AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTIST
~ November 3, 1905 - June 9, 1998 ~
My introduction to Ms. Jones was during a visit to the DuSable Museum Gift Shop in Chicago. I was looking for notecards and noticed a box set distributed by Pomegranate Communications. The cards had 4 images of some of her paintings and upon further research, I learned that she was a black woman whose contributions to the art world were many, however, until recent years were rather obscure. She, as so many black artists during the 1930's travelled to Paris, France to pursue those opportunities that weren't available to her in the states. She was part of that expatriate group that entailed so many great artists of color in the fields of visual arts, literature, poetry, music/composing, entertainment as well as scholars. According to Ms. Jones....
"The French were so inspiring. The people would stand and watch me and say ‘mademoiselle, you are so very talented. You are so wonderful.’ In other words, the color of my skin didn’t matter in Paris and that was one of the main reasons why I think I was encouraged and began to really think I was talented."
She married Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel and resided in Haiti for a period. A world traveler and an experimental (impressionist) painter who exposed the world to the rich cultural aspects of people of color throughout the diaspora remains a part of her legacy. Lois Marilou Jones was instrumental in exposing the world to black artistry during the Harlem Renaissance and eventually returned to the U.S. to teach at Howard University as well as continue with her first love which is painting. She earned several degrees and became a mentor for many until she retired from the University in 1977.
The painting shown here is titled 'An African American Family Christmas' which I happened upon while browsing the internet searching for images of her paintings. According to some of the information researched; many of her paintings are displayed at a number of museums, e.g., Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait Gallery, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Palace in Haiti, and the National Museum of Afro-American Artists.
Just to name a few.
There is one other thing I'd like to address about this woman and many people of color who struggle with this double consciousness and contradiction that plagues us to this day. She is quoted as stating that one of her greatest achievements to the art world is "proof of the talent of black artists." But her fondest wish was to be known as an "artist". As I've stated many times before that we as oppressed people accept the limitations of who we are as humans based on the ideas and perspectives of mainstream societies. The descriptive term of her culture or ethnicity doesn't besmirch or diminish her artistry or accomplishments. She was a renaissance woman who made significant contributions to the art world as well as that of an educator. I'm glad to know that she was a woman of color given that for many years I've sat in classrooms listening to teachers expound on why we're overlooked as a group because we didn't contribute anything of substance to the humanities, sciences and the arts. Today, that same message is relayed in many of our schools and although there have been amazing efforts at mainstreaming these little known facts; there is still much work to be done.
I've added this video with a slide presentation of some of her paintings as well as links to a short bio, additional images of her many works and a website. Dr. Chris Chapman; a friend and adviser, after her death completed a book about her life titled; Lois Mailou Jones: A life in Color.