Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lois Mailou Jones: Extraordinary and Original Artist

It's black history month and, as in past blogs (Archive: Henry Ossawa Tanner, Feb., 2012), it's a pleasure to recognize a very distinguished artist, who preferred to be known as an artist - not a "black artist" or a "female artist".

Her name was Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998). She started painting at an early age. After high school, she won a scholarship to the Boston School of Fine Arts. Upon completion of her education, she applied for a teaching position at her alma mater. She was refused due to her race.

She took a teaching position at Palmer Memorial Institute. (In time, Jones founded their art department.) While at Palmer, Jones was offered a teaching position at Howard University as professor of design and watercolor painting. She remained at Howard until her retirement in 1977.

On a sabbatical from the university, she attended art classes in Paris and came to understand how very talented she was. In her own words:

"The French were so inspiring. The people would stand and watch me and say ‘mademoiselle, you are so very talented. You are so wonderful.’ In other words, the color of my skin didn’t matter in Paris and that was one of the main reasons why I think I was encouraged and began to really think I was talented."

France allowed her the opportunity to paint with complete freedom. She began to combine African motifs with Western techniques. Her first internationally recognized painting was titled: " Les Fetiches" (1938) (Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

 Below is a small sampling of Jones' works and her artistic evolution:

"The Ascent of Ethiopia" (1932)

"The Lovers" (1950)

"Ubi Girl from Tai Region" (1972)

"Initiation Liberia" (1983)

 One last note:  Jones was honored by President Carter for her achievements in art, her works are found in major museums and collections, and there's a posthumous biography titled, "Lois Mailou Jones: a life in vibrant color." All serve to confirm her as an extraordinary and original artist without regard to gender or race. Agreed?