Jacob Lawrence was an African American painter, storyteller, and teacher. He is most famous for his paintings about everyday life. He used bold, vibrant colors and shapes to depict the world around him. His style of art was cubism and he used it to capture the colors of Harlem.
This activity explores the world as Jacob Lawrence viewed it and follows the story “Jake Makes A World” written by Lawrence himself. At the end of it, children will use materials around their house to create a snapshot of their world using cubism.
Jacob was born in 1917. His parents had just moved from the south to the north in a huge African-American migration known as the Great Migration that took place between 1916 and the 1970s. The families who picked up their belongings and journeyed across the U.S. were looking for better lives. It was difficult for African-Americans to find work in the south and Lawrence’s parents hoped it would be different in the north.
The family moved around a lot and finally settled in Harlem, New York. In Harlem, the family lived in a tall apartment building surrounded by other tall apartment buildings. Their neighbors were all African-Americans.
Lawrence began to explore art in an afterschool program that his mother signed him up for. There Lawrence began to draw, color, and paint. By experimenting, Lawrence taught himself to paint. He also learned about some important black heroes, including Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas. Lawrence sometimes walked 60 blocks to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view famous paintings
Over time, he crafted his skill and documented the African American experience in several series devoted to Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, life in Harlem, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Lawrence used bold – mostly primary – colors and simple shapes in his paintings. At the age of 23, he achieved fame when he won an award for a series of paintings illustrating the Great Migration of African Americans from the North to South.
Jake Makes A World
Before you begin this activity, follow the Museum of Modern Art as they read Jake Makes A World: Jacob Lawrence, A Young Artist in Harlem. Inspired by the childhood of the artist Jacob Lawrence, this is the story of young Jake as he takes in the colors, sounds, rhythms, and characters of his community in Harlem during the 1930s, and the art studio where he goes each day after school.
Create Your World Using Jacob Lawrence’s Style
- Shoebox lid
- White paper
- Black paper
Using the shoebox lid, imagine that it is a window to your community. If you were to look through it, what would you see? Houses? Trees? Storefronts? Farmland?
Use the materials to create a window to your community. Remember, Lawrence used bold, primary colors. How would your world look if you used the same style?
What are some of your favorite and not-so-favorite parts about the community you live in? Do you want to include them in your window?