With contributions by Derrick Adams, Sandy Alexandre, Rachel Allen, Austen Barron Bailly, Lonnie G. Bunch III, Elgin Cleckley, Bethany Collins, Spencer Crew, Philip J. Deloria, Andrea Douglas, David C. Driskell, Walter O. Evans, Kimberli Gant, Elyse Gerstenecker, Erin C. Golightly, Lydia Gordon, Kerri Greenidge, Randall Griffey, Leslie King Hammond, Patricia Hills, Kevin Jennings, Erich Kessel, Steve Locke, Deborah McDowell, Masud Olufani, Harvey Ross, Jacquelyn Days Serwer, Elsa Smithgall, Barbara Earl Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Salamishah Tillet, Elizabeth Hutton Turner, Monique Verdin, Chloe Downe Wells, Tamir Williams, and Sylvia Yount
Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) was one of the most important chroniclers of the American experience, renowned for his method of combining small paintings with narrative text. His seventh narrative cycle, Struggle…from the History of the American People (1954–56), examined decisive moments in the creation and defense of American democracy and depicting the diverse but mutually linked fortunes of all American constituencies engaged in the struggle. Largely due to its dispersal more than sixty years ago, the Struggle series has been understudied until now. This exhibition reunites the series—for the first time since 1958—to explore how Lawrence researched and interpreted the democratic debates and contradictions that created America and still resonate today.
Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle explores his radical way of transforming American history into art by visualizing a progression of struggle—from protesting colonists to contesting soldiers and citizens—as a succession of violent encounters and repetitions of unresolved confrontations. The paintings’ captions are direct quotations derived from historical texts such as letters, petitions, military reports, and speeches authored by named and unnamed individuals that represent signal moments in the American Revolution and the early decades of the American republic, and feature the words and actions of founding fathers, enslaved people, freedmen, women, and Native people.
The publication accompanies the nationally touring exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle on view at the Peabody Essex Museum from January 18 to April 26, 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from June 2 to September 7, 2020, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama, from October 17, 2020, to January 10, 2021, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, from February 25 to May 31, 2021, and The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, from June 26 to September 19, 2021.
Elizabeth Hutton Turner, formerly senior curator of The Phillips Collection, is university professor in the McIntire Department of Art and founding vice provost for the arts at the University of Virginia.
Austen Barron Bailly, formerly The George Putnam Curator of American Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, is chief curator at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.