Daily Art Moment: Jacob Lawrence

1920’s…The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots, Jacob Lawrence, 32 1/16 x 24 7/16 inches, color screenprint on paper. A vertical, rectangular screenprint depicting the interior of a polling place filled with voters. In top third of the print, a brown voting booth is at center with its curtain partially open to reveal a blue clad voter reaching up to pull levers on a gray, white, and black mechanical voting machine. Positioned in front of the booth is a long, tan table with people at three of the sides. At center is a female figure in red with an open book in front of her. A male figure in black at right signs the book and another female figure in blue sits at the left end of the table. Various figures wait in line creating a loose U shape around the table and voting booth. Some read newspapers, some turn to each other, two hold children and a few are seated. A blue wall stretches across the width of the print at top and the brown floor takes up the bottom two thirds of the work. The print contains limited colors, primarily blue, brick red, black, brown, tan and white. Colors are flat and without variation. Details such as facial features and floorboards are picked out in white or tan outlines.

“Jacob Lawrence depicts the African-American experience of citizens in an election from the 1920s. With a complex, angular composition of figures and strikingly primary colors, the scene we see is a moment of humble but powerful action in the act of making a vote. Elders wait patiently in line, a woman comforts her infant child, two men read the newspaper as they wait, individuals share information around a table, and a man casts his ballot in the background, placed at the pinnacle of the composition. The print subject comes from Lawrence’s most ambitious work, ‘The Migration of the Negro,’ a series of sixty paintings completed from 1940 to 1941 portraying millions of African Americans who moved to northern cities after World War I.

Following Emancipation, African Americans were to be granted equals, including suffrage for Black women. It is critical to acknowledge that many Black people were blocked from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Unfortunately, voter suppression continues to threaten our democracy today. In this print, Lawrence lays out for us a quiet yet impactful vignette of this democratic act. The Kent Bicentennial Portfolio was a commission to recognize the American Bicentennial, and contributing artists were to respond to the question: ‘What does independence mean to you?’ “

Grace Kook-Anderson, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art

Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917–2000). The 1920’s…The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots, from the “Kent Bicentennial Portfolio: Spirit of Independence,” 1974; published 1975, color screenprint on paper, Gift of Lorillard, 76.4.8 © artist or other rights holder

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