Juliet Sperling

This book is the culminating project of an advanced art history seminar taught at the University of Washington in spring quarter 2021. Conceiving, writing, and publishing a digital book in the span of three months would be a heavy lift at any time, but especially so during the tail end of a pandemic. We want to express our deepest thanks to the community of collaborators that went above and beyond to support our project in the most difficult of years.

First and foremost, we are indebted to the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, which graciously approved the free educational use of Lawrence’s works for this publication. As students, researchers, and writers, we were beneficiaries of the Foundation’s long record of robust and generous encouragement of art historical research and writing about Jacob Lawrence–our essays are built upon a sturdy foundation of existing scholarship, much of it by people who have dedicated decades to carefully preserving and disseminating knowledge about Lawrence’s art. In particular, we wish to acknowledge Michelle DuBois and Peter T. Nesbett, the directors of the Jacob Lawrence Catalogue Raisonné project, which was an invaluable resource for our course. We also drew heavily on the work of Ellen Harkins Wheat, Patricia Hills, Elizabeth Hutton Turner, and dozens of other authors who structured our course syllabus. A full reading list is available at the end of this book, and we encourage you to continue studying Lawrence’s history through their influential work.

Several people enriched our thinking about Jacob Lawrence and his surrounding contexts during the formative phases of the project. The class was scheduled to coincide with the west coast leg of the traveling exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, which was on view at the Seattle Art Museum from March 5 to May 23, 2021. Due to the continuing impact of Covid-19, our original plan of holding many class sessions in the galleries was of course not possible. Nevertheless, the staff of the Seattle Art Museum went out of their way to bring us into the show. Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Nina Dubinsky, Natali Wiseman, and Philip Nadasdy ensured that every student had a chance to view the exhibition in person and share their responses with a broader public, and Theresa Papanikolas spent an afternoon with our seminar for a zoom study day that felt anything but virtual. Thank you so much to everyone at SAM for bringing us together around Lawrence’s art, despite our physical distance.

A second seminar visitor, Professor Luther Adams of UW-Tacoma, deserves special mention. Dr. Adams generously lent his time and expertise as a scholar of Black history and culture to our class, first as a guest seminar leader, and later on in the spring as an eagerly welcomed seminar participant. It is difficult to overstate the impact the sessions with Dr. Adams had on our thinking in the course and in this book—he showed us new ways to look at Lawrence, rooted in his research on African American migration, histories of labor, and longstanding teaching interest in the artist. Many of the essays in this project directly stem from the hours that Professor Adams spent discussing Lawrence with us, and we owe him our most heartfelt thanks.

Without the support of collaborators in the University of Washington Libraries, especially Lauren Ray, Madison Sullivan, and Maryam Fakouri, this project would simply not have been possible. We are so grateful to you all, and everyone else who provided research and digital publishing support. We also want to thank many others in the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design: Morgan Bell, Julianna Jones, Jamie Walker, and the faculty in the division of Art History.

Finally, as editor of this project and professor of the course from which it emerged, I want to acknowledge my primary collaborators, the outstanding students who participated in the seminar and contributed the thoughtful and frequently groundbreaking essays that comprise this book. Alexander Betz, Liz Copland, Maya Green, Ryan Hawkins, Monica Ionescu, Mingjie Ma, Sam Seaver, Thomas Star, Nic Staley, Bailee Strong, Ashley Tseng, Grace Fletcher, Kate Whitney-Schubb, and Elizabeth Xiong: thank you all for your unflagging energy, enthusiasm, and insight.


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Jacob Lawrence in Seattle Copyright © 2021 by Juliet Sperling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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