In a career that lasted more than 70 years, Loïs Mailou Jones overcame racial and gender prejudices to become a successful painter and designer whose influence was global.

Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts in November 3, 1905 and began painting as a child. During family vacations to Martha’s Vineyard each summer, Jones developed a love for watercolor painting.

After graduating from the School of the Museum of Art in Boston, she went to work at the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, NC, where she founded the school’s art department. A year later, she went to work in the art department at Howard University, where she remained as a professor until her retirement in 1977.

Along with her work as an art educator, Jones furthered her own education and developed her artistic skills. During a sabbatical in Paris in 1937, she produced one of her most famous works, Les Fétiches (pictured above), a piece that reflected the influences of African traditions in her work.

Jones spent many summers in France, relishing the freedom from the oppressive racial prejudice that plagued her in the United States. In 1953, she married Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël, and her work began to reflect the influence of Haitian culture. She employed more bright colors and rich patterns in her work.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Jones spent extensive amounts of time doing research in Africa. She incorporated bold, abstract elements of African design in her work.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter honored Jones for her outstanding achievements in the arts. Her paintings hang in major museums around the world. 

Jones passed away on June 9, 1998. She was buried in Oak Bluffs, in her beloved Martha’s Vineyard.

For more about Loïs Mailou Jones, follow this link to read an interview with her by Charles H. Rowell from Callaloo.

Photo: “Miss Lois”, ca. 1980s (?), Addison N. Scurlock, photographer. Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.