Queer Places:
Hunter College, 695 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065
Columbia University, 116th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10027
86 West St, Litchfield, CT 06759

1005811l.jpgLouise E. Jefferson (October 24, 1905 - January 1, 2002) was an illustrator, graphic designer, and cartographer, but she is perhaps best known for her work in photography.

Jefferson was born in Washington, D.C. in 1905 and was the only child of Louise and Paul Jefferson. Her father was a calligrapher for the United States Treasury, and her mother made a living playing piano and singing aboard cruise ships on the Potomac River. From a young age Jefferson was encouraged to pursue a career in music, but she was determined to become a different kind of artist.

Louise began her training at Hunter College in New York City where she studied fine art, and then on to Columbia University where she studied graphic arts. During her time in New York City, Jefferson became involved with the Harlem Artist’s Guild, and is credited as a founding member. She was an active member of the artistic community during the Harlem Renaissance, and she became close friends with poet Langston Hughes, and shared an apartment with Pauli Murray, who would become an influential activist, lawyer, and priest.

At the start of her career, Jefferson designed posters for the YWCA in New York City, until she was discovered by the Friendship Press, the publishing branch for the National Council of Churches. By 1942, Jefferson was the Artistic Director for the Friendship Press and she had control of every aspect of the Press’s book productions. While working for Friendship Press, Jefferson also accepted freelance work from publishing companies Doubleday, Macmillan, and Viking, and also from the University presses of Columbia, Oxford, Rutgers, and Syracuse. Jefferson would retire from the Friendship press in 1960, but she remained busy designing book jackets and maps for publishing companies and Universities.

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by Carl Van Vechten

Once retired, Jefferson set her sights on the most ambitious project of her life. Over the course of several years, Jefferson made five trips to Africa to do research for what would become her book, The Decorative Arts of Africa. She travelled the continent extensively, visiting Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Jefferson used her photographs and drawings from her adventures to create The Decorative Arts of Africa, which was published in 1973. Containing over 300 illustrations, Louise describes her book “as a visual sampling of what the spirit and tempo of the African artist’s role has been in the past and what it continues to be today.”

In her later years, Jefferson settled down in the picturesque town of Litchfield Connecticut, where she maintained an art studio and could always be found with her beloved camera, ready to capture a photo at a moment’s notice. She spent the last few years of her life tending to her garden, entertaining friends, and taking snapshots around Litchfield. Louise Jefferson passed away in 2002 at the age of 93.


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