Art and Artisans: African-American Shoemakers

Shoemaker African American By Jacob Lawrence

1.  “The Shoemaker”, Watercolor Painting by Jacob Lawrence (1945)

While the work of Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) was never oriented to overt political polemics, his painting explored—and called attention to—the most significant social issues in his community. “The Shoemaker” marks the beginning of what would become a potent subject in his work throughout the rest of his life: the representation of manual labor by African Americans.

The shoemaker’s heroic scale dwarfs the tiny shoes aligned on the workbench and hung on the walls, and overwhelms the miniature-sized room in which he works. The whole scene is organized in a flat pattern of angular elements, all in saturated color. The cobbler’s geometric, exaggerated shoulder line signals both strength and concentration of purpose. His gigantic hands—oversized even in relation to his huge frame—are central to conveying the story of his power and single-mindedness.

2.  Shoe-Makers in Lexington Kentucky, Pre-1900

The making of shoes was one of the skilled labors performed by slaves throughout the South. Once slavery ended, former slaves used the skill in their businesses that were often operated out of their homes. Later, the industrial manufacturing and mass production of shoes would greatly reduce the number of individual shoemakers.

Here the names of some African American shoemakers in Lexington, KY, pre-1900:

  • Sally A. Jackson was a shoe binder who lived on E. Short Street between N. Mulberry and Walnut. She was a free person and is listed in the Directory of the City of Lexington and County of Fayette for 1838 & ’39.
  • Micajah M. Mason was a shoemaker who lived on W. Water Street between N. Mill and Broadway. He is listed as a free man in the 1838-39 directory, and in the 1859-60 directory when he lived on E. S. Mulberry between Short and Barr Streets.
  • Edward Oliver was a boot and shoe maker. He lived at 4 E. Water Street and is listed as free in the 1838-39 directory.
  • William Tanner, a shoe maker, lived on E. Short Street between Walnut and Bank Streets. He is listed as free in the 1838-39 directory.

Sources:© 2011 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/46.73.2

http://nkaa.uky.edu/subject.php?sub_id=21

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