The Shoemaker, 1945. Jacob Lawrence. Watercolor and gouache on paper. George A. Hearn Fund, 1946. © 2020 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
The Shoemaker was among the first works Lawrence painted after returning from military service in World War II in early December 1945. Resuming one of his most enduring themes, these pictures from late 1945–46 focus on workers in Harlem and show the range of occupations open to African Americans at the time, from teachers and office assistants to barbers, seamstresses, and steelworkers. Although Lawrence's art was never overtly political, his subjects highlighted social issues, often with pathos and humor. Here, he contrasts the enormous body of the cobbler with his cramped quarters and the delicate shoes and tacks that occupy his attention.