Art in the Library : The Library


The Library, 1960 by Jacob Lawrence
Link to the Smithsonian American Art Museum

If you’ve ever printed anything at the printers in the alcove, you may have noticed this print. At first glance, it’s a blur of brown blocks with swashes of blue and red and green mixed in. It’s not until you focus on it do you see people bent over books and newspapers, reading and studying. Some even look like they’re napping. It’s actually a common scene when you wander through the library on a Monday afternoon. Most every chair is full, and people are struggling to maintain concentration or furiously write a paper.

Jacob Lawrence is one of my personal favorite artists. I took an African American Art class as an undergrad and was really captivated by his work. He would create a series of paintings (included 30-40, even 60 pieces) that would tell a story, most about people or events significant to African American history. They included Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, life in Harlem, the post-World War I migration, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Jacob Lawrence, Originally photographed by Geoffery Clements. Featured on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website.

“I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced. The things I have experienced extend into my national, racial and class group. So I paint the American scene.” ~Jacob Lawrence

Born in Atlantic City in 1917, he moved with his family to Harlem in 1930. He started taking art classes as a teenager at the 135th Street Branch Library. His skills and talent developed, and he became a key player in the Harlem Renaissance, mingling with other greats like Langston Hughes, August Savage, and Aaron Douglas. He secured a position with the WPA Federal Art Project which helped him through the Depression. He continued to paint, teach, and explore the world until his death in 2000.

Lawrence dubbed his style “dynamic cubism” and he approached his work systematically. When working on a series, he would complete the preliminary drawings for the entire series, lay out the paintings across the studio, and then paint one color at a time on each piece. Doing so would bring consistency and cohesion to the series. I imagine working this way enabled him to maintain the vision of the entire project without getting fixated and lost on one smaller aspect of the entire story he was conveying.

“My work is abstract in the sense of having been designed and composed, but it is not abstract in the sense of having no human content . . . [I] want to communicate. I want the idea to strike right away.” ~Lawrence, 1945 interview, quoted in Wheat, Jacob Lawrence, American Painter, 1986

The Lovers, 1946

The Lovers, 1946


Art in the Law Library: LS Lowry

This semester I’m going to deviate from the norm of what’s going on in the library and concentrate on the art we display. The abundance of beautiful and vibrant prints is one aspect of the library that I’ve enjoyed since my job interview in 2010. I want to learn a little more about some of these works, and who knows, maybe you do too.

For the first post, I’ve chosen Coming Home from the Mill, 1928 by LS Lowry. Located on the upper level, it’s one that I don’t pass by regularly, but when I do, it always stops me in my tracks. Maybe it’s the arctic temperatures of last week still fresh on my memory, but this painting’s urban bleakness really speaks to me.

Coming Home From the Mill, 1928

Coming Home from the Mill, 1928

Lowry (1888-1976), who began a more formal art education at 16, was born an only child in Manchester, England where his family lived in the picturesque, Victoria Park suburb. A change in income forced the family to move to Station Road, Pendlebury, where the environment was more industrial and the landscape dominated by factory chimneys. This setting, unappealing to him at first, would later become his focus, or obsession. Lowry recalled, “One day I missed a train from Pendlebury – (a place) I had ignored for seven years – and as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Company’s mill … The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out… I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture…”

Lowry next to his easel

Lowry next to his easel

“I am a simple man, and I use simple materials: ivory, black, vermilion (red), Prussian blue, yellow ochre, flake white and no medium (e.g. linseed oil). That’s all I’ve ever used in my paintings. I like oils… I like a medium you can work into over a period of time”. Looking closely at the surface of Lowry’s paintings shows us the variety of ways he worked the paint with brushes (using both ends), with his fingers and with sticks or a nail.

An interesting aspect of Lowry is that at the age of 16 he left school and began a full time job as a clerk in a chartered accountants firm. He was employed there until his retirement at age 65, unknown to most because of his strong desire to be recognized as a serious artist, a designation not likely given to part-time painters during that era. He was able to keep his artistic and professional lives separate until after his death when it was revealed to the public.

The Salford Museum & Art Gallery began collecting the artist’s work in 1936 and gradually built up the collection which is now housed in The Lowry, a modern arts complex named for the artist and located at the Salford Quays in Manchester.

The Lowry

The Lowry


LS Lowry. (n.a.). In The Lowry: Art & Entertainment. Retrieved from

L.S. Lowry. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Laurence Stephen Lowry. (2013). In Biography and Links of artnet. Retreived from