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Self-Portrait, 1977. Gouache and tempera on paper, 23 x 31 in. (58.4 x 78.7 cm). National Academy of Design, New York
Artwork © Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation

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In this painting, Jacob Lawrence portrayed himself as an artist in his studio in Seattle, Washington, where he and Gwendolyn Knight moved in 1971. Lawrence depicted his own face as mask like, and he is holding brushes that represent his profession as a painter. He is smiling, as though he is welcoming the viewers, inviting them into his space.

The artist is surrounded by his tools and materials–tubes and jars of paint, clamps, a drill, a lathe, and a hammer. On the left, one of Lawrence's paintings hangs on the wall. It is an image of Harriet Tubman leading slaves to freedom, from Lawrence's narrative series, The Life of Harriet Tubman (1939-40). Below the Harriet Tubman painting, a figure dressed in blue ascends a staircase. Perhaps this figure is from another of Lawrence's works, or it could be an actual person, or another painted figure. On the right there are more of Lawrence’s paintings, including  Tombstones (1942) and Cabinet Makers (1946).

A symbol is something–usually a sign or an object–that represents or stands for something else. For example, flags can be symbols for countries and hearts are often symbols for love.
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Go to www.jacoblawrence.org and select the medium: painting. In the Title box type in "The Studio." Click SUBMIT.

• How has Lawrence represented himself in this painting?
Compare Lawrence's self-portrait with The Studio, 1977.
What are the similarities? What are the differences?

How do you pose for school portraits? Family portraits? How does the way you pose express who you are and how you feel?

Find a favorite photograph of yourself and bring it to class. Write a short description of yourself in the photograph and consider the following questions:

Why is it your favorite photograph?
When you look at this photograph, what do you see?
What elements of the photograph do you like best? Why?
Who took this photograph?

Present and discuss your photograph and essay with the class.

©2002 Whitney Museum of American Art