Lois Mailou Jones

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This article is about the artist. For the Antarctic scientist, see Lois Jones (scientist).
Lois Malou Jones
Lois Jones, artist and teacher - NARA - 559227.jpg
Born (1905-11-03)November 3, 1905
Boston, Massachusetts
Died June 9, 1998(1998-06-09) (aged 92)
Nationality American
Known for Painting
Movement Harlem Renaissance

Lois Mailou Jones (November 3, 1905 – June 9, 1998)[1] was an artist who painted and influenced others during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond, during her long teaching and artistic career. Jones was the only African-American female painter of the 1930s and 1940s to achieve fame abroad, and the earliest whose subjects extend beyond the realm of portraiture. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts and is buried on Martha's Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Cemetery.

Early life and education[edit]

Her father, Thomas Vreeland Jones was a building superintendent who later became a lawyer after becoming the first African-American to earn a law degree from Suffolk Law School;[2] her mother, Carolyn Jones was a cosmetologist.[3]

Jones' parents encouraged her to draw and paint as a child in water color. During childhood her mother took her and her brother to Martha's Vineyard where she became lifelong friends with novelist Dorothy West. She attended the High School of Practical Arts in Boston. Meanwhile, she took Boston Museum of Fine Arts evening classes and worked as an apprentice in costume design. She held her first solo exhibition at the age of 17. From 1923 to 1927 she attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston studying design, taking night courses at the Boston Normal Art School. She also pursued graduate work at the Design Art School and Harvard University. She continued her education even after beginning work, attending classes at Columbia University and receiving her bachelor's degree from Howard University in 1945, graduating magna cum laude.[1]


In 1928 she was hired by Charlotte Hawkins Brown after some initial reservations, and founded the art department at Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina. As a prep school teacher, she coached a basketball team, taught folk dancing, and played the piano for church services. Only one year later, she was recruited to join the art department at Howard University in Washington D.C., and remained as professor of design and watercolor painting until her retirement in 1977. While developing her own work as an artist, she was also known as an outstanding mentor.[4]

In 1934 Jones met Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel, who would become a prominent Haitian artist, while both were graduate students at Columbia University. They corresponded for almost twenty years before marrying in the south of France in 1953. Jones and her husband lived in Washington, D.C. and Haiti. They had no children. He died in 1982.[1]

In the early 1930s Jones exhibited with the William E. Harmon Foundation and other institutions, produced plays and dramatic presentations and began study of masks from various cultures. In 1937 she received a fellowship to study in Paris at the Académie Julian. During one year's time she produced over 30 watercolors. She returned to Howard University and began teaching watercolor painting.[1] She said of her time in Paris:

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.[5]

In 1938 she produced Les Fétiches (1938) a stunning, African inspired oil which is owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum,[6] Jones' Les Fétiches was instrumental in transitioning 'Négritude'—a distinctly francophone artistic phenomenon—from the predominantly literary realm into the visual. Jones' work provided an important visual link to Négritude authors including Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas, and Léopold Sédar Senghor.[7] It was one of her best known works, and her first piece which combined traditional African forms with Western techniques and materials to create a vibrant and compelling work.[citation needed] She also completed Parisian Beggar Woman with text supplied by Langston Hughes.[1]

Her main source of inspiration was Céline Marie Tabary, also a painter, whom she worked with for many years. Tabary submitted Jones' paintings for consideration for jury prizes since works by African-American artists were not always accepted.[1][8] Jones traveled extensively with Tabary, including to the South of France, and they frequently painted each other. They taught art together in the 1940s.[1]

In the 1940s and early 1950s Jones exhibited at the Phillips Collection, Seattle Museum of Art, National Academy of Design, the Barnet Aden Gallery, Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, Howard University, galleries in New York and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 1952 Loïs Mailou Jones: Peintures 1937-1951, a collection of more than 100 reproductions of her French paintings, was published.[1]

In 1954 Jones was a guest professor at Centre D'Art and Foyer des Artes Plastiques in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where the government invited her to paint Haitian people and landscapes. Her work became energized by the bright colors. She and her husband returned there during summers for the next several years, in addition to trips to France. There she completed "Peasant girl, Haiti" and also exhibited her work. In 1955 she unveiled portraits of the Haitian president and his wife commissioned by United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[1]

Jones's numerous oils and watercolors inspired by Haiti are probably her most widely known works. In them her affinity for bright colors, her personal understanding of Cubism's basic principles, and her search for a distinctly style reached an apogee. In many of her pieces one can see the influence of the Haitian culture, with its African influences, which reinvigorated the way she looked at the world. These include Ode to Kinshasa and Ubi Girl from Tai. Her work became more abstract and hard-edged, after her marriage to Pierre-Noel. Her impressionist techniques gave way to a spirited, richly patterned, and brilliantly colored style.[citation needed]

In 1962 she initiated Howard University's first art student tour of France, including study at Académie de la Grande Chaumière and guided several more tours over the years. In the 1960s she exhibited at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Cornell University, and galleries in France, New York and Washington, D.C.[1]

In 1968 she documented work and interviews of contemporary Haitian artists for Howard University's "The Black Visual Arts" research grant. And continued the project in 1969 and 1970, traveling to eleven African countries. Her report Contemporary African Art was published in 1970 and in 1971 she delivered 1000 slides and other materials to the University as fulfillment of the project. In 1973-74 she researched "Women artists of the Caribbean and Afro-American Artists."[1]

Her research inspired Jones to synthesize a body of designs and motifs that she combined in large, complex compositions.[9] Jones's return to African themes in her work of the past several decades coincided with the black expressionistic movement in the United States during the 1960s. Skillfully integrating aspects of African masks, figures, and textiles into her vibrant paintings, Jones continued to produce exciting new works at an astonishing rate of speed, even in her late eighties. In her nineties, Jones still painted. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton collected one of her island seascapes Breezy Day at Gay Head while they were in the White House.[5]

Jones felt that her greatest contribution to the art world was "proof of the talent of black artists." The African-American artist is important in the history of art and I have demonstrated it by working and painting here and all over the world." But her fondest wish was to be known as an "artist"—without labels like black artist, or woman artist. She has produced work that echoes her pride in her African roots and American ancestry.[5]

Lois Mailou Jones' work is in museums all over the world and valued by collectors. Her paintings grace the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait Gallery, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Palace in Haiti, the National Museum of Afro-American Artists and many others.

Awards and honors[edit]


After her death, her friend and adviser, Dr. Chris Chapman completed a book about her life and the African-American pioneers she had worked with and been friends with, including Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Alain Locke, Dorothy West, Josephine Baker, and Matthew Henson. Entitled Lois Mailou Jones: A life in color, it is available through Xlibris and museum stores.

In 1997, Jones' paintings were featured in an exhibition entitled Paris, the City of Light that appeared at several museums throughout the country including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Studio Museum of Harlem. The exhibition also featured the works of Barbara Chase-Riboud, Edward Clark, Harold Cousins, Beauford Delaney, Herbert Gentry, and Larry Potter. The exhibition examined the importance of Paris as an artistic mecca for African-American artists during the 20 years that followed World War II.

From November 14, 2009, to February 29, 2010, a retrospective exhibit of her work entitled Lois Mailou Jones: A life in vibrant color was held at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina.[11] The traveling exhibit included 70 paintings showcasing her various styles and experiences: America, France, Haiti, and Africa.[12][13]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Carla M. Hanzal, Loïs Mailou Jones: a life in vibrant color, Mint Museum of Art, October 2009, Chronology, pp. 134–140.
  2. ^ Finley, Cheryl1. "Loïs Mailou Jones: Impressions Of The South." Southern Quarterly 49.1 (2011): 80-93. Humanities Source. Web
  3. ^ Betty Laduke, "Lois Mailou Jones: The Grande Dame of African-American art", Woman's Art Journal (Vol. 8, No. 2, Autumn 1987 - Winter 1988), 32; phone conversation between Lois Jones and Betty Laduke.
  4. ^ The Life & Legacy of Lois Mailou Jones, Howard Magazine, Howard University, Winter 1999.
  5. ^ a b c Renae Battaglia, A Life of Artistic Expression: Artist Loïs Mailou Jones, fineartstrader.com., 2009.
  6. ^ Smithsonian American Art Museum
  7. ^ Powell, Richard J. (2002). Black Art: A Cultural History. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 79, 272. ISBN 0-500-20362-8. 
  8. ^ Fairbrother, Trevor J. (2006). Painting Summer in New England. Yale University Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-300-11692-2. Retrieved 29 March 2013. [verification needed]
  9. ^ Bernard, Catherine. Patterns of Change: the Work of Loïs Mailou Jones, Anyone Can Fly Foundation, accessed March 29, 2013.
  10. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 3". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003. 
  11. ^ Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color, Mint Museum of Art page, accessed March 29, 2013.
  12. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (December 24, 2010). "Lois Mailou Jones: Color tells a story". The Washington Post. 
  13. ^ "Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color at The Women's Museum". The Dallas Art News. July 12, 2011. 

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