Jones was raised in Boston by working-class parents who emphasized the importance of education and hard work. After graduating from Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Jones began designing textiles for several New York firms. She left in 1928 to take a teaching position at Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina.
At Palmer, Jones founded the art department, coached basketball, taught folk dancing, and played the piano for Sunday services. Two years later, she was recruited by Howard University in Washington, D.C., to join its art department. From 1930–77, Jones trained several generations of African American artists, including David Driskell, Elizabeth Catlett, and Sylvia Snowden.
She began earning recognition for the content and technique of her own art. After a sabbatical year in Paris, Jones introduced African tribal art, a motif enormously popular in Parisian galleries, into her canvases. She was profoundly impacted by Paris, exhilarated by a country where her race seemed irrelevant. Her 1953 marriage to the Haitian graphic designer Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël influenced her further as she saw the bright colors and bold patterns of Haitian art on annual trips to her husband’s home.
In 1970, Jones was commissioned by the United States Information Agency to serve as a cultural ambassador to Africa. She gave lectures, interviewed local artists, and visited museums in 11 countries. This experience led her to further explore African subjects in her work, especially her 1971–1989 paintings.
Loïs Mailou Jones
Washington, D.C., 1998
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Loïs Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color, 2010–2011
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997, 1997–98
Through Sisters’ Eyes: Children’s Books Illustrated by African American Women Artists, 1991–92
Like many African American artists who traveled to France in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Loïs Mailou Jones was thrilled at the country’s racial tolerance, so different from her reality in the United States. She first went to Paris in 1937, while on sabbatical from Howard University, to study at the Académie Julian. Jones returned regularly and summered in France...