The Builders

Artist: Jacob Lawrence
Medium: tempera on board
Date: c. 1947

The Builders Series communicates Lawrence’s belief in the possibility of building a better world through skill, ingenuity, hard work, and collaboration. The Builders concept first appeared in Lawrence’s work in the mid-1940s, and by the late 1960s had became a major theme of his artwork. For the last three decades of his life, Lawrence consistently pursued the Builders motif, creating a sequence of vibrant modernist images that highlight his pervasive humanist vision.

His subjects were carpenters, cabinetmakers, bricklayers, and construction workers in a variety of workaday and family situations. Overall, they came to symbolize some of his larger ideas about American culture, hope, persistence, and the shared responsibility for transforming society, inspired, as he once said, by his “own observations of the human condition.”

Away from Harlem and the urban environment that he had grown up in, Lawrence increasingly pursued more symbolic and universal subjects that were less overtly grounded in contemporary social issues than much of his earlier art. At the same time, the new work was also the result of his continued growth as an artist. As he explained in 1974, it was a “broadening of imagery, an expansion of my humanist concept. … like most artists, I’m expanding, probing, constantly seeking new symbols—always within the humanist context.”

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