) gift of Ramie Streng, 2014.

Table of Contents

Biographical data


Artwork (reproductions)


Printed material


Selected Index to Correspondence


Selected Index to Correspondence