Lois Mailou Jones
American painter and educator whose works reflect a command of widely
varied styles, from traditional landscape to African-themed abstraction.
Jones was reared in Boston by middle-class parents who nurtured her
precocious talent and ambition. She studied art at Boston High School of
Practical Arts, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the
Designers Art School ofBoston. Her family spent summers on Martha's
Vineyard, where she painted watercolour sketches and enjoyed the
encouragement of artists who summered there. She moved to Sedalia, North
Carolina, to establish an art department at the Palmer Memorial Institute,
a black preparatory school. Within two years, her students' exhibitions
attracted the attention of people at Howard University in Washington,
D.C.; she joined Howard's faculty in 1930.
In the early 1930s Jones's art reflected the influences of African
traditions. She designed African-style masks and in 1938 painted Les
Fétiches, which depicts masks in five distinct, ethnic styles. During a
sabbatical year in Paris in 1937–38 to study painting at the Académie
Julian, she produced landscapes and figure studies that she would use as
source material for a dozen years. She painted out-of-doors, in the French
tradition, rendering pastoral landscapes and street scenes, and she
contributed to Paris exhibitions. Relishing the freedom from racial
prejudice she found in France, Jones spent many summers there.
In 1953 Jones married the artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël of Haiti, and
she came to know many of that nation's artists. From this time she painted
portraits and landscapes in brighter colours and with a more
expressionistic style than she had previously employed. African influences
reemerged in Jones's art in the late 1960s and early '70s, particularly
after two extensive research tours of Africa. Her paintings became bold
and abstract, and African design elements began to dominate. A
retrospective of her work toured the United States in the 1980s and '90s.