Officials at the Phillips Collection have detailed plans to develop a robust micro site featuring the works and previously unpublished interviews between preeminent American artist Jacob Lawrence and museum curators, including one conducted just prior to the acclaimed artists’ death 14 years ago.
The microsite promises to provide audiences with unprecedented insight by chronicling the powerful history and contemporary context of migration through the lens of Lawrence’s epic masterwork, according to Curator Elsa Smithgall.
It will be launched to coincide with the co-organized exhibition, “Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series,” that will be presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2015 and at the Phillips Collection in Washington in 2016.
“To this day, ‘The Migration Series’ resonates with the American experience with themes of struggle, freedom, and the search for a better life,” Smithgall said. “This micro site is an invaluable resource, featuring archival photographs, and literary, theatrical, and contemporary migration narratives that situate ‘The Migration Series’ within the dynamic cultural context of its time.”
Through a number of in-depth initiatives conducted over several decades, officials at the Phillips Collections have gained deeper insight into the career and life of Lawrence.
Microsite users will be able to enjoy works that include segments of the museum’s never-before-published video interviews with the artist along with high-resolution images with text explaining each work and an examination of the life and times of Lawrence through archival photographs, sound clips and videos of musical or theatrical performances and historical events, Smithgall said.
The project will cost $125,000 in production, licensing fees and site maintenance and, thanks to a few generous donors, 60 percent of those costs have already been obtained.
To raise the remaining $45,000, curators have launched an Indiegogo— or crowd funding— campaign in hopes of achieving the $125,000 goal.
Anyone can make a contribution by logging onto www.indiegogo.com and selecting “Jacob Lawrence micro site.”
Born in New Jersey and raised in Harlem, Lawrence earned the distinction of being the most widely acclaimed African-American artist of the 20th century.
Known for producing narrative collections like “The Migration Series” and the “War Series,” Lawrence brought the African-American experience to life using blacks and minorities juxtaposed with vivid colors.
He also taught and worked for 15 years as a professor at the University of Washington, according to his biography.
Introduced to art as a young teen, Lawrence attended classes at the Harlem Art Workshop with artist Charles Aston and he frequently visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1937, Lawrence won a scholarship to the American Artists School in New York. When he graduated in 1939, he received funding from the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project and, by then, he had already developed his own style of modernism, and he began creating narrative series, many with 30 or more paintings of one subject.
He completed his best-known series, “Migration of the Negro” or simply “The Migration Series,” in 1941.
Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in New York exhibited “The Migration Series” in 1942 making Lawrence the first African-American to join the gallery.
At the outbreak of World War II, Lawrence received notice that he had been drafted into the United States Coast Guard. After being briefly stationed in Florida and then in Massachusetts, he received an assignment to be the Coast Guard artist aboard a troopship, documenting the experience of war around the world. He produced 48 paintings during that time, all of which have been lost.
However, when his tour of duty ended, Lawrence received a Guggenheim Fellowship and painted his “War Series.”
In addition to teaching, he spent much of his life painting commissions, producing limited-edition prints to help fund nonprofits like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Lawrence also painted murals for the Harold Washington Center in Chicago, the University of Washington and Howard University, as well as a 72-foot mural for New York City’s Times Square subway station. Lawrence painted until just a few weeks before he died, on June 9, 2000 at the age of 82.
The crowd funding campaign for the project ends on Wednesday, December 10, 2014. For more information about Jacob Lawrence or the Phillips Collection, visit: www.PhillipsCollection.org.