Several of the photographs included in Loïs Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color and many of the photographs in the exhibition catalog were selected from the personal papers of Loïs Mailou Jones. This private documentation of the artist’s life and affairs is housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center on the campus of Howard University.
Joellen ElBashir, Curator of Manuscripts at the Research Center, personally handled the acquisition of Loïs Mailou Jones’s papers in 1997. This proved a daunting task, as the artist’s home was a veritable archive and art gallery in its own right, filled from wall to wall with paintings, sculpture, and Jones’ meticulous files documenting her various career paths and research abroad. Mrs. ElBashir recalls seeing a painting by Pablo Picasso hung beside the stairs in the artist’s home. As Dr. Tritobia Hayes-Benjamin has stated in the exhibition catalog, Jones was the quintessential self-publicist—never wasting an opportunity—and her papers reflect that attention to detail. She preserved every flyer, catalog, award, and photograph related to her art, a habit which cements her papers as the definitive record of her life and career.
Loïs Mailou Jones’s papers are extensive: more than 75 boxes of scrapbooks, sketches, writings by and concerning the artist, correspondence dating back to the early 1900s, as well as photographs and notes taken during her journeys to Haiti and a number of African nations. They stand as a testament to the life and career of a tireless advocate for African American art, an experimental and innovative thinker, and a true artistic pioneer. The personal papers of Loïs Mailou Jones are made available to researchers by appointment only. For further information or to schedule an appointment, call 202-806-7480.
–Melanie J. Spears, a graduate of Howard University, is Research Assistant at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center focusing on Prints and Photographs.