Jacob Lawrence’s “Struggle...from the History of the American People”
Seattle Art Museum opens March 5
Following our catastrophic Capitol riot, what could be more timely than Jacob Lawrence’s series on Struggle. Ironically, the art works remind us that those insurrectionist “Minutemen” mimic the militias of the early days of the American revolution and are also trying to overturn a government. I don’t have space here to expand on this comparison which can be another essay.
Jacob Lawrence’s “Struggle...from the History of the American People” (1954–56) is a 30-panel series on exhibit through May 23. The Seattle Art Museum is reopening starting on Friday March 5 (Fridays through Sundays, 10am–5pm), purchase a timed ticket online: https://secure.seattleartmuseum.org/events.
The artist began this historical series in the same year as the Brown vs Board of Education 1954 desegregation ruling. Although it ends with a reference to the movement West (focusing on overburdened oxen, certainly as a metaphor), he planned to create twice as many works.
Jacob Lawrence and Gwen Knight spent the last thirty years of their lives here; they are part of the history of our city. They moved to Seattle, Washington in 1971 where he was an influential professor at the University of Washington. They lived in a small house near the University with a studio upstairs, a location that only two years earlier had been declared legal for African Americans.
His most prominent work in his early years in Seattle is the stupendous Kingdome mural Games of 1978 that hangs in the Convention Center. Comprised of ten connected steel panels it celebrates huge-limbed sports players of many racial mixes in the foreground and their cheering fans surrounding them. Lawrence uses scale to highlight the drama while also subtly foregrounding integration in sports as another milestone of change. The Games mural