African-American artist Jacob Lawrence may have learned his craft in Harlem, but he was born in Atlantic City in 1917, the son of parents who migrated north from southern states in the early 1900s.
He was still a small child when his family left the shore for New York. But his influence was celebrated by students and staff at Atlantic City High School, who had learned about the renowned artist and his work, and created their own works in his colorful style know as "dynamic cubism."
Jacob Lawrence Day at the school grew out of a conversation former state Sen. William Gormley had with local Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson, author of "Boardwalk Empire."
"I was having lunch with Nelson and he says it's a shame more people haven't heard about Jacob Lawrence," Gormley said Thursday during the celebration in the high school library. As Gormley learned more, he realized what a role model Lawrence could be, and he contacted school Superintendent Donna Haye.
Art teachers Jennifer Pullman and Ernest Cheatham taught about Lawrence and sponsored a contest asking students to create their own work in his style.
Forty-one students in the high school and the district's Saturday Art Academy participated, and their colorful works decorated the library.
Rehana Pervin, 14, a student at the Richmond Avenue School, took first place in the elementary school division for her colorful work in markers and colored pencils of a city street scene, with children playing outside row houses.
"I like the original work (by Lawrence)," she said. "It was so carefree."
She said it was more difficult to replicate another artist's style than do her own work because she had to think about how the artist himself would do it.
Fouzia Sultana, 15, of Atlantic City, a freshman at the high school, used colored pencils to create a colorful outdoor scene that won first place in the high school division.
"I wanted to show a happy place where there was no crime," she said. She said she draws a lot and was able to complete her work in about 30 minutes.
Second-place winner Leslie Serrano, 17, a senior from Atlantic City, used Lawrence's style to create her own work with an environmental message. It shows a pair of cupped black hands holding the skeleton of a frog, with bursts of color in the background.
"(Lawrence) uses hands a lot, so I used hands holding the frog to show the need to care for the environment," she said.
Other winners in the elementary division were Mahfuza Haque, 13, from Chelsea Heights School, and Deisee Rashida Choudhury, who did not attend the event. Rabeya Bashiri, 17, of Atlantic City, was third in the high school division. All the winners received gift certificates.
Gormley, who with his wife, Ginny, sponsors Friends of Music, a program that provides musical instruments to city students, also arranged for art students to take a trip to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City to see Lawrence's works. The students' works will also be displayed in an exhibit at the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center City Campus on May 21.
Pullman said what impressed her was how students internalized the lessons and applied them to their own lives, making them personal.
"This was a way to learn about Jacob Lawrence, and ourselves," student Jasmine Arthur said during her welcome speech.
Contact Diane D'Amico: