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Art Seen: Jacob Lawrence at the VMFA

 No. 6 (Close up)
John Brown formed an organization among the colored people of the
Adirondack woods to resist the capture of any fugitive slave

Richmond: While in Virginia last week, of course I went to see the Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) before it left. The pieces brought over from the Egyptian collection at the British Museum were a rare treat, and I felt fortunate to be able to be in town for the only North American stop. But I have to admit that the museum’s recent acquisition of Jacob Lawrence’s The Legend of John Brown screen print series was even more inspiring for me.

No. 10
Those pro-slavery were murdered by those anti-slavery

The twenty two silkscreened series is a recent acquisition of the museum, and depicts the amazing moral choices and exciting events of the white abolitionist John Brown. In the 1850’s John Brown organized covert attacks to liberate slaves from southern plantations and led antislavery troops in an effort to keep Kansas a free state. These amazingly bright colorfully rich prints tell his story.

No. 11
John Brown took to guerrilla warfare

These prints are based on Lawrence’s same-size gouache paintings from 1941 (owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts) , and when the paintings had become too fragile for public display and access, the Detroit museum commissioned Lawrence to reproduce them as limited-edition screen-prints.

No. 22
John Brown was found “Guilty of treason and murder in the 1st degree”

and was hanged in Charles Town, Virginia on December 2, 1859

The paintings, like the prints were accompanied by the text which explains the story, and makes it even more powerful.

Click here to see all of the prints.



  1. Gina Cavallo Collins (Reply) on Thursday 8, 2012

    I was amazed to see your blog on this – I curated the traveling exhibition of these prints and worked closely with the donor – as I was just exploring Culture Seen for the first time. I’m an old friend of Lisa Marie Sipe and can’t believe I hadn’t seen this yet! Great to see the Lawrence prints getting the attention they deserve. When I was working with them, they were vibrant with passion and talent that was so clearly Lawrence’s gift to us.