Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art
In July 1949, a depressed 32-year-old African American male voluntarily entered Hillside Hospital in Queens, New York to receive treatment. A half-century later, in April 2000, that same man explained his post-World War II hospital visit in a tape-recorded interview with Jackson Frost of The Phillips Collection:
“I think I was having problems like many of the former servicemen had coming out of the service. I guess there is maybe confusion, and you want to get things straight. You realize this will be a good experience to have, this hospital experience… Fortunately they had places like this where you could go for help.”
The depressed man’s name? Jacob Lawrence.
Despite being well on his way to becoming the most widely acclaimed African American artist of the 20th century, Lawrence was struggling with a postwar trauma that the hospital provided him the time and space to address. In this space, his art became his therapy as he completed the “Hospital Series” while at Hillside before regaining his perspective and continuing his historic career.
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917, Lawrence’s parents separated when he was seven, and his mother moved her children to Harlem when he was twelve. There, the bright teen spent time at an afterschool program in arts and crafts run by painter Charles Alston, who immediately recognized Lawrence’s artistic abilities. After dropping out of high school before his junior year to work odd jobs and support his struggling family, Lawrence joined up with the Harlem Community Art Center under sculptor Augusta Savage and began painting local urban life. About the same time, he was mentored by a Harlem resident known as “Professor Seifert” who encouraged Lawrence to visit the nearby Schomburg Library and study everything he could on African and African American culture.
The young painter did, and the results, over time, were both historic and prolific. Lawrence combined his growing knowledge with his unparalleled artistic gifts to produce numerous series of legendary works inspired by the lives of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, along with such subjects as War, The South, the History of the American People, and, perhaps his best-known series, The Migration of the Negro.
By 1950, after being stationed overseas with the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and being treated for depression at Hillside, Lawrence was well recognized as the most celebrated African American painter in the country. In the 1960s and 70s, he traveled to Africa and lived, for a time, in Nigeria while also teaching at several universities. Lawrence continued to paint, teach, and impact the art world up until his death in June 2000.
In 2015, the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, GA displayed relevant prints from Lawrence for the popular exhibit, “History, Labor, Life: The Prints of Jacob Lawrence.”
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Stephanie Robinson, Esq. is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, a national media figure, author, former Chief Counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and former President and CEO of The Jamestown Project, a national think tank focusing on democracy. Ms. Robinson hosted her own national radio show, Roundtable with Stephanie Robinson, a popular weekly 30-minute, talk-radio program focused on culture, politics, and relationships that aired on TSN. For over half a decade, Ms. Robinson was Political and Social Commentator for the Tom Joyner Morning Show where she spoke to between 9 and 10 million people weekly, offering her perspective on the day’s most pressing social and political issues.
Robinson is co-author of Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise, (Atria Books, 2009). She is a nationally recognized expert on issues relating to social policy, women, race, family, and electoral politics. She was featured as one of the 30 Young Leaders of the Future in Ebony Magazine and was profiled in the book As I Am: Young African American Women in a Critical Age, by Julian Okwu. Robinson is a frequent speaker expressing her views in countless media outlets including the Associated Press, The Washington Post, C-Span, Fox News, NewsOne and NPR.
Stephanie was a Member of President Clinton’s first Mission to Africa regarding children orphaned by AIDS. Robinson, a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Maryland and the Harvard Law School, is a native of Steubenville, Ohio. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.
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