Profile: Lawrence Arthur Jones (1910-1996)

Lawrence Arthur Jones was a twentieth century African-American artist and printmaker. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jones spent most of his career as an art teacher in Louisiana, Georgia, and Mississippi. He was a contemporary of the prominent black artists Charles White and Eldzier Cortor. Jones’s most notable accomplishment is his establishment of a fine arts program at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

Though Jones is best known as an arts educator, his work is present in a number of important institutions and museums. Many of his murals on campuses throughout the South still remain. His oeuvre features prints, paintings, and murals that tend to focus on the history of African-Americans in the United States. His figurative artwork often depicts the oppression of black people across various time periods and geographic contexts. Jones portrayed slavery in the South and urban poverty in the North in many paintings, murals, and prints.

Life and career

Lawrence Arthur Jones was born in 1910 in Lynchburg, Virginia, the oldest of 12 siblings. An interesting point of pride for the Jones family was that they claimed to be descendants of Sally Hemings, a slave on Thomas Jefferson’s plantation. Jones grew up fairly poor, but from an early age he displayed a keen talent for drawing. In high school, Jones attended a segregated school that was underfunded and did not have an art department. However, despite Dunbar High School’s deficient program, Lawrence found artistic opportunity drawing charts, sketches, and decorations for the high school. In 1927, Lawrence’s senior year of high school, the famous Harlem poet James Weldon Johnson spoke at Dunbar High School. During Johnson’s stay in Lynchburg, Jones showed the poet his drawings, and Johnson was so impressed with the young artist’s work that he suggested that Jones pursue further education in art after graduating high school.

Due to Jim Crow laws in Virginia, Jones was not able to attend art school in Virginia and instead registered at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1934. To pay tuition Jones worked and raised money from members of his local community who were supportive and wanted to see his artistic talent realized. The Virginia state senator Carter A. Glass even wrote on Jones’s behalf. His community in Lynchburg was able to raise about 700 dollars. This was not all together enough to pay for a full term at the Art Institute of Chicago, so Jones briefly worked as a busboy in Albany, NY. Upon his arrival in Chicago in 1932, Jones also worked a short period for the WPA/FAP to raise the rest of the money for his education. Jones attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1934 to 1936 and befriended the accomplished artists and fellow Chicago Institute students Charles White, Frank Neal, and Eldzier Cortor. Throughout the 1930s Chicago had a rapidly growing African-American arts community and Lawrence Jones was involved in creating the first black community art center in Chicago, the South Side Community Art Center. While studying in Chicago, Jones also worked in the art studios at Hull House where he met Gertrude Stein. Like James Weldon Johnson, Stein was impressed by Jones’s artistic talent.

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