You are here

American Art Up Close Lecture Series: A Matter of Public Health—Black Doctors and Free Clinics in the Art of Jacob Lawrence

May 26, 2016
Fullerton Hall
Free with museum admission

As part of the American Art Up Close lecture series, Tanya Sheehan, Colby College, addresses public health and medical care in urban America as depicted in modernist Jacob Lawrence’s art from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Lawrence’s images of black doctors asked who could treat the sick as well as how and where such care should be provided. His paintings of crowded waiting rooms in free clinics forced viewers to interrogate the freedom that such spaces both promised and denied, especially in predominantly black neighborhoods like Harlem. In a critical survey of Lawrence’s understudied medical subjects, Sheehan connects them to his engagement with the Harlem Hospital mural project directed by Charles Alston in the 1930s, his experiences in the US Coast Guard in the 1940s, his treatment at Hillside Hospital in the 1950s, and his life-long concerns with the themes of community, mobility, and the human condition, showing how and why Lawrence’s medical subjects brought the social realities of public health into American modernism.  

Sponsored by the Terra Foundation for American Art 

Jacob Lawrence, Free Clinic, 1938. H Karl and Nancy von Maltitz Endowment.