Loïs Mailou Jones decided early in her career that she would become a recognized artist—no easy path for an African American girl born at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet throughout her career, Jones was relentless in her pursuit of the best training and fullest exposure to the people and places that would infuse her art with style and meaning.
Born in Boston in 1905, Jones showed an early interest in art. She created drawings and storybooks as a young girl with art materials provided by her parents. She attended the High School of Practical Arts in Boston, winning scholarships for special classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which she attended after school and on Sundays. After graduation, she enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She finished with honors and continued her education, receiving a master's degree in textile design.
Jones began a successful career in textiles, selling her bold designs to department stores and manufacturers. She, however, quickly realized her fabrics were completely anonymous; no one would ever know she was the artist who had created them. From then on Jones focused on a career as a fine artist.
In 1928 Jones formed and chaired the art department at the Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina, and two years later was recruited to teach at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Jones taught design and watercolor painting at Howard for the next forty-seven years. She mentored hundreds of students in the practicalities of an art career and took them on art tours to Europe and Africa. In 1937 Jones received a year-long fellowship that took her to Paris to live and work. This was a defining moment for the young black artist who experienced—for the first time in her life—the complete freedom to live as she wished without the indignities of segregation that she felt in the United States. She loved Paris and Parisians. Here, she painted street scenes, still lifes, and portraits in an impressionist and post-impressionist style. Jones returned to Paris many times during her life.
Back home, Jones incorporated African heritage and the American black experience into her art, responding to the challenge of African American artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She included African motifs in her work; later, after she married Haitian artist Louis Pierre-Noël in 1953, she began spending time on this Caribbean island and added Haitian subjects to her repertoire.
Jones died at age ninety-two. Her artistic legacy is recorded in hundreds of her canvases—and in the passion and discipline she communicated to some 2,500 students.