Artist Lawrence Arthur Jones was born in 1910 in Lynchburg, Virginia, to Napoleon Jones and Nanni Hemings Jones, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s slave, Sally Hemings. He believed his ancestry earned him special privileges, including access to the Lynchburg public library; art studies with Sally Mahood, a local white artist; and mentoring from poet Anne Spencer. Jones studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1934 to 1936, enrolling with letters of reference from poet James Weldon Johnson and Virginia senator and secretary of the US Treasury Carter Glass. Jones served as artist in residence at Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago before leaving for New Orleans to establish and head the art department at Dillard University. His Art Institute degree incomplete, Jones was required to enroll at Dillard from 1937 to 1940 while teaching art. He also produced prints for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project.
Jones painted his first mural, Negro Homemaking in Georgia (ca. 1940–41), for Georgia’s Fort Valley State College. He won a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1941 and used it to study in Mexico, associating with the Taller de Gráfica Popular. Jones was drafted into the US Army, designed training aids, and painted Courage, Fraternity, Strength, a mural for the Fort McClellan Enlisted Men’s Service Club. Returning to the School of the Art Institute in 1946, Jones met architect Frank Lloyd Wright and toured his Wisconsin home, Taliesen. Jones then returned to Fort Valley State College, where he founded the art department; met and married María Luisa Ramírez of Cienfuegos, Cuba; and befriended artist Benny Andrews. In 1947 Jones painted The Rape of Ethiopia, which protested Italian expansionism and dominion in Africa. As in many of Jones’s major works, this painting is layered with symbolism emphasizing humankind’s inhumanity.
In 1949 Jones moved to Mississippi to establish and head the art department at Jackson College for Negro Teachers (now Jackson State University). In 1957 his painting Many Years of Growth won honorable mention at Atlanta University’s annual exhibition. In 1964 his triptych Past, Present, and Future (1962–63) took second in the painting category at the Chicago Centennial Show of Black Progress. The triptych is an allegory of the black experience in America and Jones’s guarded hopes for the future of the race. He painted murals for Jackson churches, Jackson State University (1976–78), and Morris Brown College in Atlanta (1982) as well as collaborated with high school students on a portable mural for Jackson’s Smith Robertson Museum (1983).
Jones earned a master’s degree in art education from the University of Mississippi (1970–71) and visited Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and the Republic of Benin with the Educators to Africa Association in 1974. He produced prints throughout his career, including Disasters of War (1971) and Mammy Wagon (1981). Jones retired from Jackson State University in 1978 and died in Jackson in 1996.
- Patti Carr Black, Art In Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Elton C. Fax, Seventeen Black Artists (1971)
- G. James Fleming and Christian E. Burckel, Who’s Who in Colored America (7th ed. 1950)
- Lawrence A. Jones lecture, Tennessee State University (30 March 1992)
- Lawrence A. and Maria L. Jones, interviews by Betty J. Crouther