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Gwendolyn Clarine Knight (May 26, 1913 – February 18, 2005) was an American artist who was born in Bridgetown, Barbados in the West Indies. Knight met Jacob Lawrence in 1934 while they were art students in Harlem, NY and they married in 1941. Throughout their 59 year marriage, Knight and Lawrence were each other’s most valued critic. Knight attended Wadleigh High School, one of the few integrated schools in New York and one with a reputation for good scholarship. She study painting in New York under Augusta Savage, and her first formal study of art came at Howard University, where she studied with the painter Lois Maillou Jones and with printmaker James Lesesne Wells. Like Jacob Lawrence, throughout her career Gwen Knight remained unswayed by abstract expressionism and other trends that moved through the art world.
Though she shared Lawrence’s interest in figuration, her method was more spontaneous and her subject matter more personal. She charted her own creative path in a characteristically independent way. A lifelong artist, Knight supported Jacob’s career, and chose not to participate in art exhibits until 1967. That year, her work was included in “Portrayal of the Negroes in American Painting,” at the Forum Gallery in New York, along with works by Hughie Lee-Smith, Raymond Saunders, Ernest Crichlow, and Jacob Lawrence. In 1971, when Jacob was offered a full-time tenured position at the University of Washington, they moved to Seattle. Knight’s first retrospective was put on when she was nearly 90 years old (“Never Late for Heaven: The Art of Gwen Knight,” at the Tacoma Art Museum, 2003)
In Seattle, Gwen Knight Lawrence became an active member of the cultural community, serving on committees of the Urban League and the Seattle Chapter of the Links, as a member of the King County Arts Commission, and on numerous arts panels and juries. A few years after moving to Seattle, she joined the Francine Seders gallery, which also represented Jacob Lawrence. Knight’s first solo exhibition was at the Seattle Art Museum in 1976. From the mid-1970s onward, her work gained a growing audience and recognition in the Northwest and beyond, with exhibits in venues in Georgia, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. Ms. Knight continued working until 2001, turning in her late work to a series of lyrical mono-prints that captured her interest in improvisation and movement.
During the course of her career, she received many awards, including the National Honor Award, and two honorary doctorate degrees. In 2003, a retrospective of her work appeared at the Tacoma Art Museum and at DC Moore Gallery in New York City, which represents both Ms. Knight and Mr. Lawrence. Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence died in Seattle on February 18, 2005 at the age of 92. Artist Statement “I am not an innovator or an artist concerned with intellectual process I don’t rely on external definitions of success or with the mastery of an other-defined program. I paint for my own pleasure, for the connection it affords to creative life.”