Joanna LaSane’s children ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, excited to be on a trip from Atlantic City for the day.
The students with the Atlantic City Children’s Theater were excited to meet the man their teacher raved about.
As part of his exhibit on display, world-famous artist Jacob Lawrence would be at the museum that day. He had no idea 45 theater children would be coming through the doors.
“When Jacob saw them he was overwhelmed with joy and greeted them all,” said LaSane, a now 81-year-old Atlantic City resident. LaSane organized that trip in the late ’70s and was the director of the children’s theater at the time. Students peppered the painter with questions and praised him for his work.
Though it has been 100 years since his birth in Atlantic City, Lawrence still has an influence in the area.
Born on Arctic Avenue in 1917, Lawrence was a painter, educator and storyteller. He moved from Atlantic City to Eaton, Pennsylvania, at age 2, and then finally to Harlem, New York, where he began to settle down with his mother and grow as a painter.
Lawrence was the first black artist to be represented in the Museum of Modern Art in New York with his 60-panel exhibit “Migration of a Negro.” He described his work as “dynamic cubism” when he was 23 years old, according to a biography provided by Valeria Marcus, 2nd Ward commissioner of the Atlantic City Arts Commission.
Developing a love of tempera paints and an admiration of a few Mexican painters like Orozco and Rivera, Lawrence opened the door to black painters in the country while garnering local admirers.
Marcus said Lawrence, along with painters such as Picasso, had inspired her since grammar school. The influence was so strong that Marcus and the rest of the Atlantic City Arts Commission will present Lawrence’s original work and photos at the Atlantic City Library for the month of September — the month in which Lawrence would’ve turned 100.
Marcus learned about Lawrence at a young age, and her interest grew as she did.
“When I saw his colors, they were vibrant. His work looked like patterns and looked woven. Most of his work was small. I was attracted to his work like (I was with) Picasso,” Marcus said.
Marcus remembers breaking the color wheel in high school and impressing her art teacher by painting a picture of multicolor Atlantic City shacks.
She remembers her teacher in college asking her class to draw an egg over the weekend, and she came into class with yolk spilling out of the egg, grabbing the attention of the professor.
These, along with all of her other creations throughout her art career, are a product of inspirations from artists like Lawrence, Marcus said.
Terry Plasket stands over a sink, stretching a clay coffee mug handle like Laffy Taffy.
“We all copy from each other someway, somehow. Art is art. We do it a different way,” she said.
Marcus hopes Lawrence’s story will show how influential encouragement is when it comes to young artists.
“You encourage little kids and make them feel good. You tell a kid who’s good at math to be a mathematician. It’s the little thoughts, so the little kids have something to look forward to,” Marcus said.
For students to experience the arts — much like Joanna LaSane did with her children when she took them to Philadelphia — that can mean the world.
Michael Epps, 50, of Galloway Township, was one of those children who met Lawrence in Philadelphia. He admits he doesn’t quite entirely remember details from the day, as he and his classmates and friends often made trips to the opera and to theaters, but he remembers the importance of the event.
“I knew it was a big deal with him being an Atlantic City native,” Epps said.
LaSane remembers Lawrence sitting in his wheelchair at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, answering questions from her students. He was a gentle, quiet man. She said she was grateful her students were able to meet an artist of that stature.
ATLANTIC CITY — Name a place, and singer Angela Burton has probably been there.
“His artwork went all over the world — so many wonderful things he did,” she said.