A report by Bob Keyes for The Press Herald.
The late artist, who documented the African-American experience, has been in the spotlight recently.
The Colby College Museum of Art has acquired a series of prints about the Haitian revolution by the American artist Jacob Lawrence, who documented the African-American experience and stories of oppression in his work.
Lawrence, who died in 2000, has been in the news with high-profile exhibitions of his paintings in New York and Massachusetts and the feel-good story of the discovery of a long lost painting in a Manhattan apartment, which immediately ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On Friday, the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville announced it had acquired a complete set of 15 silkscreen prints by Lawrence depicting the life of Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. Longtime Colby supporters Peter and Paula Lunder purchased the series and donated it to the museum in honor of Colby President David A. Greene and his wife, Carolyn.
“Jacob Lawrence is such an important artist, and he is having a moment,” said newly installed Colby museum director Jacqueline Terrassa. She noted that the traveling exhibition about Lawrence, “The American Struggle” now at the Met, has “drawn attention to his work and his capacity to convey in visual ways the stories of American history that are largely untold.”
With these prints, that history takes viewers to the Caribbean and stories of Black liberation that are more global. The prints that Colby acquired are based on more than 40 paintings that Lawrence made between 1936 and 1938 about L’Ouverture and the Haitian revolution. Beginning in 1986, 50 years after he made the paintings, Lawrence returned to the theme by embarking on a series of prints based on the original paintings. He completed the series in 1997, and made a total of 15 prints that were printed and sold individually, Terrassa said. The Colby acquisition is important because it brings the complete set of prints together, she said.
“He makes the original series when barely 20 years old and then decides it’s a subject important enough to revisit later in life,” Terrassa said. “Given our times and the questions about racial justice and understanding around those issues, this acquisition is particularly timely.”
The museum will exhibit the newly acquired prints, along with a handful of other Lawrence pieces in the collection, when it can safely reopen to the public. In the meantime, the prints will be available for viewing online.