Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight: 12 intimate details of a life together

D.C. Moore Gallery in New York presents an exceptional show featuring the work of Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000) and Gwendolyn Knight (1913-2005) on view through March 27, 2021. Reading the gallery’s materials supporting “Jacob Lawrence & Gwen Knight: Intersections” brought to my attention 12 facts about the couple I did not know.

  1. After almost sixty years of marriage, Jacob Lawrence died at home at the age of 82 in 2000 and Gwen Knight at the age of 92 in 2005.

2. Lawrence and Knight met at the studio of artist Charles Alston where Knight was employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). How did she get there? Knight attended Howard University until the Great Depression forced her to leave after two years. She then studied painting and sculpture under the tutelage of Augusta Savage at the Savage School of Arts and Crafts in Harlem. Savage was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance and encouraged Knight to seek employment by the WPA.

3. Lawrence was just 16-years-old when the two met!

4. Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight were married in 1941 and afterward traveled to New Orleans on their honeymoon.

RELATED: Jacob Lawrence, “Struggle” series, the most important art exhibit in America.

5, Jacob Lawrence served in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1943 during World War II. He was assigned to one of the first racially integrated ships in US naval history, the USS Sea Cloud.

6. Lawrence worked as a combat artist during the World War II, completing pen-and-ink drawings, three of which are on view in the D.C. Moore show.

7. Lawrence had his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944, although he was not discharged from the Coast Guard until the end of 1945.

RELATED: Phillips Collection celebrating 100 year anniversary with Jacob Lawrence.

Jacob Lawrence, The Cabinet Maker, 1994. Gouache on paper. 29 3/4 x 22 inches

8. Gwendolyn Knight was born in Barbados, but emigrated to the U.S. at age 7 after her father died when she was two-years-old and her mother was disabled during a hurricane. She first moved to St. Louis, living with family friends.

9. Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight were invited by Josef Albers to travel to Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1946. Both taught classes, Lawrence art, Knight dance.

10.  Lawrence was a psychiatric patient for almost a year at Hillside Hospital in Queens after voluntarily entering in 1949. Stress and pressure from his success in severe depression.

11. Captivated by the idea of living in Africa, the couple sold their apartment in Brooklyn and moved to Nigeria. They lived for 18 months the town of Ibadan.

12. Lawrence was offered a tenured professorship at the University of Washington in 1971, which he accepted. The couple spent the rest of their lives there.

RELATED: Remarkable loan brings Jacob Lawrence artwork to Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, Florida.

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