Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence

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In preparation for an impending consulting job, I’ve been tasked with finding some pictures of “lively,” “vibrant,” and “happening” libraries. Like a good librarian I found the necessary images (liscnesed to be in the public domain, of course). Like a great librarian I also stumbled across some sweet, almost ontopic (ie. however unusable) images of paintings of libraries that did a lot to inspire me personally (advancing me professionally be damned… at least in this context).

Jacob and his wife Gwendolyn are two African Americans who have made a huge, positive contribution to Black culture in North America. While they are both talnted artists, as can be seen in Gwendolyn’s portarit of an actor it is Jacobs library paintings that I’m focusing on.

Jacob Lawrence is a slightly surrealist, cubist, painter (Similarities to Picasso are present in many of his works). I love the way the lines in his paintings both flow to show the current of life, but can also appear rigid and angled giving recognition of the structures exist to herd us and hinder our existence. Here are two examples, the first a flowing scene of children in the library and the second a busy, scene of action and angles in the adult stacks.

See how the energy in this painting flows from the book shelf, through the librarian, and towards the children! (click to enlarge)

The shelves might seem bare in this busy, chaotic, boxed in world, but it is open to interpretation whether this absence of material is due to a obvious demand for circulation or due to a lack of resources that is afforded some coloured communities across North America.(click to enlarge)

I am particularly interested in the heavy use of primary colours (Red, Blue, Yellow) which seem to reinforce the basic necessity of a library’s presence. I often find that the people who are traditionally/systematically discriminated against are the ones who place the most importance on education. I believe this is a source of inspiration for Jacob and a motivating factor in his decision to paint library scenes…. for some reason I am also reminded of Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter… although Jacob Lawrence looks like he’d be less of a crank (just MHO, it’s not like I know the guy!).

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