Few knew that the late, renown American painter, Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1995) illustrated several children’s books during her prolific career as an artist — not even me. I was a student of hers at Howard University where she taught for 47 years. I remember her as a no-nonsense design teacher who meticulously critiqued assignments and encouraged all of us to push the boundaries of our designs more and more.
I stumbled across her illustration connection while browsing the catalog for the exhibit, Through Sister’s Eyes: Children’s Books Illustrated by African American Artists, held Nov. 4, 1991—April 24, 1992 at the National Museum of Woman In The Arts, Library and Research Center in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition consisted of original illustrations from Lois Jones, Carole Byard, Pat Cummings, Cheryl Hanna, Delores Johnson and Faith Ringgold. Five other artists including Camille Billops lent their books for the exhibit.
One of Lois Jones’ ink on graphite illustrations for The Picture-Poetry Book appeared on page two of the catalog. Another illustration that looked like a wood or linoleum block print appeared on the back page and was from Eloise Culver’s Great American Negroes in Verse, 1723-1965, depicting the African American freedom fighter Harriet Tubman.
All of Jones’ illustrations in the exhibit were from eight children’s books published by Washington, D.C.’s Associated Publishers. Most if not all of the books featured in the exhibit are out of print and can only be found in the Library of Congress and other selected libraries.
In the catalog’s acknowledgments, Krystyna Wasserman, co-curator of the exhibit, thanked NMWA Founder and President Wilhelmina Cole Holladay for discovering Lois Mailou Jones children’s illustrations while visiting the artist’s studio one day.
Lois Jones was one of the premier African American artists of the 20th century. Her work, spanning three continents, is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery, to name a few. I feel fortunate to have discovered another aspect of the creative life of an amazingly prolific artist. My teacher.
Posted in November, 2007