In episode 52 of The Great Women Artists Podcast, Katy Hessel interviews the renowned art historian Rebecca K. VanDiver on the trailblazing and legendary LOIS MAILOU JONES (1905–1998) !!!!
[This episode is brought to you by Alighieri jewellery: www.alighieri.co.uk | use the code TGWA at checkout for 10% off!]
Born in Boston, had her first exhibition aged 17, and found herself in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, Lois Mailou Jones had an EXTENSIVE artistic career that spanned almost an entire century, and an oeuvre that ranged from traditional portraits, Haitian landscapes, to African-themed abstraction.
Born to accomplished, upper-middle-class, professional parents in Boston, Jones spent her early years surrounded by the cultural elite on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, including sculptor Meta Warwick Fuller, a mentor to the young Jones and encouraging her to study in Paris.
Continuously awarded scholarships to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts associated with the Boston Museum, the always highly determined Jones originally pursued textiles (however soon retracted after finding out that designers’ names weren’t recognised in the same as painters). An educator for nearly 50 years, she first got a job at PalmerMemorial School (which she would drive down to in her sports car, as well as coach basketball!), and in 1930 was personally recruited to teach at Howard University, the epicentre of Black intellectualism (her students included Elizabeth Catlett, and painter Alma Thomas was her neighbour in DC!).
Spending many summers of the 1920s immersed in the Harlem Renaissance, between 1937–8 Jones ventured to Paris on sabbatical, where she adopted an impressionist-like style, painting ‘en plein air’. Like so many of her contemporaries of the Harlem Renaissance, Jones felt welcome as an artist in Paris. Developing her negotiations with African themes in her work, such as Les Fetiches, 1937, a small painting of African masks, it was on her return to America that she was encouraged by Harlem Renaissance gatekeeper, Alain Locke, to further embrace the everyday life of African American people.
Honoured by numerous presidents, granted a Lois Mailou Jones Day AND Avenue in America, it wasn't until her elderly age that she took America by storm. And WOW. Has she had an impact on American art. ENJOY!!!!
Rebecca K Vandiver is a RENOWNED scholar, and has just written a book on LMJ! See here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/designing-a-new-tradition/rebecca-vandiver//9780271086040
Katy Hessel: @thegreatwomenartists / @katy.hessel
Sound editing by Laura Hendry
Artwork by @thisisaliceskinner
Music by Ben Wetherfield