This painting on paper is immediately recognizable as the stylized figuration of Jacob Lawrence. A foreshortened worktable littered with tools at the bottom foreground of the composition pulls the viewer's eye right into the picture. Resting at the center of the table is the bottom edge of an arced length of red wood. It arcs dramatically to the center of the composition where its other end is held in the grip of the picture's sole figure, a black man in loose blue clothing. The figure's curved back and lowered head parallel the arced length of wood to create a graceful oval that anchors the center of the picture. Tall, open-backed work shelves behind the figure are filled with tools and materials; the shelves' frame also frames the overall composition; their open backs carry the eye back through the picture. Throughout the composition Lawrence's placement of red, indigo blue and yellow against subtler shades of gray creates a vibrant pattern and energy that echoes the activity of the figure.

Builders No. 1

Jacob Lawrence


As a young artist working in Harlem during the 1930s, Jacob Lawrence was inspired by the ideals of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that celebrated African-American music, literature, poetry, and art.  The movement called upon visual artists to express and interpret the dignity of African-American lives and of African heritage, following the post-Civil War period in which depictions of African-Americans were frequently derogatory.  Infused with these ideas, Lawrence painted works in series that portrayed historic and contemporary struggles of African-Americans, emphasizing their heroism and determination. 

When he moved to Seattle to teach at the University of Washington in 1971, Lawrence began to concentrate his art more intensely on builders, a subject he had explored off and on since the 1940s.  In this body of work, Lawrence embraced the human aspiration that people can build a better society, and that the same creative energy that animates art or carpentry can animate social change.

  • Titles Builders No. 1 (Proper)
  • Artist Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917 - 2000
  • Medium gouache on paper with opaque watercolor and tempera
  • Credit Line Museum purchase with donations from the Simpson Foundation, private contributors, and with Museum funds, 1972.26, image © 2009 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Reproduction, including downloading of Lawrence works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of ARS, New York.
  • Object Name painting
  • Classification Paintings