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Against All Odds: Lois Mailou Jones


We are sick to death of all these rules, restrictions and ready meals. We know the next six weeks are going to feel like wading in steel cap boots through thick fields of honey, so to keep us inspired during the next lockdown, we have created a new series ‘Against All Odds’ to celebrate artists and makers who have found success through challenging times, even after their own lifetime.

These are our heroes and heroines who have had to fight through thick and thin to achieve success against all odds. Our first inspirational individual is Lois Mailou Jones, a talented artist and colourist born in Boston in 1905. She began her career at a time when racial and gender prejudices were strong in American culture.

Lois Mailou Jones enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and went on to become the first African American to graduate.

“Figs & Olives”

She was a successful fabric designer and worked as an assistant to the costume designer Grace Ripley. However, when a decorator told her that a “coloured girl” could not have produced her sophisticated designs, she decided to quit fabric design and focus on the fine arts, so she could be recognised for her work.

These are some of our favourite designs, they are timeless.

In 1937, she moved to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. Lois flourished in Paris, a city with a more cosmopolitan laissez-faire attitude toward race and gender.

She produced a number of paintings, many influenced by Cezanne and Cassatt. It was during her stay in France that she discovered African art, which was very popular at the time in Parisian galleries.

After Lois returned to the United States, and during her travels to Haiti and Africa, she never ceased to evolve, combining her mastery of European painting styles with the vibrant colours of African and Caribbean imagery and motif, particularly African masks.

Lois felt that her most important contribution to the art world was “proof of the talent of black artists”.

Lois made her way against the odds at that time in history. She remains one of our heroines of design in our Studio. We admire her work although we still know so little about her.

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