Lawrence Baker

(Jacksonville, Florida, 1947 - )

Lawrence Baker was born in 1947 and raised in Jacksonville, Florida by his mother, Chilonia Royal Newman. Reflecting on his upbringing in a Black family living in the south before the Civil Rights Movement, the artist describes Chilonia as “a mother in the south under circumstances that would have caused a lesser person to give up. Instead she chose to give life, to struggle and nurture me and my brothers and sisters.”[1] Baker fondly remembers the quilts that his mother made for her children, but otherwise his early interest in art was limited to watching one of his brothers copy cartoons out of comic books. He enrolled in Edward Waters College in Jacksonville but flunked out in his first year as a Business Education major—Baker recalls that he was already becoming interested in art and always carried a drawing pad with him by this time.[2]


Baker then decided to relocate to Cleveland, seeking a reunion with his long-estranged father, John Edward Baker. After arriving, he was surprised to discover that racial tensions were more intense in Cleveland than in Jacksonville, amid widespread discrimination in housing and policing. The artist’s frustrations with racism and with anyone who might underestimate him provided a strong determination that propelled him through his education and his artistic career. While staying at the downtown YMCA, Baker had nothing to go on other than his father’s name and a basic description, but he finally tracked him down by traveling to addresses listed under “Baker” in phone books at the Cleveland Public Library.[3] The two reconciled, and Baker lived with his father while taking remedial classes at Cuyahoga Community College, to make up for what he describes an early education that was inadequate in nearly all respects.[4] Eventually, Baker was able to enter Kent State University, where he earned a BFA (1973), an MA (1980), and an MFA (1989). These qualifications allowed him to make a career as an art teacher in the Cleveland Municipal School District until his retirement in 2005.[5]


Surveying his time in Ohio, Baker gives particular credit to Kent State University art professor Joseph O’Sickey, who guided his art and also introduced him to his wife Anita, with whom he has two children, Aja and Lawrence Jr. Baker also singles out the photographer and artist Charles Pinkney and the retired art professor Edward Parker as important figures in his life and career, noting that Paker “deserves special attention for being the hub of the black community in Cleveland, Ohio, with his art school, open studio, gallery and lodging” at the EEP Museum of Art.[6] Another significant Black cultural institution in Baker’s career has been Cleveland’s Karamu House, where he was featured in exhibitions in the 1980s and ‘90s. A particular highlight of Baker’s history of exhibiting came with his 2002 solo show at the Springfield Museum of Art in Springfield, Ohio.[7]


[1] Louis B. Burroughs Jr., Middle Passage: The Artistic Life of Lawrence Baker, book published 2013, xiii.

[2] Each in Their Own Voice: African-American Artists in Cleveland 1970–2005, exhibition catalogue, Cleveland State University, 2009, unpaginated.

[3] Burroughs, Middle Passage: The Artistic Life of Lawrence Baker, 119–124.

[4] Burroughs, Middle Passage: The Artistic Life of Lawrence Baker, 127.

[5] Burroughs, Middle Passage: The Artistic Life of Lawrence Baker, 180.

[6] Burroughs, Middle Passage: The Artistic Life of Lawrence Baker, xiv.

[7] Burroughs, Middle Passage: The Artistic Life of Lawrence Baker, 289.

Cleveland, Ohio

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