Written by Guest Curator Jeffreen M. Hayes, Ph.D.
Artist Gwendolyn Knight (1913 – 2005) was born in Barbados and grew up in New York. She attended Howard University where she studied with painter Loïs Mailou Jones (1905 – 1998). Knight had to leave school when the Great Depression hit. When she returned to New York, she studied with Augusta Savage, taught in Savage’s studio, and developed a friendship with the sculptor. Savage’s bronze portrait of Knight is a beautiful rendering of the young artist. Fellow artist Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000), Knight’s husband, who she met at Savage’s studio, said of the work, “I think of all of Augusta’s work this is surely one of the most resolved pieces plastically.”
Gwendolyn Knight studied with Augusta Savage in Harlem during the mid-1930s. Through Savage, Knight received opportunities to work on the WPA Federal Art Project murals with Charles Alston and teach at the Harlem Community Art Center.
In 1934, Knight met her husband, Jacob Lawrence, at Alston’s “306” studio and they wed in 1941. Though she did not exhibit as frequently as Lawrence, Knight engaged in the cultural community of Seattle, where Lawrence received a tenure position at the University of Washington.
The relationship between Knight and Savage was a strong one: Knight said of her mentor, “By looking at her, I understood that I could be an artist if I wanted to be.”