Loïs Mailou Jones

born Boston, MA 1905-died Washington, DC 1998
Also known as
  • Lois Mailou Jones
  • Lois Jones
  • Lois Jones Pierre-Noel
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Active in
  • Paris, France
  • Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Now in her eighth decade as an artist, Lois Mailou Jones has treated an extraordinary range of subjects—from French, Haitian, and New England landscapes to the sources and issues of African-American culture. The scope of her rigorous training in Boston, New York, Paris, Italy, and Africa is equally evident in her costumes, textile designs, watercolors, paintings, and collages.

In Les Fetiches, [SAAM, 1990.56] an ensemble of African figurative fetishes and masks hovers in space-divorced from any sense of ceremony, display, or storage. The masks have assumed a life of their own, capturing the electrifying magic associated with ritualistic objects. Although often created to conceal identity, masks are equally effective projections or revelations of values, whether personal or cultural. Since the 1920s Jones has studied masks from diverse non-Western civilizations, and in African masks and fetishes she has found powerful keys to infusing art with her ancestry's spirit and meaning. Simultaneously an accurate depiction and poetic synthesis of masks, Les Fetiches also identifies, perhaps unwittingly, the heterogeneous nature of African culture-created by diverse peoples across a vast continent.

By the 1920s both European and African-American artists usednon-Western art to help them break from prevailing formal styles, and Jones followed that lead. Although her early impressionistic style recurs throughout her career, the bold, emblematic qualities of African art have led her toward abstraction, as they had Post-Impressionist and Cubist artists. The planar design and striking color contrasts in Les Fetiches complement the dynamic, essential forms of the objects.

Throughout her career, Jones has championed the international artistic achievement of African-American art. She has also been an important role model for other African-American artists, particularly those involved with her design and watercolor courses at Howard University from 1930 to 1977.

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan African-American Art: 19th and 20th-Century Selections (brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art)


Media - 2010.52 - SAAM-2010.52_1 - 74044
African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond
April 27, 2012September 3, 2012
African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond presents a selection of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs by forty-three black artists
Media - 1967.59.1118 - SAAM-1967.59.1118_1 - 2924
Artworks by African Americans from the Collection
August 31, 2016February 28, 2017
In celebration of the 2016 Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, SAAM will display 184 of its most important artworks by African Americans.
Media - 1995.22.1 - SAAM-1995.22.1_1 - 65784
African American Art in the 20th Century
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant collections of African American art in the world.
Media - 1967.129 - SAAM-1967.129_1 - 65164
Artist to Artist
October 1, 2021May 18, 2025
Artist to Artist features paired artworks, each representing two figures whose trajectories intersected at a creatively crucial moment, whether as student and teacher, professional allies, or friends.

Related Books

African American Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
African American Masters focuses on black artists whose efforts in the twentieth century demonstrate their command of mainstream traditions as well as the open assertion and exploration of their dual heritage. Many—like Sargent Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, James Porter, and William H. Johnson—responded in the 1930s and 1940s to Alain Locke's call for an art of the “New Negro” and explored the social and narrative aspects of African or African American sources. Others—Henry Ossawa Tanner, Beauford Delaney, and Norman Lewis—embraced broader themes or the modernist challenges of form and color. Contemporary artists—from Betye Saar and Mel Edwards to Renée Stout and Whitfield Lovell—have mined sources as varied as the autobiographical and the international. Horace Pippin and Purvis Young, as self-taught artists, tapped the spiritual and social underpinnings of their communities. Portraits and documentary images have dominated the subject matter of modern black photographers. James VanDerZee and Roland Freeman epitomize those photographers who have chosen the people and environment of their own neighborhoods as their subjects. Others, foremost among them Roy DeCarava and Gordon Parks, have sought out communities or traditions of the larger African American society.

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