a colorful painting
Jacob Lawrence, The Library, 1960, tempera on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1969.47.24

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About the art

Jacob Lawrence researched many of his paintings of African American events by reading history books and novels. Looking back at his high school years, he remembered that black culture was “never studied seriously like regular subjects,” and so he had to teach himself by visiting libraries and museums (Lawrence, 1940, Downtown Gallery Papers, Archives of American Art, quoted in Wheat, Jacob Lawrence, American Painter, 1986). This colorful view of a crowded reading room may show the 135th Street Library—now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—where the country’s first significant collection of African American literature, history, and prints opened in 1925. Everybody appears absorbed in their books, and the standing figure in the front looking at African art may represent the artist as a young man, delving deeper into his heritage.

Data Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum