Artwork copyright Jacob Lawrence. © Chris Eden; courtesy of Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle and The Jacob and Gwen Lawrence Foundation.


No. 18 July 3, 1859, John Brown stocked an old barn with guns and ammunitions. He was ready to strike his first blow at slavery. From the series The Legend of John Brown, 1977

Jacob Lawrence
(American, born 1917, died 2000)

Location: University of Washington, Seattle


Jacob Lawrence told the true story of controversial abolitionist John Brown in 22 paintings with narrative titles. Inspired by oral histories of Brown's life and death, 'The Legend of John Brown' was first painted in 1941. John Brown (1800-1859) believed that slavery could only be ended with violence and planned to raid a U.S. military arsenal to arm hundreds of slaves. He and his followers were overpowered by federal troops, and Brown was convicted for treason, murder, and inciting slaves to revolt and was hanged. In the 1970s, the owner of these artworks, The Detroit Institute of Arts, decided that the original gouache paintings were too fragile to be on view. They commissioned Lawrence to recreate the work in a limited edition print series, so that they might continue to be experienced. The resulting series of 22 silkscreen prints is on display at the University of Washington, where Jacob Lawrence taught for a decade until his retirement in 1980.

This artwork was acquired for the State Art Collection in partnership with Departments of Natural Resources and Labor and Industries.


Celebrated artist Jacob Lawrence created distinctive artworks in an expressive and abstracted style that explore the human condition, the African-American experience, American history, and themes of social justice. Lawrence and his wife, artist Gwen Knight, engaged in a life-long collaborative partnership of critical guidance and support. About his own work, Lawrence said "When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it."

Lawrence began his artistic career during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s and became an influential teacher across the country, including at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He was Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he taught from 1970-1985. During WWII, he was drafted into the United States Coast Guard and served in a segregated regiment and as Coast Guard Artist.

Major retrospective of Lawrence's work were held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in 1974 and at Seattle Art Museum in 2003, and his artworks are in the permanent collections of numerous museums. He was honored with a Washington State Governor's Arts and Heritage Award in 1984. His artworks and legacy continue to inspire discussions about art and society.


Material Category

Work on paper - print


Screen print on paper


25 7/8 in x 20 in

ID Number


Acquisition Method

Direct purchase

Artist Location

Washington, United States



University of Washington

Artwork Location

University of Washington
Computer Science and Engineering Building 2nd and 3rd floors

WA County




Site Type



15th Ave. NE, between NE Pacific St. and NE 45th St.
Seattle, WA 98195

Geo. Coordinates

47.653503 | -122.305853

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