Kenyon College

The Builders Family, 1993


Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917-2000)

The Builders Family, 1993.
Gouache on paper.
22 x 25 inches.
Gund Gallery Collection; Gift of David Horvitz ‘74 and Francie Bishop Good, 2107.5.5.

Throughout his career, Jacob Lawrence repeatedly used motifs relating to builders as a metaphor for aspiration and growth in the African American community. The Builder’s Family extends this exploration to the home, which Lawrence renders in his characteristic modernist blocks of primary colors. Set against views of a rising cityscape visible through two small windows, a mother watches over her children as they work on construction projects of their own. There is an optimism to their carpentry, as the children are whole-heartedly engaged in the creative process, surrounded by tools of invention. The mother’s enlarged presence implies that she is, in fact, the master planner of this scene, orchestrating the artistic, intellectual, and technical development of her family. Lawrence suggests that the future of modern society lies within the potential of children, made possible by the instructional support of the mother figure. By putting a black family at the center of this allegory, The Builders Family celebrates and affirms African Americans’ contribution to American social progress.

-Rose Bishop ‘17 for the 2017 Gund Associate-curated exhibition Black Women/Black Lives.



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