Whitney Meet Jacob Lawrence Jacob Lawrence's Art Learning Resources Tell Your Own Story Student Art and Stories
Home Help
Early Childhood
Teen Years
His Harlem Community
Visions of Harlem
Picturing Narratives
New Artistic Directions
New Themes
His Life's Work
  Early Childhood
Jacob Lawrence was born on September 7, 1917, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Originally from South Carolina and Virginia, the Lawrence family, like thousands of black  migrants, had hoped to find more promising economic opportunities in the North. By 1919 his family moved to Easton, Pennsylvania. In 1924, after Lawrence’s parents separated, his mother moved the family to Philadelphia, where she left the children in foster care while she worked in  Harlem, New York. At the age of thirteen, Jacob Lawrence arrived in Harlem.

  Since it was almost impossible for black Americans to attend the regular art academies, the art schools and workshops of Harlem provided crucial training for the majority of black artists in the United States. Lawrence was one of the first artists trained in and by the African-American community in Harlem.

Lawrence received his earliest art instruction from  Charles Alston at Utopia Children's House, a community daycare center that Lawrence attended after school. Using theories from  Arthur Wesley Dow's textbook Composition, Alston taught nonrepresentational drawing and encouraged Lawrence to invent his own  pictorial language based on personal decisions about composition and space.
Jacob Lawrence (left), with his mother, brother William, and sister Geraldine in 1923. Courtesy Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence
© Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art