Art Works Blog

Telling the Legend of Jacob Lawrence in Washington State

Washington, DC

"John Brown made many trips to Canada organizing for his assault on Harpers Ferry," #15 in The Legend of John Brown by Jacob Lawrence, courtesy Washington State Arts Commission

Janae Huber is the collections manager for the Art in Public Places Program of the Washington State Arts Commission, responsible for the care of the approximately 4,500 artworks in the State Art Collection. Including work by artists such as Martha Rosler, Martin Puryear, George Tsutakawa, and Fay Jones, the art collection is installed primarily in public schools, colleges, universities, and state civic buildings. I spoke with Janae briefly by e-mail about the Art in Public Places Program, discovering a surprising connection between Washington State and Washington, DC in the process.

NEA: What are some of the specific activities of the Art in Public Places program.

JANAE HUBER: Our program facilitates the acquisition, placement, and stewardship of artwork in state-funded building projects throughout Washington State. The program was established in 1974 by the Legislature. Our ?½ of 1% for Art? funds are generated by new construction projects in state agencies, community colleges, universities, and public schools. Local committees representing project sites make all final artwork selection decisions.

NEA: One of the current Art in Public Places projects is a tour of the 22-panel series The Legend of John Brown by Jacob Lawrence.

HUBER: You mentioned our statewide reach in your email and [that was] one of the inspirations for this project. We own the entire Legend of John Brown series, a complete story and exhibition in and of itself, and felt that we had a unique ability to reach audiences statewide with this outstanding body of work. Lawrence's work is beloved nationally, but northwest audiences have a particular connection to it since he lived and taught here for more than 15 years. Lawrence served as an appointed member of the Washington State Arts Commission from 1973 to 1979. We think of him as one of our own.

In addition to the statewide reach, we have established relationships with community colleges, as they are among the homes for works in the State Art Collection. Many of those colleges have galleries and sponsor public programming; they act as community gathering places. There was a natural connection to be made with those aspects of community college work, in addition to the learning environment, which provides a strong context for these artistically and historically significant works. The series traveled to four Washington community college venues in Mount Vernon, Olympia, Pasco, and Vancouver, before finding a longer term venue at the Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

Getting these works out to broader audiences was also in keeping with the spirit of the print series; Lawrence created the prints in order to share the work with wider audiences. The print series is based on the 1941 gouache paintings, which are owned by The Detroit Institute of Arts and in fragile condition. To the best of my knowledge, for preservation reasons they are not displayed.

So what?s the connection between Washington state and Washington, DC? Jacob Lawrence! DC?s Phillips Collection is home to 30 of the individual panels that comprise The Migration Series, painted concurrently by Lawrence from 1940-1941. (The other 30 are owned by the Museum of Modern Art  in New York City.) You can learn more about The Migration Series in this 2007 interview.

Don't forget to check back with the Art Works blog to hear about Rocco's Art Works visit to Washington.

Add new comment