Jacob Lawrence was perhaps the preeminent painter of the Harlem Renaissance. During his lifetime, he produced among the most striking works that depicted everything from the northern migration of African Americans during the 1920s, to the daily life of the community in Harlem. His paintings incorporate many mathematical ideas, including patterns and geometry, as well as ratio and proportion.
This activity makes use of a portion of his 1945 painting The Shoemaker to analyze Lawrence's use of distortion to highlight the manual trades which exemplified the lives of African-Americans during this time period. The activity draws students in by making measurements of the sample using a ruler, and then calculating ratios between the different parts of the body.
The students then make measurements of their own bodies (hands, eyes, face and head) and set up the same ratios as they created from The Shoemaker. They then compare those ratios, and use them to create proportions which they can apply to a self-portrait of their own. In the end, they will end up with a drawing that will show what they would have looked like had Lawrence used the same techniques he did in The Shoemaker.
Extensive documentation of Lawrence's work is provided, as well as links to websites where students can see more of his work, as well as suggestions for finding other types of mathematical themes in his work.