Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 23

Struggle_Panel 23

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 23: if we fail, let us fail like men, and expire together in one common struggle . . .— Henry Clay, 1813, 1956. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

…If we fail, let us fail like men, and expire together in one common struggle…–Henry Clay

Depicted here is the solitary American seaman described in Henry Clay’s 1813 speech which called for action against British violation of U.S. maritime rights. Clay was a prominent War Hawk, distinguished as those who favored war with the British. In his speech, Clay declared that America must stand up for the rights of their sailors.

The sailor’s face reveals his excruciating death just seconds after a sword pierces his eye, as his own weapon collapses from his lifeless hand. Lawrence’s use of the part to represent the whole allows the viewer to associate the invisible assailant with the unfolding scene without having to explicitly present him.

The image is accompanied by an abridged version of a quote from the full text of Henry Clay’s speech in 1813. Jacob Lawrence chose this particular quote to complement the dramatic image because it emphasizes that the “one common struggle,” even though it may be from different times and for different people, calls for sacrifice and dedication in the same way.

Amy Woo and Andrea Goldstein

Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 21

Struggle_Panel 21

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 21: Listen, Father! The Americans have not yet defeated us by land; neither are we sure they have done so by water—we therefore wish to remain here and fight our enemy . . .—Tecumseh to the British, Tippecanoe, 1811 (Battle of Tippecanoe, Nov. 7, 1811), 1956. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

Listen, Father! The Americans have not yet defeated us by land; neither are we sure they have done so by water—we therefore wish to remain here and fight our enemy … –Tecumseh to the British, Teppecanoe, 1811

In this image, Jacob Lawrence illustrates one of many battle scenes between Native Americans, who allied with the British, and American soldiers before and during the War of 1812. The accompanying text is an excerpt from a speech given by Tecumseh to his British ally Major General Henry Proctor. Tecumseh was demanding in his convictions that their united forces should continue to fight instead of withdrawing as Proctor intended to do. Lawrence misrepresented this quote as being spoken at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, and it is unclear whether this decision was made on purpose or not. Leading up to the Battle of Tippecanoe, Tecumseh worked towards uniting the various native tribes into a collective group that could make decisions about the ownership of the remaining native lands. The message is clear in both instances that Tecumseh sought to unite his fellow Native Americans and fight for their right to own western land.

The scene is violent, depicted through the harsh upward stretching lines, arm, and weapons. The chaos of the event is dramatized by lack of back drop and landscape, suggesting that the masses were struggling and intertwined so closely that nothing else was visible. The color pallete is dark, with the Native Americans remaining more vibrant, perhaps to represent the passion of the protagonist. Lawrence wants us to not only see but also feel the persistence of the Native American.

Andrea Goldstein

Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 17

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

Struggle_Panel 17

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 17: I shall hazard much and can possibly gain nothing by the issue of this interview -Hamilton Before His Duel With Burr, 1804, 1956. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

I shall hazard much and can possibly gain nothing by the issue of this interview…–Hamilton before his duel with Burr, 1804

This specific piece, which depicts the infamous duel and subsequent death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804, departs from many of the other panels of the series in its stylistic qualities. The violence in the image is subtle, but salient. The composition guides the eyes through diagonals to see the splash of red, resulting from Hamilton’s injury.

Here Lawrence communicates the universal struggle that is the Civil Rights Movement through a moment of sacrifice strikingly significant to the American people. Like the participants of the Civil Rights Movement, Hamilton had everything to lose, including his life, but he felt it his moral duty to fight. This story aptly conveys the human condition that Lawrence always sought to portray. The struggle is long and bitter, but there is an innate force, driving people to continue on with the hopes of a better life. For Hamilton, a better life was one in which his honor was intact. For those struggling in the Civil Rights Movement at the time, that life included equality.

Alexis Baker