South African Gold Miners

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Jacob Lawrence

American, 1917 - 2000

South African Gold Miners, 1946

  • Not On View

Gouache on paper

Dimensions: 26 1/2 × 27 1/2 in. (67.3 × 69.9 cm)

Museum purchase with a grant from the Harvey J. Mallery Charitable Trust, 1991.23

In 1937, Jacob Lawrence began to create visual stories based on African American history. His themes included civil rights, racism, labor, and poverty in America. Flat shapes, sharp angles, slashing diagonals, and a tilted perspective characterize his unique visual style. Lawrence used it to great effect to express his strong feelings about African Americans’ struggle for equality.In 1946, Fortune magazine commissioned Lawrence to make two illustrations for its October cover story, an article on mining in South Africa. The miners' strike of that year brought attention to the plight of South African migrant workers, who labored in unsafe conditions for low wages. In South African Gold Mines, five men wield pick axes and shovels against the background of hills, railroad tracks, and mine shafts. The flat planes and bold colors of the background create an abstract pattern of shapes that suggest the steep perspective of hills, while also functioning as a two-dimensional ground upon which the figures stand. Lawrence was the eldest of three children born to Jacob and Rosa Lee in 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and then raised in Harlem, New York. There he witnessed the poverty and prejudice that most African Americans faced in the early twentieth century. Lawrence's father worked as a railroad cook and as a coal miner while his mother was employed as a domestic worker.

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