Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Jacob Lawrence

Carpenters, 1977

Silk-screen print

18" x 22"

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During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Jacob Lawrence began to explore his interest in themes surrounding construction or building. Lawrence's 1977 silk-screen print, Carpenters, is based upon this theme, which incorporates elements from his own personal observations of the human condition. Lawrence was exposed to the process of building early on in his life while attending the Utopia Children's Center as a child in Harlem. In Ellen Harkens Wheat's biography of the artist, Lawrence recalls, "In Harlem there were some cabinetmakers named the Bates brothers, who were close to the arts. We all worked together at the center. . . They worked with tools that were aesthetically beautiful, like sculpture. . ."

As in Lawrence's description of his early childhood experiences, tools and the hands that wield them figure prominently in the composition of Carpenters. Unlike his angry portrayals of racial injustice of the 1960s, the theme of Lawrence's Builders focuses on the more constructive process of creation.

This concept of constructive creation is not only thematically reflected in Lawrence's work but also manifests itself in the growing diversity of materials utilized to convey his theme. Whereas previously the majority of his work was created with water-based egg tempera on paper, during the 1970s Lawrence began to expand his repertoire to include prints, drawings, enamel murals, and graphic illustrations. Thus, the silk-screen print Carpenters embodies Lawrence's personal exploration: his tools combined with a theoretical consideration of tools and building as vehicles for man's most basic aspirations.  T. F.


David Driskell
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III. The Black Academy
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Jacob Lawrence biography

Jacob Lawrence on the web

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