STAYING CLOSE TO HOME over the past year, due to COVID-19, has breathed new life into a traditional past time. An entertaining way to pass the hours and relieve stress, jigsaw puzzles are more popular than ever. Several focus on signigicant works by important 20th century African American artists such as Charles White, Alma Thomas, and Archibald Motley. William H. Johnson’s portrait of Harriet Tubman and Winfred Rembert’s depiction of a Southern juke joint have also been transformed into puzzles. These original works of art are in the collections of major museums. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch a canon-worthy work of art come together piece-by-piece. An affordable form of art, these puzzles feature modern and contemporary images worth preserving and framing. Happy National Puzzle Day.


Puzzle features CHARLES WHITE, “Mary McLeod Bethune,” 1978 (oil on canvas, 5 x 7 feet). The mural was installed at the Mary McLeod Bethune Exposition Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library at 3900 S. Western Avenue. | © Charles White Archive

Charles White: Mary McLeod Bethune Mural Puzzle (1,000 pieces, 29 x 20 inches). | Manufactured by Pomegranate

Charles White’s mural is displayed inside the Mary McLeod Bethune Exposition Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. His concept centered education, learning, and music, themes represented by a trio of familial figures positioned around Mary McLeod Bethune, who presides over the scene. White worked on the mural for about nine months and the City of Los Angeles paid him $3,000 for the commission.

FIND MORE about White’s Mary McLeod Bethune mural on Culture Type


Puzzle features JESSIE T. PETTWAY, “Bars and String-Pieced Columns,” circa 1950s (plain weave cotton, pieced and quilted, 95 x 76 inches / 241.3 193 cm). | © Jessie T. Pettway. Collection Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, American Art Trust Fund, and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection

Revelations: Art from the African American South Puzzle (500 pieces, 16 x 20 inches). | Manufactured by de Young Museum

“Bars and String-Pieced Columns” by Gee’s Bend quilt artist Jessie T. Pettway was acquired by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in January 2017. The quilt was among 62 works by 22 African American artists from the U.S. South brought into the museum’s collection through a gift/purchase arrangement with the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlata. The works were presented in “Revelations: Art from the African American South,” which opened in June 2017. Pettway’s work was on view in the exhibition and was also featured on a series of Quilts of Gee’s Bend U.S. postage stamps in 2006.


“Pettway’s use of clothing scraps serves as a reminder of a time when materials were scarce and quilters repurposed whatever fabric was available—for example, the vertical red bars separate rows of narrow triangles, which follow the taper of shirtsleeves from which they were cut.” — Revelations catalog

Puzzle features FAITH RINGGOLD, “Tar Beach,” 1990 (quilt with screen-printed acid dyes, 66 3/4 × 67 1/2 inches / 169.55 × 171.45 cm). | © Faith Ringgold. Collection of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Marion Boulton Stroud, 2001.252

Faith Ringgold: Tar Beach II Puzzle (750 pieces, 22 x 11 inches). | Created exclusively for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Faith Ringgold’s story quilt, “Tar Beach II,” is anchored by a Harlem apartment-building rooftop, a “tar beach” where a young girl could get lost in her hopes and dreams. The work features a dense cityscape with figures flying through the starry sky on a hot summer night. Ringgold has made multiple versions of the work, which is inspired by her experience growing up in Harlem. The narrative was published in an award-winning children’s book. Cassie Louise Lightfoot is the protagonist in the allegorical tale. It’s a fantastic narrative of triumph and heroism.

FIND MORE about Faith Ringgold on her website


JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, “In Italian,” 1983 (acrylic, oilstick and marker on canvas mounted on wooden supports, 88.5 x 80 in. (224.8 x 203.2 cm). | © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat: In Italian Puzzle (500 pieces, 24.4 x 18.1 inches). | Manufactured by Rome Pays Off

A major work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, “In Italian” is rife with meaningful text and graphics, including references to George Washington on the quarter and the artist’s iconographic crown symbol. The painting was featured in a grand survey simply titled “Jean-Michel Basquiat” recently on view at the Brant Foundation in New York (March 6-May 14, 2019) and Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris (Oct. 3, 2018-Jan. 21, 2019).


Puzzle features WILLIAM H. JOHNSON (American, 1901–1970), “Harriet Tubman,” circa 1945 (oil on paperboard). | Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1146

William H. Johnson: Harriet Tubman Puzzle (500 pieces, 18 x 24 inches). | Manufactured by Pomegranate

“Harriet Tubman” by William H. Johnson is in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. According to the museum, the painting is “part of Johnson’s 1945 series, Fighters for Freedom, which depicted the heroic figures who led the fight for racial and individual equality. Tubman’s likeness is taken from a popular woodcut first published in the 1922 book ‘The Negro in Our Times’ by Carter G. Woodson.… Beside the young, active Tubman is a bust-length portrait of the elderly woman draped in a lace shawl, perhaps the one given to her by Queen Victoria around 1897.”


Puzzle features ALMA THOMAS, “The Eclipse,” 1970 (acrylic on canvas, 62 x 49 3⁄4 inches / 57.5 x 126.5 cm.). | Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1978.40.3

Alma Thomas: The Eclipse Puzzle (1,000 pieces, 20 x 25 inches). | Manufactured by Pomegranate

After graduating from Howard University in 1924, becoming the first student to earn a degree from the HBCU’s art department, Alma Thomas (1891-1978) went on to teach at Shaw Junior High School. During her 35-year career as a public school teacher, Thomas continued with her own education. Among her academic pursuits, she studied with artist and educator Jacob Kainen (1909-2001) at American University in the fall of 1958. “The Eclipse” was featured in the traveling exhibition “Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of Paintings” (1998-2000), organized by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Fort Wayne, Ind. Kainen wrote about the work in the exhibition catalog. He said starting in the late 1960s, Thomas began a formulaic approach emphasizing the primary colors of the spectrum in context with intermediate colors that was of particular note when it came to her concentric circle paintings. “The Eclipse,” Kainen said, “was a daring, off-center painting that goes off the canvas, an arrangement of concentric circles with an unusually large dark-blue central orb that appears almost black against the other vivid red, yellow, and orange circles most of which are cropped sharply at the top and right framing edges.”


Puzzle features MICKALENE THOMAS, “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires,” 2010 (Rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel, 120 x 288 inches / 304.8 x 731.5 cm). | © Mickalene Thomas, Private Collection

Mickalene Thomas: Le Déjeuner Puzzle (204 pieces, 16 x 11 inches). | Produced by Third Drawer Down

A version of “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbs: Les trois femmes noires” by Mickalene Thomas was commissioned in 2010 for the window of the MoMA PS1 in New York. The mixed-media painting was featured in “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe,” her first solo museum exhibition and, more recently, “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas” at the Seattle Art Museum in 2018. Speaking about the painting on the occasion of that exhibition, Thomas said: “I was looking at Western figures like Manet and Courbet, to find a connection with the body in relationship to history. Because I was not seeing the Black body written about art historically in relation to the white body and the discourse—it wasn’t there in art history. And so I questioned that. I was really concerned about that particular space and how it was void. I wanted to find a way of claiming the space, of aligning my voice and art history and entering this discourse.”


FIND MORE about Mickalene Thomas on her website


Puzzle features WINFRED REMBERT, “The Dirty Spoon Cafe,” 2002 (dye on carved and tooled leather, 50 3/4 x 37 inches). | © Winfred Rembert. Collection of High Museum of Art, 2016.2

Winfred Rembert: The Dirty Spoon Cafe Puzzle (1,000 pieces, 20 x 29 inches). | Manufactured by Pomegranate

A self-taught artist with Southern roots, Winfred Rembert lives and works in New Haven, Conn. He makes paintings on carved and tooled leather. “The Dirty Spoon Cafe” is in the collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The museum describes the work thus: It “depicts Winfred Rembert’s childhood memory of a lively juke joint in his hometown of Cuthbert, Georgia. From afar, the interlocking bodies that fill this scene with high style and dynamic movement appear to be painted on a flat surface. A closer look reveals that Rembert carved every detail—from buttonholes and pinstripes to strands of hair—in leather. Upon completing his intricate composition, Rembert painted it with dye that saturated the leather’s surface, contributing to the work’s smooth finish and rich color.”

FIND MORE about Winfred Wembert on his website


Puzzle features “Portrait 091” from Kingston, Jamaica-based NATASHA CUNNINGHAM’s portrait-a-day series in which she employs color and photography to make images that serve as “a celebration, interpretation, documentation or story of a person/persons.” | © Natasha Cunningham

Natasha Cunningham: Portrait Design 091 Puzzle (800 pieces, 17.5 x 23.5 inches). | Manufactured by Jiggy

Jiggy is a woman-owned business envisioned five years ago in response to outdated and uninspired puzzle designs. The New York-based puzzle company concentrates on contemporary images by emerging female illustrators, including Natasha Cunningham, Reyna Noriega, Diana Ejaita, Melarie Odelusi, and Pink LoMein. Jiggy states that their puzzles are “beautiful for both the doing and the decorating” and aim to help you “experience art in a whole new way, in pieces.”

FIND MORE about Natasha Cunningham on Instagram


Puzzle features ARCHIBALD MOTLEY (1891–1981), “Black Belt,” 1934 (oil on canvas, 33 x 40.5 inches / 83.8 x 102.9 cm). | Collection of the Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Va., © Valerie Gerrard Browne

Archibald Motley: Black Belt Puzzle (1,000 pieces, 25 x 20 inches). | Manufactured by Pomegranate

“Black Belt” was featured in “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist.” The Whitney Museum of American Art was among the venues that presented the traveling exhibition. Davarian Baldwin, professor of American Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., described the painting for the museum. He said: “You see Motley’s wonderful cinematic play with spotlight effects, and exaggerated features, and kind of a panoramic view, so here we have not just buildings, or amusement, or sidewalks, but kind of a showcasing of black expressive behavior.… It captures an actual place, what African American Chicago called The Stroll, which is Black Chicago’s commercial and amusement district.”


Puzzle features ARCHIBALD MOTLEY (1891–1981), “Nightlife,” 1943 (oil on canvas). | © Valerie Gerrard Browne / Chicago History Museum / Bridgeman Images, Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

Archibald Motley: Nightlife Puzzle (1,000-Pieces, 20 x 27 inches). | Manufactured by Pomegranate

“Nightlife” by Archibald Motley is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum describes the work thus: The painting “depicts a crowded cabaret in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville, with people seated around tables and at the bar. The clock reads one o’clock, and the place is still hopping with drinkers and dancers.… Motley unified the composition through his use of repeated forms and a pervasive burgundy tone that bathes the entire scene in intense, unnatural light. (The artist had seen Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks at the Art Institute the year before and was intrigued by his use of artificial light.)”

WATCH MORE about the painting “Nightlife” which was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992


“Revelations: Art from the African American South” documents the exhibition organized by the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Art Historian Richard Powell published the exhibition catalog “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” to accompany the traveling retrospective he organized in 2014. “Alma Thomas Resurrection” coincides with a recent exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery in New York City. “Alma Thomas” was published to accompany the exhibition organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and Studio Museum in Harlem. “Charles White: A Retrospective” documents the artist’s recent major traveling exhibition. “Basquiat: 40th Anniversary Edition was published a few months ago. Both “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas” and “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe” document exhibitions that featured “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbs: Les trois femmes noires.” the subject of Thomas’s puzzle. “Faith Ringgold” documents the artist’s exhibition at Serpentine Galleries in London, her first solo show at a European institution. Also consider the children’s books “Tar Beach” and “Cassie’s Word Quilt.”


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