As much a history of cultural life in 1930s Harlem as it is the story of Lawrence's upbringing, Story Painter also includes all the details necessary to make Lawrence's personal artistic life spring to life. We see him start experimenting with tempera paints at an after-school program at the same time as he's running off to hear special black history lectures at the Harlem libraries. The dedication to his craft was obvious at a very young age, earning him support from prominent black artists such as Augusta Savage and winning him great working gigs such as the Easel Project, which paid him $23.86 per week for two paintings every six weeks. Museums and gallery owners courted him as soon as he showed his work publicly; by age 30, he was considered America's foremost black artist. A few years later this dizzying ascent took its toll, and Lawrence spent a nine-month stint in a hospital for depression. He soon righted himself, eventually moving to Seattle to become a distinguished art professor and mentor.
Exquisitely designed, Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence builds a relationship between the full-page illustrations and their concurring partnered text that makes this book a visual splendor. The strongest color in a painting, for example, may show up as the background color for the accompanying words, or may be used to make a sidebar snippet of African American poetry pop off the page. The handful of evocative black-and-white photographs of Lawrence feature beautifully drawn borders and are set against rich backgrounds of color. This level of design sophistication and care is reverential to Lawrence and a great reward for all readers who care about art and its pursuit.