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Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color

Lois Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color

November 14, 2009 - February 27, 2010

Mint Museum of Art


Water Carriers, Haiti  1985

acrylic, 25 ¼ x 19 ¾ in.



January 2010: For almost 50 years, Haiti was a source of inspriration and a place Lois Mailou Jones came to know as a second home. Decorated by the Haitian government and the homeland of her husband Louis Verginaud Pierre-Noel, Haiti held a very special place in Jones' heart.

     With that in mind, here is a link to a list of charitable organizations (site is no longer available)  from The Charlotte Observer which are on the forefront of relief efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake.




Examining the prolific career of Loïs Mailou Jones, this exhibition presents approximately 70 works from the artist’s estate and from public and private collections. The vast sweep of Jones’s career is surveyed stretching from late post-impressionism to her contemporary synthesis of African, Caribbean, American and African-American iconography, design and thematic elements. Jones was also a noted educator, having taught painting and related subjects at Howard University for 47 years. Contemporary artists such as David DriskellElizabeth Catlett and Robert Freedman were among the many students she taught.


The Mint's exhibit of Loïs Mailou Jones's work is organized chronologically beginning with her early years in Boston and continuing through her work as cultural ambassador to Africa in the 1970s. Her heritage and life experiences profoundly influenced the style and subjects of her art. In order to facilitate learning and research, online resources and resources available in the Mint Museum Library have been sorted chronologically, following the outline of the show.


General Online Resources:

  • Download the Teacher's Guide created by Mint staff to accompany the exhibition!
  • Insightful essay on one of Jones' paintings from Blake Gopnik of The Washington Post.

  • National Museum of Women in the Arts Clara Database of Women Artists - Artist information including a short biography and an audio link for the correct pronunciation of her name.

  • An interview with Loïs Mailou Jones by Charles H. Rowell from Callaloo, the premier African Diaspora literary journal.

  • The Carver in San Antonio,TX - Artist information from their Common Ground exhibition, an exhibit of twelve African-American artists.


In the Mint Library:

  • African American art : 200 years : 40 distinctive voices reveal the breadth of nineteenth and twentieth century art. New York, NY : Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, [2008].

  • Benjamin, Tritobia H. The life and art of Loïs Mailou Jones. San Francisco : Pomegranate Artbooks, c1994.

  • Chapman, Chris, Dr. Loïs Mailou Jones : a life in color. [United States?] : Xlibris Corp., c2007.

  • Jones, Lois Mailou. Lois Mailou Jones: a life in vibrant color. Charlotte: Mint Museum of Art, 2009. The catalog created to accompany this exhibition.

  • Modernism and American painting of the 1930s : February 12-March 28, 1993. Mobile, Ala. : Fine Arts Museum of the South, c1993.



View a visual timeline of her life and career 


Phases of Jones's Career: 

Early Education

  • Loïs Mailou Jones was born November 3, 1905 in Boston, MA to Thomas Vreeland Jones and Carolyn Dorinda Adams Jones.

  • Begining in 1906, Jones began spending summers at Martha's Vineyard where she was encouraged to draw.

  • From 1919-1923, she attended the High School of Practical Arts in Boston.

    • She won annual scholarships to take classes at the Museum of Fine Arts after school and apprenticed with costume designer Grace Ripley of Ripley Studio whose clients included Ted Shawn's dance company, a major pioneer for American modern dance.

    • In the summer of 1923, Jones held her first solo exhibition in Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard.

  • From 1923-1927, Jones attended The School of the Museum of Fine Arts where she received the Susan Minot Lane Scholarship in Design each year.

    • The MFA's collection of Jones' works

    • She graduated with honors in 1927 and received the Nathaniel Thayer Prize for Excellence in Design.

  • Jones took evening classes at the Boston Normal Art School (now the Massachusetts College of Art) from 1926-1927.

  •  In 1927 she received a graduate scholarship to the Designer's Art School in Boston and also studied art at Harvard University.

    • At the Designer's School she studied with the noted textile designer, Ludwig Frank .


Post-Graduation/Work of the Early 1930s

  • After graduation, Jones designed textiles for several firms in New York such as F. Schumacher & Co. and for F.A. Foster and Co. in Boston

    • Jones' textile designs were printed on Cretonne fabric, a strong, white fabric with a hempen warp and linen weft used for upholstery. 
    • After creating freelance designs for department stores and manufacturers, Jones decided to focus on painting. She rejected the anonymity that came with fabric design and wanted to be known as an artist.
  • In 1928, at the request of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Jones accepted a teaching position at the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, NC where she started the school's art department.

  • In August 1929, Jones held another solo exhibit at Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard and Filene's Department Store held a special showing of her scarf designs.

  • After a visit by James Vernon Herring to Palmer in 1930, Jones moves to the Washington, DC where she began teaching design and watercolor at Howard University, a position which she held until she retired in 1977 as professor emerita.

  • While at Howard, Jones participated in exhibitions developed by the Harmon Foundation.

    • The Harmon Foundation awarded annual cash prizes for African American achievement in music, visual arts, literature, industry, education, race relation and science. Winning recognition was an excellent career boost.

    • In 1928, the foundation held their first art exhibition of works exclusively by African American artists which helped unknown artists gain more recognition.

    • In 1930, Jones won an honorable mention at the Harmon Foundation exhibition for Negro Youth, 1929, a charcoal drawing of one of her students at the Palmer Institute.

    • From February 16th-28th 1931, Jones exhibits in Works of Negro Artists, presented by the Foundation.

    • Jones' notable painting, Ascent of Ethiopia, 1932, was also exhibited in 1933 at the Harmon Foundation's Art of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit. 

  • In 1934 Jones spent the summer studying at Columbia University where she was introduced to Harlem culture and became involved in the aftermath of the Harlem Renaissance.

    • She studied masks while helping to design costumes after meeting Asadata Dafora, a performance artist from Sierra Leone. Later, Jones used the African mask as a motif in her paintings.

    • Portraiture also became her desired subject at the time; a technique favored by Harlem artists trying to express the integrity and character of the African-American.

  • Jones also did periodical and book illustrations begining in 1931 for historian Dr. Carter Goodwin Woodson and his Journal of Negro History and the Negro History Bulletin.

    • In 1938, she published thirty more illustrations for Woodson's book African Heroes and Heroines.
  • In 1935, she also published thirty-six illustrations for Journal of Negro History writer Gertrude Parthenia McBrown's The Picture Poetry Book .

  • In February 1937, Jones held a solo exhibition at the Howard University Gallery of Art sponsored by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

    • Alpha Kappa Alpha was the first greek-lettered sorority established by African American college women and was founded at Howard University in 1908.
    • Jones was a long-time member of the sorority and designed the Founders Memorial Window for the sorority located in Rankin Chapel at Howard.


In the Mint Library:

Harmon Foundation

  • Reynolds, Gary A. Against the odds : African-American artists and the Harmon Foundation. Newark, N.J. : Newark Museum, 1989.

Harlem Renaissance

  • Harlem Renaissance : art of Black America. New York : Studio Museum in Harlem, 1994.

  • Smithsonian American Art Museum. America's art, Smithsonian American Art Museum. New York : Abrams, 2006.

 For more print resources search MARCO - Mint Art Research Catalog Online


Studies in Paris 1937-1940s 

  • After receiving a General Education Board Fellowship, Jones took a yearlong sabbatical from Howard at the Académie Julian in Paris from 1937-1938 where she was influenced by the Parisian fascination with African tribal art and reveled in the "freedom" of a city where race seemed irrelevant.

    • Her friendship with Meta Fuller first sparked her interest in visiting Paris after hearing about Meta's visit to the studio of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin

    • Paris was quickly becoming the center of the art world and, in order to become a  well-known artist, it was fashionable to study in the city

  • Each month, Jones would work in the studio of a different professor. Some of the most influential teachers were Pierre Montezin and Joseph Bergès.

  • Jones also befriended painters Albert Alexander Smith and Émile Bernard, founder of French symbolism, and dancer Josephine Baker.

  • It is here that she met roomate and close friend Céline Tabary .

  • The forty plus paintings she created here depicted portraits, landscapes and still lifes in the impressionistic style .

  • In April 1938, two of Jones's paintings were accepted to the annual Salon de Printemps of The Société des Artistes Français: Les Pommes Vertes and La Cuisine dans l'Atelier de l'Artiste

  • Jones continued to visit Paris frequently throughout her life and, in 1962, created Howard University's first study abroad tour of France for art students.

    • In the 1950s, Jones returned to paint in northern and southern France. The landscapes she painted here won several prizes including the John Hope Prize for Landscape and an award from the Corcoran Gallery


In the Mint Library:

French Impressionism

  • Wechsler, Herman Joel, 1904-. French impressionists and their circle. New York, NY: H. N. Abrams in association with Pocket Books, [1953].

  • Lowe Art Museum. French impressionists influence American artists. Coral Gables, FL, [1971].

 For more print resources search MARCO - Mint Art Research Catalog Online


 After Paris 1940s

  • After returning from Paris Jones, began showing her work extensively. She participated in several exhibitions including:

    • The Chicago Exhibition of 1941

    • The Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1941

      • For this exhibit, Jones had her friend, Céline Tabary, submit her painting since the gallery prohibited African American artists from participating. Her painting was accepted and won the Robert Woods Bliss Award.

      • In 1994, the Corcoran Gallery held a birthday party for the artist during The World of Loïs Mailou Jones exhibit where they publicly appologized for their previous prejudices.

    • The National Academy of Design, New York in 1942 and 1944
    • The Baltimore Museum of Art in 1944 and 1948 
  • Alain Locke, philosopher and educator at Howard University, advocated the need for black artists to reclaim their heritage and use it in their art. This crystallized into the New Negro Movement which inspired Jones to return to African American subjects in her paintings during what she refers to as her "Locke Period."

    • She drew on this inspiration to complete her painting, Mob Victim, in 1944. In this piece, Jones used a homeless man she met on the street as the model for a man about to be lynched. 
  • Jones received the Women of 1946 Award from the National Council of Negro Women. She was one of twelve women to win the award.


 Haitian Scenes of the 1950s and 1960s


In the Mint Library:

Haitian Art

  • Haitian art. New York, NY: Brooklyn Museum : exclusively distributed by H. N. Abrams, c1978.

  • Island delights : the spirit and passion of Haitian art. Tampa, FL: Tampa Museum of Art, c2000.

  • Stebich, Ute, 1942-. A Haitian celebration : art and culture. Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Art Museum, c1992.


  • Barr, Alfred Hamilton, 1902-1981. Cubism and abstract art : painting, sculpture, constructions, photography, architecture, industrial art, theatre, films, posters, typography. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986, c1936.

  • Fry, Edward F. Cubism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1978, c1966.

  • The Cubist legacy, American abstract artists : April 29-June 12, 1987, second floor. New York, NY: Graham, [1987?].

 For more print resources search MARCO - Mint Art Research Catalog Online


The Last Decades

  • In 1968, Howard University presented Jones with a grant to travel to Haiti to research Haitian art for a project entitled The Black Visual Arts

  • She received a second grant from Howard University in 1970 to travel to eleven different African nations and interview contemporary artists as a continuation of The Black Visual Arts project

    • Jones's works began to return to a more contemporary focus on African heritage tribal themes
  • Also in 1970, Jones' research, Contemporary African Art, is published by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History).

  • From 1973-1974, Jones received another grant from Howard University to study Women Artists of the Caribbean and Afro-American Artists.

  • In 1976, Jones traveled to Senegal as Howard's representative to the International Colloquium on Culture and Development.

  • In 1977, she was a guest artist at FESTAC, Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, in Nigeria.

  • Jones was honored by President Jimmy Carter for her outstanding achievement in the arts in 1980.

  • Jones also received honorary PhD's from Suffolk University, Massachusetts College of Art, and Howard University.

  • In 1983, Abiyi Ford presented a film about Jones entitled Loïs Mailoi Jones: Fifty Years of Painting at Howard.

  • In 1990, Jones held a career retrospective exhibit entitled The World of Loïs Mailou Jones at the Meridian International Center in Washington, DC.

  • In 1995, Jones designed the promotional poster for the movie Cry, The Beloved Country. The original artwork was given to Nelson Mandela.

  • Jones died June 13, 1998


In the Mint Library:

African Art

  • Gillon, Werner, 1905-. A short history of African art. New York, NY: Facts on File, c1984.

  • McElroy, Guy C. Facing history : the Black image in American art, 1710-1940. San Francisco, CA: Bedford Arts, c1990.

  • Assuming the guise : African masks considered and reconsidered. Williamstown, MA: Williams College Museum of Art, c1991. 

 For more print resources search MARCO - Mint Art Research Catalog Online


Created by Rebecca Stockin, Volunteer for the Mint Museum Library