Mint Museum of Art

Charlotte, NC



Lois Mailou Jones and Her Former Students: An American Legacy

The Mint Museum of Art and the Afro-American Cultural Center of Charlotte will celebrate the artistic and teaching legacy of the late Lois Mailou Jones in jointly hosting the exhibition Lois Mailou Jones and Her Former Students: An American Legacy, October 31 through January 4, 1999. The exhibition features eight paintings by Jones, including signature works Les Fetiches and Moon Masque, and 72 works by 38 of her former students at Howard University. The exhibition is organized by Edmund Barry Gaither of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston and Marc Zuver of the Fondo del Sol Visual Arts Center in Washington, D.C.

The scope of Lois Mailou Jones' creative activity is astounding, from the impressionist still life Chou-Fleur et Citrouille, Paris, 1938, (Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art); the characterization captured in the portrait Monsieur Cadet Jeremie, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Haita, 1954; the stylistic African motifs of Moon Mosque, 1971, and Ubi Girl from Tai Region, 1972, (Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston); the social commentary of Mob Yictim (Meditation), 1944; to the brilliant acrylic hues of The Water Carriers, Haiti, 1985. Her compositions possess a clarion color always hinged on structure and design.

Jones graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, in 1927 with additional study at the Massachusetts College of Art and the Designers Art School, Boston at a time when opportunities were few for artists of color and women. Her early success as an anonymous textile designer for the F.A. Foster Company and Schumacher's of New York triggered a desire to be recognized as a painter.

Jones supported her fine arts ambition through teaching. She created an art department at Palmer Memorial Institute, a junior college in Sedalia, North Carolina in 1929 before being recruited by James Vernon Herring, chairman ofthe fledgling Department of·Art at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the following year. Teaching provided more time for her painting.

To avoid the humiliation of having her work rejected outright because of her race, Jones began entering competition incognito by shipping her paintings or by having white friends drop off her work. Having experienced several awards being retracted when arriving to claim them, Lois Mailou Jones kept secret her background while accumulating competitive awards from the National Academy of Design, the Philadelphia Academy and the Corcoran Gallery.

Sculptor Meta Warick Fuller and composer Harry T. Burleigh, whom Jones befriended as a teenager at Martha's Vineyard, urged her to follow the lead of Henry Ossawa Tanner and establish her credentials in Europe. The opportunity came via a Howard University General Education Board scholarship to study at the Academie Julian in Paris during the 1937-38 schoolyear, Her insatiable work ethic, painting from dawn to dusk, fully extended the intensity of her creative power in the City of Light.

While painting a scene along the Seine River, Jones met and befriended Emile Bernard, co-founder of the French Symbolist school of painting, who provided constructive criticism and encouragement. While much of her Paris work was traditional landscapes, portraits and experiments with impressionism, she surprised her academy instructors with an abstract portrayal of African masks, Les Fetiches, a brilliant presage of African-based imagery she would explore later in her career. Her success in Paris competitions steeled her resolve to triumph in her native America.

It was this same talent, energy and persistence with which she influenced generations of art students in a 47 year teaching career at Howard University. An inspiring and demanding taskmaster, Lois Mailou Jones possessed the rare ability to help each student devise their own means of expression. The number and caliber of students who have distinguished themselves as professional designers, graphic artists, educators, painters and sculptors is truly remarkable. Former students include printmaker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett; painters Malkia Roberts, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Hiawatha Brown, Peter Robinson and Robert Freeman; painters/educators David Driskell and Mary Lovelace O'Neil; and installation artists Houston Conwill and Rose Powhatan.

"My association with my pupils kept me young in my work and kept my interest in painting fresh and ever renewed," exclaimed Jones. It also offered freedom from the need to compromise her values as an artist and provided continuous exposure to other cultures and styles through study travel throughout Europe, Afiica and the Caribbean.

The vast sweep of Lois Mailou Jones' 65 year painting career stretches from her late Postimpressionist works to a contemporary synthesis of African, Caribbean, American and African-American iconographic design and thematic elements. Her lifelong openness to new ideas led her to explore a wide cross section of styles that evolved in the 20th century, taking from each what fit her own vision.

"With cosmopolitan flair, she wove American, African American, Caribbean, African and European formal and thematic strains into a visual language of deceptive directness and striking beauty," stated exhibition co-curator Edmund Barry Gaither.

The Afro-American Cultural Center is located at 401 North Myers Street. Hours are Tuesday - Saturday 10 am - 6 pm and Sunday 1 - 5 pm. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. For information, telephone 704-374-1565.

From top to bottom: Lois Mailou Jones, Menemsha, 1930; Lois Mailou Jones, Sharecropper, 1983; Lois Mailou Jones, Moon Masque, 1971; Robert Freeman, Dance, 1983, Michael Auld and Rose Powhatan, Powhatan Totems, 1991, (detail).

rev. 11/26/10

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