Urgent Museum Notice

5 Fast Facts: Loïs Mailou Jones

Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
Semi-abstract composition in shades of blue, orange, yellow, green, grey, white and burgundy. In the center, an orange oval with a black and white eye in the center, supported by symmetrical strips of semi-circles and diamonds. Vertical blocks of color reach upwards on both sides.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Semi-abstract composition in shades of blue, orange, yellow, green, grey, white and burgundy. In the center, an orange oval with a black and white eye in the center, supported by symmetrical strips of semi-circles and diamonds. Vertical blocks of color reach upwards on both sides.
Loïs Mailou Jones, Ode to Kinshasa, 1972; Mixed media on canvas, 48 x 36 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Loïs Mailou Jones

1. Designing Woman

Loïs Mailou Jones began her career as a textile artist, designing drapery and upholstery fabrics for prestigious firms in Boston and New York. She incorporated traditional motifs, such as flowers and leaves, as well as more unusual Caribbean- and African-inspired imagery, in her designs.

2. What’s in a Name?

Jones lamented that the design world was mostly anonymous:[O]nly the name of the design printed on the borders of the fabric was known, never the name of the artist who created it. That bothered me because I was doing all this work, but not getting any recognition.” Consequently, she shifted her focus to painting—and signed every work.

Detail of Jone's full signature in "Ode to Kinshasa." It reads "Lois M. Jones" in jagged, orange letters against a black background.
Detail of Jones’s signature in Ode to Kinshasa

3. Educator and Mentor

As a member of the art department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from 1930 until 1977, Jones influenced several generations of African American artists, including Elizabeth Catlett, David Driskell, and Sylvia Snowden.

4. Out of Africa

Inspired by the Black Arts Movement, Jones documented contemporary African Diaspora art of Haiti, Africa, and the United States. She traveled to 11 African countries between 1970 and 1972, visiting studios and workshops, interviewing artists, and making thousands of slides of their work. These experiences also directly influenced the subjects and style of her future paintings.

Painting of a village with a body of water in the foreground and green mountains in the backgroud. The village is a cluster of small houses with a few spires marking churches.
Loïs Mailou Jones, Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées, 1949; Oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 23 5/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Gladys P. Payne; © Loïs Mailou Jones; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

5. Best of Friends

On her first trip to Paris in 1937, Jones began her lifelong friendship with French-born artist Céline Tabary (1908–1993). Tabary spent part of World War II living in Washington, D.C. During that time, she delivered Jones’s entry to the Society of Washington Artists exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art because African American artists were forbidden to participate.

Related Posts

  • 5 Fast Facts: Sonya Clark’s Materials

    Posted: Jun 14, 2021 in 5 Fast Facts
    Impress your friends with five fast facts about the materials that matter to Sonya Clark. For Clark, found objects hold history and convey context, thereby enriching the meaning of her art.
    A detail photograph of black pocket combs arranged into a gride of squares. In some squares, the teeth have been snipped so the background is white, in others select teeth are left creating fine black lines. Still in others squares, the majority of teeth have been left creating a predominately black background.
    Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
  • 5 Fast Facts: Sarah Bernhardt

    Posted: May 26, 2021 in 5 Fast Facts
    Impress your friends with five fast facts about actor and artist Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), whose sculpture Après la tempête (After the Storm) (ca. 1876) is in NMWA's collection.
    A sepia-toned photograph of a light-skinned woman dressed opulently in a beaded and patterned gown and wearing a beaded, luxurious headpiece.
    Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
  • 5 Fast Facts: Nikki S. Lee

    Posted: May 17, 2021 in 5 Fast Facts
    Impress your friends with five fast facts about contemporary multimedia artist Nikki S. Lee (b. 1970), whose work is part of NMWA’s collection.
    A light-skinned woman of Asian descent is dressed up in a fancy black dress, sitting at a table in a room with ornate yellow walls. Her hair is in an updo. She stares unsmiling at the camera, to her left is a male companion in a suit, thought he has been cut from the frame and all that shows his is arm and half is body.
    Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts