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Jam Session
Jam Session, 1943
Claude Clark, American
Oil on canvas
20 x 18 inches (50.8 x 45.7 cm)
Purchased with the Julius Bloch Memorial Fund created by Benjamin D. Bernstein, 1998
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Jam Session by Claude Clark

About This Art

These two dancing figures have large, flexible legs and arms flung wide, almost filling the entire painting. Their clothing reflects bright light, in contrast to the dark background—can you see another figure there, clapping and swaying in time to the music? The dancers are doing the jitterbug, an acrobatic jazz dance invented by African Americans that involves standard steps and splits, twirls, and somersaults. The title, Jam Session, refers to times when jazz musicians get together to play for their own enjoyment.

This energetic couple almost mirrors one another. The two figures both bend their knees, lift and lean back through their torsos, and raise their arms. Their strong legs, the woman’s swinging skirt, and the folds in the man’s pants emphasize their movements. Can you find places where the artist, Claude Clark, scraped off some of the oil paint, leaving lines that highlight the legs, heads, and clothing?

About This Artist

When Claude Clark was eight years old, his family joined the Great Migration of African Americans moving from the rural South to the urban North. They settled in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Manayunk, where Clark attended Roxborough High School, which had a predominantly white student population. He joined the art club there and attended free Saturday art classes at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. After graduation, he won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts).

In 1939, Claude Clark’s first job was with African American printmakers Raymond Steth and Dox Thrash at the Fine Print Workshop in Philadelphia, part of the Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Also, he was accepted into a unique education program at the Barnes Foundation, in Merion, Pennsylvania, that emphasized the parallels between modernist artists, African art, and American material culture (everyday objects). Dr. Barnes purchased a painting by Clark, making him the second living African American artist (after Horace Pippin) to have his work displayed at the Foundation.

In Jam Session and throughout his career, Clark depicted scenes of ordinary African Americans. Drawing on his experiences of growing up poor during the Great Depression and encountering racism, he devoted his art to helping and honoring his people.

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