Celebrating a Century of Jacob Lawrence Throughout Seattle: Events Through April 23

Posted on February 01, 2017, 9:02 pm
7 mins


The return of Jacob Lawrence‘s full Migration series at Seattle Art Museum is impeccably timed. This year marks the centennial of Lawrence’s birth, and Seattle art galleries and institutions are making sure to mark the occasion, with special exhibits and programs from now into April. Here are some highlights.


The main event is the display of Lawrence’s Migration Series, which has not been shown in its entirety in Seattle for twenty years. This series of 60 small paintings established Larwence as a national voice. It also created a living document of the ongoing migration of southern blacks to northern industrial centers in the twentieth century. At the time of the painting, the migration was still happening, and Lawrence ends the series with an ellipsis. Today, other migrations continue around the world. The facts may differ, but the central struggle and humanity is timeless.

Every First Thursday: Drop-In Art-Making and Migration Stories

SAM is always free during First Thursday Art Walk, and for the next three months it will have special events related to the Migration Series in its galleries during these free nights, February 2, March 2, and April 6. From 6:30 to 7pm, community members will share Migration Stories. From 6:30 to 8:30pm, artist Eve Sanford will lead free Drop-In Art-Making Sessions.

Lectures at SAM

On Friday, February 3 from 11am to noon, get a free, in-depth history of Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series from Patricia Junker, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. This lecture is part of SAM’s First Friday Lecture series.

On Wednesday, March 29, from 7 to 8:30pm scholar Isabel Wilkerson offers her expansive insights into the history of the great migration. Wilkerson authored the award-winning chronicle of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns. She will be signing books after the lecture. Get tickets and info online.

Performances at SAM

In collaboration with Meany Center for the Performing Arts, dance company Step Afrika! presents a free performance at SAM on Sunday, February 19. The hour long dance showcase begins at 1pm, featuring excerpts from their work inspired by the Great Migration. Free and open to the public, but RSVPs are requested.

At University of Washington

Jacob Lawrence’s far-reaching influence in the Pacific Northwest’s art community was centered at University of Washington, where he became a professor of art in 1971. UW’s own Jacob Lawrence Gallery presents its own exhibition of Lawrence’s work through March 4.

Jacob Lawrence: The Legend of John Brown + Other Works

This exhibition highlights Lawrence’s mastery of various printmaking techniques, for which he is best known in the region. This includes stand alone works and his complete 22-part serigraph series The Legend of John Brown (1977). Abolitionist John Brown was not the first subject that Lawrence treated with a graphic, biographical series. He painted images from the lives of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass before painting his Migration Series. The serialized format was an important element of his work and is evident in the work of proteges such as Barbara Earl Thomas.

Step Afrika! at Meany Hall

Those who want a full program of thrilling dance performance should check out Step Afrika! at Meany Hall, February 16-18. The dance form Stepping originated with African American sororities and fraternities, and Step Afrika! is the first company devoted to it. Their Seattle debut, The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence incorporates projections of The Migration Series with rhythmic movement, body percussion and spoken word. Meany Center co-commissioned the remounting and expansion of this important work to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lawrence’s birth. Showtime is 8pm each night. Get tickets online.

Step! Afrika performing The Migration. Image via Step! Afrika.

At Woodside/Braseth Gallery

Seattle’s oldest gallery, Woodside/Braseth Gallery, is also the primary purveyor of Lawrence’s work to collectors in the region. Through February 18, the gallery is displaying prints from Lawrence’s late career in a show called Images of Hope. Indeed, many of these works show an overall optimism in the world after the Voting Rights Act, which effectively ended the Great Migration in the mid-60s…over two decades after Lawrence finished his ground-breaking series. See more on the website.


The Museum of History and Industry presents a free, public panel on immigration in the Puget Sound area. Journalist Enrique Cerna will moderate the discussion with Maru Mora Villalpando of Latino Advocacy, Simon Okelo of One Vibe Africa, immigration attorney Lola Zakharova and Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director of MAPS-AMEN. This will be an illuminating discussion about the personal experiences of King County’s immigrants and refugees, their cultural and economic contributions to the community, and the challenges on the horizon. Register for free online.

In addition to all of this, during The Migration Series‘ sojourn in Seattle, SAM Members have free access to Northwest African American Museum and Wing Luke Museum. Both institutions have their own shows dealing with international immigrant experiences. There will be related programming at each, too. Check them out online and schedule a visit before The Migration Series migrates back to the east coast. The last day is April 23.

Featured Image: Panel 40 of the Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence. Image courtesy of SAM and MoMA.

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.