Jacob Lawrence (American, September 7, 1917–June 9, 2000) was a painter whose works were the first by an African American to be included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, NJ, and he moved with his siblings to New York when he was 13 years old. Lawrence's mother enrolled him in art classes in Harlem to keep him occupied. During this time, the budding artist liked to copy the patterns on his family's carpet and draw them with crayons, and one of his art teachers recognized the young boy’s talent.
Lawrence dropped out of school at the age of 16 and took up work in a laundry and printing firm, while at the same time attending art classes at the Harlem Art Workshop. These classes were taught by Charles Alston (American, 1907–1977), who urged the teenager to start attending the Harlem Community Art Center. Lawrence got a paid position at the center and had the opportunity to study with different renowned Harlem Renaissance artists, including Henry Bannarn (American, 1910–1965). After marrying Gwendolyn Knight (American, 1913–2005), who was also a student of Savage, Lawrence joined the United States Coast Guard in 1943, during the Second World War. He continued to paint during his time with the Coast Guard.
Examples of Lawrence's work include The Builders (1947), Carpenters (1977), and Builders - Green Hills (1998). In 1947, Lawrence taught at Black Mountain College, in Black Mountain, NC. He also taught design and figure drawing at Pratt Institute in New York. Lawrence moved to Seattle, WA, and joined the University of Seattle as an art professor, staying there from 1971 to 1983. Lawrence's paintings have been exhibited in various different places, including Downtown Gallery, New York (1953), San Antonio Museum of Art, TX (1996), and Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL (2000). Lawrence received numerous awards and recognitions including the Spingarn Medal (1970) and The Washington Medal of Merit in 1998. Lawrence's work is represented by the Artists Rights Society. Lawrence died in Seattle, WA, on June 9, 2000.