During the Era of Modernism, an artistic trend began around the end of the nineteenth century and dominated expression until WWII and after.  The work of these three African-American Artists, Aaron Douglas (1898-1979), Lois Mailou Jones, (1905-1998) and Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) were apart of an African American community formed by that trend in Harlem, New York City.
This movement was known as the “New Negro Movement” and it began due to the near collapse of the Southern Agriculture economy.  More than two million African Americans migrated to Northern Cities in search for work. Many of those started a new life in Harlem. Even though the racism still existed there, it was much different than what they had previously experienced.
This period extended from roughly 1920-1940, and included not only visual art like the above, but music, theatre, poetry, history and political works as well.
New York entrepreneurs had great plans for Harlem. Construction of town homes, and town buildings including an opera were being developed. These struggles and progress are depicted in the artists’ works, including distinct personal, political and social messages. The Harlem Renaissance artists displayed a perfect example of what daily life was like for African Americans in Harlem.
Artists were inspired to create art work that was contemporary, full of emotion, and celebrated African American history and culture.
JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000)
Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He spent his early childhood in Easton and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but at age thirteen his mother and siblings moved to Harlem. He received his training at community centers in Harlem. Two of them were: The Easel Project of The Works Progress Administration, and The American Artist School in New York. 
Jacob Lawrence was a painter known for his creative storytelling methods within his works. “His stories were accompanied with visual dramatizations of the African American experience.” 
“He often devoted series of paintings to a single subject. These range from a contemporary scene in a supermarket in Harlem to historical events including African Americans migration to northern cities.” 
“Jacob Lawrence’s works are in permanent collections of the nations leading museums including; The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and many more.” 
“For his early narrative stories, Jacob first wrote captions and than completed sketches for each scene, he than drew them directly onto the panels. Later he began using a series format involving a process of storyboards used to plan a sequence of a film. He laid the panels on the floor of his studio, designing rhythms of vertical and horizontal hardboard panels, each the same size. In this way the thirty to sixty panels of a series could be seen together and painted at the same time.” 
He would often use his colors unmixed so they would not vary from one panel to the next, and he would even use one color at a time, starting with black and than he moved on to the lighter colors. 
“In 1940 Jacob Lawrence received a 1500 fellowship to complete a series of panels on the Great Migration. He did research in plenty of books and pamphlets written during the migration, and completed the work in 1941. Although the series was originally meant to remain together, as one work of art. That winter the artist agreed to a joint purchase by The Museum of Modern Artand thePhillips Collection.” 
“In these abstracted designs, the “pure” use of color lines, shadow, mass, and other traditional, formal elements of painting and sculpture to create an image whose only reference is it-self. Jacob repeated images of passage-railways, suitcases, and masses of people on the move-throughout the series, creating a visual rhythm, a metaphor for the migration’s momentum. His simplified figures, in the scenes of migration, expressed a mix of emotions-hope, fear, excitement-through eloquent gestures and poses. Repeating key colors, Jacob sustained the rhythmic continuity of the sixty panels, while his rich, bold palette underscored the intensity of the drama.”
My favorite of the Migration panels is “Forward” it depicts Harriet Tubman pushing her people forward, to carry on with her help through the Underground Railroad. Some figures are standing behind her with concern, fear, and relief in their eyes, but in front of her she is literally pushing the man forward. And although he stands probably six foot tall, muscular strong, and hard working, it takes all he has to take that step forward and leave behind the fear.
This painting was completed in 1967, with tempera on panel. (60.5 X 91.2 cm) It was purchased with funds from the state of N. Carolina.
This is a very contemporary piece, painted with simple lines, and minimal number of colors. I wouldn’t say that it is an abstract, natural or realistic painting. However it could be a combination due to its subject matter, and the way the message is communicated.
It’s symbolism of slavery, moving forward to a new future teaches African American History, communication as well as life for African Americans during this time period.
Even though they had been through many things we need to continue to push each other forward to a better future.
AARON DOUGLAS (1899-1979)
Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas and grew an interest in art at a young age. His mother encouraged his interest in art by hanging them on the walls of their home. He graduated with a B.A. in Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska in 1922 and later graduated from Teachers College of Columbia University in 1944.
Douglas was an art teacher at Lincoln High School in Topeka for two years, but his dream was to use his talents at the first chance an opportunity in New York arrived.
He developed in interested in the city through newspaper articles and was drawn in by the black culture awareness, and when he arrived in New York his German Art Professor suggested just that. That he celebrated the heritage in his art work that had brought him to the city.
“Toward the end of the Harlem Renaissance Aaron Douglas’ services were in high demand because he was able to reproduce illustrations for books and magazines. He became well known for Cubist-type black and white rhythmic illustrations. He also had a distinct political and social message in his works.” 
A perfect example is observed in the tempera on paper version of An Idyll of the Deep South. “The driskell Collection image is a smaller version of the third panel of Douglas mural series Aspects of Negro life, commissioned in 1934 by the WPA for the Harlem Branch of the New York City Public Library.” 
This panel shows African Americans in different stages of their life. Dancing, singing, and playing music as they once did in Africa. There are workers toiling the fields even though there were brutal images of lynching in the background. I believe this as a symbolic message of the past, and present. (Working in the field that their ancestors had been killed) It shows the reality of racism and economic hardship in the lives of African Americans. But I also see the future shinning in a ray of sun light above everyone; a symbol of hope, and freedom, and better things to come.
“Douglas has knowledge of Egyptian art from his trips to the Brooklyn Museum and access to one of the best collections of African art in America. (The Barnes collection) 
“His illustrations modeled silhouetted forms in part from Egyptian wall paintings as well as African masks.” His figures are often parallel to the horizontal plane rather that receding in space as they would in traditional perspective. The face is shown in profile but the one eye shown is faced forward.” 
“Other African American artists not generally associated with the Harlem Renaissance were similarly working in race consciousness in their work, but none sought to express the continuity between Africa as Douglas did.” 
LOIS MAILOU JONES (1905-1998)
Louis M. Jones was an African American artist who had been through many racial prejudices herself. Although she was born in England, her life was not free of color barriers which sometimes expressed themselves in her art work as well.
“Sometimes she would enter contests by having her white friends deliver the work for her. In other cases, prizes she won were taken away and given to white competitors. Despite these trials she never gave up.” 
After excellent preparation at the School of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, in 1930 moved to Washington D.C. She became a Professor at Howard University, which is where I found my favorite piece of her art work.
“Women were thought of having a specific role in life, and if they ventured out, they were scrutinized” said an associate dean in the art department of the University. 
I believe this to be shown in the piece title La Sirene. I haven’t found much description on it on the internet; however I believe it to be a mermaid. Noting La Sirene written in the top left hand corner, with the sun shinning bright in the background, it may be a symbol of good times of the past and future. A small white sailboat also shows in the background. Maybe it depicts time sailing away. In the forefront you can’t hope but notice the colorful up roar of a hurricane blown by the mermaid herself with the use of a trumpet. I believe this to also be a symbol of either a woman in control of the nature of things surrounding her, or stirring up some actual trouble by following her dreams. I look at the trumpet as a symbol of triumph. A woman reaching her life lived dream.
CONTEXT OF TIME PERIOD
The above three works described above fit into the Era of modernism according to dates when the works were created as well as the style of incorporating culture within works of art.
The Era of Modernism began after WWI mainly between the years 1920-1940. The style of abstract art was apparent as well as the approach to creation that brakes the old rules. 
Jacob Lawrence was a painter known for his creative storytelling methods within his works. “His stories were accompanied with visual dramatizations of the African American experience.”  These were the rules of the old.
In “Forward” Jacob repeated images of passage-railways, suitcases, and masses of people on the move-throughout the series, creating a visual rhythm, a metaphor for the migration’s momentum. His simplified figures, in the scenes of migration, expressed a mix of emotions-hope, fear, excitement-through eloquent gestures and poses. Repeating key colors, Jacob sustained the rhythmic continuity of the sixty panels, while his rich, bold palette underscored the intensity of the drama.”
And these were the rules of the new.
Aaron Douglas’ illustrations used ideas on old and new combined. “They modeled silhouetted forms in part from Egyptian wall paintings as well as African masks.” His figures are often parallel to the horizontal plane rather that receding in space as they would in traditional perspective. The face is shown in profile but the one eye shown is faced forward.” 
Louis M. Jones used many old methods of displaying some of her art work; however “La Sirene” displayed abstract style, as well as bold colors that draw your attention to the piece.
EVALUATION AND COMPARRISON
All those works show the talent of African American paintings during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Using our culture and historical events as inspiration was used by all three, but expressed in various, creative ways.
Jacob Lawrence expressed himself by painting stories of historical events of the past, as well as using current daily events as a symbol of the current life as a symbol of the struggles of the past and the ability to change for the better.
Aaron Douglas, an artist, who also became an art teacher and was encouraged by his mother at a young age. He was drawn to the culture awareness in Harlem, made it his home and also his inspiration to his art works as well. His work wasn’t limited to painting, but was very modernistically used as illustration for books and magazines also.
I feel his style and philosophy were a little ahead of his time, even though he used methods deep in the past.
And lastly, Lois M. Jones a great woman of her time who inspired me to continue as a graphic designer. She used her work to show specific issues as a woman during her time. Breaking society’s rules, and showing her talents without giving up. This is a mentor all women could use, at any time period in this world.
1. Sporre, Dennis. The Creative Impulse, An Introduction to The Arts 6th edition
2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
3. Wadsworth Athenaeum
4. Wadsworth Athenaeum
5. Wadsworth Athenaeum
6. Wadsworth Athenaeum
7. Jacob Lawrence Exploring Stories
8. Jacob Lawrence Exploring Stories
9. Jacob Lawrence Exploring Stories
10. Sporre, Dennis. The Creative Impulse, An Introduction to The Arts 6th edition
16. Lois Mailou Jones Gallery
17. Lois Mailou Jones Gallery
18. Sporre, Dennis. The Creative Impulse, An Introduction to The Arts 6th edition
Jacob Lawrence, ForwardAaron Douglas, An Idyll of the Deep South, Aspects of Negro Life Series, 1934.
oil on canvas, 5′ x 11’7″.Last known location (2003): Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,
Art and Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. Image from Prigoff, James and Robin J. Dunitz. Walls of Heritage, Walls of Pride: African American Murals.
Rohnert Park, CA: Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 2000.One of four in a series executed under the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a government funded art project that ran from Dec. 1933 – June 1934, just prior to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (1935-39) and the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture/Fine Arts (the Section) (1934-39).Lois M. Jones, La Sirene