Professor to discuss works of Jacob Lawrence

Tuskegee University Professor Xavier Nicholas will give a presentation on the life and works of African-American artist Jacob Lawrence at 2 p.m., Jan. 22 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.


The presentation, “Story Painting: The Art of Jacob Lawrence,” is part of what is being called Jacob Lawrence Community Day at the museum, located in Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park.


Although Dr. Nicholas is a professor of English and literature, he says he has had a lifelong love for Lawrence and art history. “I had the pleasure of interviewing him in 1992, and I just want to share my love for his work with others,” he says.


Lawrence, who died in 2000, credits the “black community” in Harlem with influencing his desire to become an artist.  He grew up in Harlem during the 1930s when, according to Dr. Nicholas, Harlem was culturally rich though economically depressed.


Although he did not earn traditional academic degrees, Lawrence had great instructors that included the prominent sculptor Augusta Savage and the painter Charles Alston. “Lawrence is characterized as a social realist, which was the predominant painting style of the 1930s,” Dr. Nicholas says.  “Lawrence’s paintings carry a historical message.  He tells a story in paint.”  His paintings include a series on Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, among others, all intended to “educate black people about their own history.”


Perhaps, Lawrence’s most famous work is a series of 60 paintings about the migration of black people from the South to the North.


Dr. Nicholas, a Tuskegee University graduate himself, joined the University as a professor since 1993.  Before coming to Tuskegee, he spent almost 10 years on the faculty at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.  The Tuskegee graduate returned to the University as a professor after receiving his Ph.D., in English and literature from the University of Michigan. 


Although he teaches English and literature, Dr. Nicholas calls his interest in art “a hidden love.”  He has spent recent years working on a book that he says will present the “humanity of black people in portraits” rather than artistic works that present black people as stereotypes.


“Jacob Lawrence: Three Series of Prints Genesis, Hiroshima, and Toussaint L'ouverture” will be a featured exhibit at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts starting Jan. 21 through March 19.

(Article posted on Jan. 20, 2006)