Introduction

Schlesinger Library, RIAS, Harvard UniversityLois Mailou Jones in her studio, c1977.

Loïs Mailou Jones was an artist, a teacher, an explorer, and a visionary. Jones constantly pushed the boundaries of art and challenged peoples’ expectations. Growing up in Massachusetts at the start of the 1900s, Loïs Mailou Jones was met with difficulty early in her career. As a Black woman, it was harder for her to find jobs than her white peers, and segregation still kept her from existing in certain spaces. Still, Jones’ sheer talent and drive overcame many obstacles, and she incorporated her experiences into her art, using her travels to the American South, Europe, and Africa to create unique, cross-cultural paintings.

Loïs Mailou JonesLes Fétiches

Loïs Mailou Jones’ ability to draw inspiration from international places and people blossomed during her first trip to Paris in 1937. Her time abroad was made possible by a fellowship from Howard University. The Howard fellowship allowed her to follow the historic tradition of African-Americans who journeyed to Paris to grow as artists and discover a new kind of freedom. In a city without legal segregation, Jones was able to paint in new places and create relationships with artists who saw her as an equal. Paris, and all of France, changed Jones’ style by introducing her to Impressionism, but it also laid the foundation for how new elements could be added to her art.

Though Jones had been working with African art from the beginning of her career, seeing European artists in Paris use African influences pushed her to create her seminal work, Les Fetiches, and begin combining Parisian and African styles. This new approach to art can be seen reverberating out through the rest of Jones’ life as she experimented with patterns, shapes, and themes. Jones’ work has been praised by her contemporaries, by art institutions, and by heads of state; though her name might not be familiar to everyone, her art is unforgettable.

Timeline

This interactive timeline looks at Loïs Mailou Jones’ life and focuses on her time in Paris. It includes links to places and museums she frequented, paintings and photographs, people that inspired her and more! Click through to explore Loïs Mailou Jones’ life.

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