Lois Mailou Jones: Pioneer and MentorPosted: February 20, 2014
Boston-born Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998) was a painter, art teacher and mentor, who taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., for almost half a century. Jones was of that generation of trail-blazers in Black-American art; and among Black women she was one of the first to establish an artistic reputation beyond the USA. Jim-Crow “policies” still being entrenched, her early entries into art exhibitions were sometimes rejected when organizers discovered that the paintings were by a Black person; Jones from time to time had Céline Marie Tabary – a Parisian fellow-artist who came to teach at Howard for a decade or so – deliver her paintings (especially after an award was taken away from her upon the “revelation” of her race.)
In 1934 Jones had attended a summer session at Columbia University, and began to study African masks and to incorporate depictions of them into her oil studies. “Les Fétiches” (1938), her painting of several African masks grouped together, Jones painted while visiting Paris where she also absorbed some of the “active” artistic philosophy of the French-Caribbean-African Négritude movement. (Léon Damas, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire spearheaded that mainly literary Black-Francophone movement.)
After a letter correspondence lasting many years, Jones and Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel married in 1953. They took trips to Haiti and also to African nations during the 1960s and 1970s. Haitian and pan-African themes became central to Jones’ work.
Lois Mailou Jones’ most important achievement may be that she was an exacting and supportive mentor to younger generations of Black artists, among them Martha Jackson-Jarvis and David C. Driskell.
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